Today is the 25th birthday of Gilad Shalit. It is the 6th birthday that he has to experience in captivity. When he was kidnapped, he was a boy of 19. Now he is a man, but one who has been deprived of enjoying the prime of his life, these years in which we attend university, have our first job, our first serious relationship, maybe even start a family.
Gilad Shalit is a dual citizen of France and Israel who was doing his compulsory military service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a corporal. On 25 June 2006, he was kidnapped by Palestinian militants from the Israeli side of the border near Kerem Shalom. The militants had dug a tunnel underneath the border, ambushed the Israeli patrol on Israeli territory, killed two IDF soldiers and kidnapped Gilad Shalit to Gaza. He has been held in Gaza ever since.
Only after more than three years in captivity, in September 2009, was the first video of Gilad Shalit released by the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas:
Efforts to negotiate Gilad Shalit’s release have so far not been successful, mainly because the hostage-takers demand the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, among them convicted murderers.
I often think of Gilad Shalit when Palestinians, or people who blindly take up anything that is called “the Palestinian cause”, talk about “the occupation of Gaza”. Gilad Shalit is the only Israeli soldier in Gaza. This boy who was a 19-year old corporal at the time is not an occupying force, he is a hostage. At the time of his capture, there was no more Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip. Israel had withdrawn all its military, its police and even Israeli civilians (many of them against their will) from Gaza in 2005, almost one year before Gilad Shalit’s capture. Gilad Shalit and his unit were on Israeli territory when he was kidnapped.
Gilad Shalit is not a prisoner of war, but a hostage. There was no military confrontation between Hamas and Israel at the time of his capture. Gilad Shalit, his family and his home countries are being denied the basic rights extended to prisoners of war (POW), for example visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the right to know the POW’s location or the right to correspondence with his family.
When Gilad Shalit was 11 years old, he wrote a story at school, called “When the Shark and the Fish first met”. It is a story about a shark and a fish who meet and become friends. Part of it reads:
In the evening, the shark returned to his home.
His mother asked:
“How was your day, my dear shark? How many animals did you devour today?”
The shark answered: “Today I didn’t devour any animals, but I played with an animal called FISH”.
“That fish is an animal we eat. Don’t play with it!” said the shark’s mother.
At the home of the fish, the same thing happened. “How are you, little fish? How was it today in the sea?” asked the fish’s mother.
The fish answered: “Today I played with an animal called SHARK.”
“That shark is the animal that devoured your father and your brother. Don’t play with that animal,” answered the mother.
It’s a beautiful story which you can read in full here.
Happy birthday, Gilad! I hope you will be free soon.