Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit salutes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Shalit arrives to the Tel Nof airforce base in Israel on October 18, 2011.

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Israeli captive: 'I was afraid ... I would be forgotten'

  • Article by: ISABEL KERSHNER
  • New York Times
  • October 13, 2012 - 7:04 PM


JERUSALEM - Almost a year after he was released from five years of captivity in Gaza, Gilad Schalit, the former Israeli soldier, has revealed more details of how he coped with the ordeal and his fears of being forgotten.

Aware from the beginning that negotiations for his release could take years, he said that he feared he could meet the same fate as an Israeli airman who was captured in Lebanon in the 1980s and never returned.

"I was afraid that would happen to me, that I would be forgotten and there would be no one to talk to," he said in a rare interview published in the Israeli news media. "That they would make me disappear, people wouldn't know where I was."

Schalit, who was seized by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid in 2006, when he was a 19-year-old corporal, is still treated as a celebrity in Israel, his photo popping up in the newspapers whenever he attends public events. But his family and friends have also guarded his privacy during his recovery and he has spoken little about his experiences.

Now, he has granted an interview for a television documentary. An excerpt was broadcast Thursday night and transcripts of the interview were published in the national newspapers on Friday.

Schalit said that during his captivity he tried to focus on the good things, small as they were: "Whatever I was allowed; television, radio, reasonable food, the fact that they did not abuse me too much."

He said he tried to maintain a regular schedule and to keep active. "I would get up at about the same time and go to sleep at the same time," he said. "I would do the same things almost every day. From the start, I followed the dates. There wasn't a moment that I didn't know what day it was."

He said that he began to understand a little Arabic and built a kind of rapport with his guards over a shared enthusiasm for sports. "There were moments when a kind of emotion would arise, a kind of laughter," he said, "when we watched a good game on television or a movie."

He would also play chess and dominoes with his captors, he said, saying these activities helped him "stay sane."

He added, "I would make a ball out of socks or a shirt, and throw it into the trash can or all kinds of places." Though he did not keep a diary, he said, he wrote notes, which he would hide because some guards suspected that he was gathering information.

He also drew maps of Israel and of the houses in his village "in order to remember, to imagine the places."

He described the shock and relief after he was freed last October in an exchange with Hamas, the Islamic militant group, for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, and first crossed into Egypt looking pale and emaciated.

"After I hadn't seen more than a few people at once all those years, to suddenly see such a commotion around you, it was an odd feeling," he said.

An avid soccer and basketball fan, he began co-writing a sports column a few months ago for the Yediot Aharonot newspaper. He has since traveled abroad to cover major sporting events for the paper, as opposed to watching them holed up with his guards.

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