“If you told me six months ago that Gilad would be in Hamas captivity for so long, I wouldn’t have accepted it. Definitely not. I never assessed how long it would take, I hoped it would be a short affair, and I still hope the whole thing ends as soon as possible. Next week. There is always hope,” Shalit said in an interview with Ynet. “We have no previous experience with these things,” he said.
The enduring hope to see Gilad back at home, to hug him and hold him, keeps the Shalit family going – his father Noam, mother Aviva and siblings Yoel and Hadas. How long it will take until his release is as uncertain now as when he was taken hostage on June 25 from the IDF base on the Gaza border.
As if the uncertainty isn’t enough, reports were issued this week that Israel would release prisoners as goodwill gesture to the Palestinians – without it being contingent on Gilad’s release.
Speaking to Ynet, Shalit said he accepted the explanation that it would be only a small-scale prisoner release aimed at jumpstarting renewed negotiations with the Palestinians.
“The aim is to advance the start of talks between the PA and Israel, and maybe establish some sort of positive dynamic regarding the larger deal, the prisoner release and Gilad’s release. Hamas, as far as I know, set a high price for Gilad’s release. This is one of the chief obstacles. There are technical problems too, because these are complicated and serious negotiations that are passing through many (mediation) stations. Every proposal goes from Gaza to Cairo to Damascus and back. It takes time,” he noted.
'We miss you - be strong'After months of activity towards Gilad’s release, Friday morning the Shalit family made another gesture and printed a letter to Gilad in the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds, published in East Jerusalem.
“Dearest Giladi,” the letter reads. “Our family, your mother and father, Hadas and Yoel, believe you are in good condition and are passing the winter despite the harsh conditions and the tough situation you’ve been in for half a year now. Giladi, we miss you so much and want to see you and hug you tight. We hope you are freed soon.”
The family expressed hope that Gilad’s captors would give him the letter, treat him according to international law, and respond positively to the Israeli government’s offers.
“It’s so hard for us, the fact that we know nothing of how you’re doing, how you are passing the winter, and how your captors are treating you,” they write. “We wish you be strong, patient and determined at this hard time, although you are so young. Don’t break, we are doing everything we can so that your release and the release of the prisoners comes as soon as
'Despite price, Gilad must be freed'
When asked what message he wished to convey to the factions holding his son, Noam Shalit said, "I'm appealing to the different Hamas branches, and Hamas in Damascus who gives the orders: End this affair and release Gilad. Let them come with a reasonable offer for the number of prisoners they wish to have released, an offer that the Israeli government can accept, in light of the prime minister's declaration he is willing to be generous in freeing prisoners."
"Of course I also expect the Israeli government to do everything, to be determined and creative. There is still a big gap that needs to be bridged. The prime minister can contribute," he added.
"We are talking about retrieving a fighter who was captured… who was sent by the State and the IDF… the prime minister and the ministers have to understand that they must release Gilad despite the heavy price," Noam Shalit stated.
Noam Shalit is ambivalent regarding the Israeli government, which he thinks is not doing enough for his son.
"I'm not saying that the other side is in a hurry to end this affair. They have their own politics, and many Palestinian prisoners could have been home by now," he stated, adding that the reason for this is apparently that the Hamas heads in Damascus, who are out of touch with the Palestinian street, are the ones calling the shots.
Referring to his family's relationship with the families of the two soldiers who were kidnapped in Lebanon, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Noam Shalit says they all feel as if they share the same cruel fate.
However, unlike the two other families, the Shalits at least have credible information that Gilad is safe and sound, and have even received a letter from him in September.
"We're being told that he's okay, that his physical condition is good and that he's being treated properly. We know nothing else. No independent individual or organization has seen him or examined his condition yet. We rely on unauthenticated intelligence and information. The letter we received from him also doesn't attest to his condition. It is a letter whose content was dictated by the kidnappers, although it was written by him," he explained.
Asked what character traits help Gilad cope with what he is going through, Noam Shalit said, "I know that he has endurance, but I can't speculate as to how well he's holding on. I hope he's strong enough and surviving… Gilad is a clever boy, but he's also young and quite shy and introverted."
What gives the family hope, Noam stated, are the reports Gilad is okay. "Our greatest hope is that we will see him with us soon, and that we can hug him at home."
Roee Nahmias contributed to the report