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Gilad Shalit’s Father at CJA Women's Philanthropy Event describes His Son’s Five Years of Captivity: “Wavering from Hope to Despair”

by Rhonda J. Prepes, May 27, 2014

On May 25, 2014, Mira Narvey and Daniela Jacobsohn, co-chairs of the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Combined Jewish Appeal welcomed a crowd of about 150 people to the donor appreciation evening with special guest Noam Shalit.

Jacobsohn explained that the Women’s Division raised 6% more this year than last year and was able to exceed their goal of $1.4 M by $68,000.

“The dollars we raise change people’s lives here in Winnipeg and over-seas,” she said.

Narvey thanked Gail Asper for being the overall campaign chair of the Combined Jewish Appeal for the second year in a row and for raising an unprecedented total of $5.8 M.


At the event Noam Shalit spoke about his son Gilad's captivity at the hands of Hamas and how he spearheaded a campaign for his son's eventual release.

Gilad Shalit , who was just 19 years old and halfway through his mandatory Israeli army service on June 25, 2006, was guarding  guarding an army post in Southern Israel with two other soldiers when they came under attack by Palestinians militants. His fellow soldiers died at the scene, but Gilad was taken prisoner.

As Noam Shalit noted, "Gilad spent 1941 days in the hands of Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization. His return home is due in no small part to the collective cries of his fellow Israelis, and hundreds of thousands of supporters – Jewish and non-Jewish around the world."

"When your son is kidnapped by a cruel enemy, there is only constant worry and uncertainty."

Noam remembered how he felt when in June 2006, the IDF told him that it seemed his son had been abducted and taken to Gaza.

"I had a strong sense of déjà vu. My parents experienced the same encounter with the IDF 33 years ago the IDF told them that my twin brother had been killed in the Yom Kippur War of 1973."

 Noam described the roller coaster of events following the kidnapping:

"There would be many declarations and threats to come … counteracted with conflict negotiations, appeals to the Supreme court, secret back channels, constant worry and uncertainty. There were moments of raised hope …and of crushing disappointment.

"We learned that the government of Yehud Olmert and later of Benjamin Netanyahu were neither willing to make painful concessions to bring Gilad home nor had any alternatives to achieving that goal."

As  Noam recalled at first the army went on the offensive. Several days after Gilad’s abduction, Israel arrested 50 Hamas ministers and parliament members to be used as bargaining chips, but they were released a few months later.The army then launched operation “Summer Rays”, area bombardments against Gaza’s infrastructure to punish the Palestinian population and to put pressure on Hamas to return Gilad, but that too did not work.

"Two weeks later when we were invited to the Prime Minister’s office, we learnt that two other IDF soldiers had been abducted from Israel’s northern border by Hezbollah. Shortly thereafter, Olmert launched the second Lebanon War.

As we dealt with the private pain of our son’s abduction we spent much of the next few weeks in bomb shelters. It was a difficult time …as public attention had now shifted from Gilad’s case to the war in Lebanon."


Noam then spoke of his own actions in the hopes of  freeing his son

"'After ineffective negotiations in Egypt, I did what any desperate father would do. I wrote a letter the Hamas leader in Damascus appealing to him as one father to another. I held a press conference in Jerusalem meant for the Arabic press where I quoted from the Qurun which commands the generous care of captives.

At this time, we did not know if Gilad was alive. Hamas denied him visits by the International Red Cross while thousands of Palestinians prisoners in Israeli jails had access to family visitation rights, visits by lawyers and the Red Cross, TV sets and even academic opportunities to obtain degrees.

Finally we received a sign that Gilad was still alive when we saw a letter Hamas had dictated to him to write.

The sense of relief we felt after recognizing his handwriting was overwhelming."

One year after Gilad's abduction Hamas released an online audio tape of Gilad’s voice.But according to Noam Shalit, at this time, the Israeli government was not effectively engaged in negotiating his release and was not ready to make the concessions to bring him home.

In 2009, when Olmert was forced to resign and Netanyahu was elected the new Prime Minister, Gilad had been in captivity for more than three years.

"We quickly learned that Netanyahu’s public declarations were not backed up by action.This is when we started shifting responsibility for Gilad’s fate from our government to ourselves," Noam Shalit explained. 

In the summer of 2010, after four years of Gilad being in captivity, his family set out on an 11 day march with thousands of people from the Western Galilee to Jerusalem in front of the Prime Minister’s residence.

"I remember looking back in astonishment and excitement at the wave of humanity behind me. The feeling that the country was behind us was truly overwhelming."

As Noam recalled, "Polls showed that 76% of Israelis supported the idea of making a deal to bring Gilad home even if that meant releasing Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands.

What started as a lonely crusade turned into a mass movement. There was no way that the politicians could ignore us."

Noam noted that April 20011 was the beginning of the break through.  A third negotiator was assigned by Netanyahu. Hamas’s regional situation was changing with major upheaval in Egypt and Syria as well as other parts of the Arab world and Hamas leaders were feeling less secure and more willing to mediate.

"On Sukkot Eve 2011, the lead negotiator sent notice to me that said: We closed the deal.

"Netanyahu made a difficult choice to sanction the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some who had committed terrible crimes against the Israeli people, in exchange for one IDF soldier, my son Gilad.

"The country rejoiced with his release after nearly 2000 days and nights in captivity in total isolation and not able to see the sunlight. On October 18, 2011, my son Gilad was reborn."

Shalit's father remembered that the first thing Gilad did at home was go for a bike ride and "feel the freedom and the sunlight which he missed so much." Soon he returned to playing and watching basketball, his favourite sport.

Today, according to Noam, Gilad is doing well and studying economics in college. His life will never be the same, but he is reclaiming the life that he lost for 5 years.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to bring Gilad home has strengthened the well-known values that we have fought for in the last 5 years and the government’s commitment to bring all soldiers home," Noam Shalit said.


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