What's changed in the world since Schalit was captured?

In 1,935 days in captivity, what has the soldier missed? Has he heard of his family's efforts to lobby for his release? The Arab Spring? Facebook WikiLeaks?

October 12, 2011 15:52
Gilad Schalit

Gilad Schalit 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

After 1,935 days in captivity, Gilad Schalit is finally set to be released as part of a prisoner-exchange deal with Hamas. But what state is the soldier himself in? In addition to the years of his life, his family’s suffering and the psychological effects of his captivity, what has Schalit missed? What will he need to catch up on?

From the video which was released by Hamas in 2009, we know that Schalit is at least aware of certain details in local Israeli politics, such as the fact that Netanyahu is the prime minister. But how much does he know past that? Did his captors give him regular access to television or newspapers, local or otherwise?

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Timeline: Five years in Hamas captivity
Shin Bet chief: Schalit swap 'is the best deal possible'

Assuming everything goes to plan, as all Israelis are hoping and praying this Succot, Gilad will be given time – a few weeks at least – to be alone with his family in Mitzpe Hila upon his return.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit will coordinate all photos and media statements throughout the exchange in order to safeguard the Schalit family’s privacy.

Gilad and his family will have time to catch each other up on personal stories, current events and changes in the world.

We have only a limited idea of Gilad’s ordeal over the past few years, and what has he heard of his family’s plight?

The Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit

Has he heard of the Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit? Does he know of last year’s protest marches around the country, and the tent in Jerusalem in which his parents lived from July 2010 until Wednesday this week? The rallies around the world? The yellow ribbons tied to bags and cars around the nation?

One of the main things that Gilad will have to digest is what the name “Gilad Schalit” now means to Israelis.

Facebook, Twitter and the social media revolution

Facebook launched for college students in the US back in 2004, but it wasn’t until mid-2008 that Israelis started to use the social-networking site. The Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit has used social media intensively in past years to spread awareness, organize events and influence public opinion. The Free Gilad Schalit group on Facebook has over 100,000 members, and his “page” has over 300,000 “Likes.” Since the prisoner-exchange deal was announced on Tuesday night, both walls have been flooded with supportive posts.

According to Trendsmap.com, “#shalit,” “#gilad,” and “#swap” were the top trending topics on twitter in Israel on Wednesday afternoon. But will Schalit himself know what any of that means?

The Arab Spring

While Gilad has been held in Gaza, the Arab Spring, as it has come to be known, unfolded across the Middle East and North Africa, with arguably the biggest events taking place just a few hundred kilometers south of the Strip in Cairo. After 30 years in power, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was deposed, and in Libya, Gaddafi’s regime crumbled, following unprecedented protests across the region. Did Gilad hear about any of this?

The technology boom

In 2006, when Schalit was captured, everyone in Israel had at least one cell phone, if not two – but businessmen were the only people who carried portable touchscreen devices around with them. iPods were out but not common in Israel, and no one had ever heard of an iPhone.

What will Gilad think of iPads, first released in April 2010? And how will he feel walking down the street and seeing every second person absorbed in their iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone? How long will it take for him to catch up on these and other technical developments?

The killing of Bin Laden

Schalit was 15 years old when al- Qaida terrorists flew two planes into the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001. He would remember that during his final years at high school, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom, with the aim of rooting out terrorist infrastructure and dismantling al-Qaida. When Schalit was captured, Osama bin Laden was still at large, and seen as a major, if not the major, target of the War on Terror.

Will Schalit be surprised to learn that six months ago bin Laden was shot and killed by US Navy Seals in a secret compound in Pakistan, or has he heard the story already? Has he seen the footage of the raid which was posted all over the Internet and on television stations the world over?

The flotilla fiasco

In May 2010, a pro-Palestinian flotilla approached Gaza with the intention of breaking the Israeli naval blockade, which was put in place in 2007 when Hamas took over the Strip. Off the Gaza coast, mere kilometers from where Gilad was being held, IDF commandos boarded the ships and on one of them, the Mavi Marmara, nine Turkish activists were killed.

The diplomatic backlash from the interception raid was massive, with anti-Israel rallies held the world over, particularly around the Muslim world. Most notably, diplomatic ties with Turkey have not yet recovered. After the activists who had been detained were released, and the ships returned, Israel eased restrictions on the Strip.

Did Gilad know? Did he even know about the blockade in the first place? And did he hear about the buildup to the subsequent flotilla planned for the middle of this year that largely fizzled due to intervention from Mediterranean countries, such as Greece?

2008 Wall Street Crash

In September 2008, just over two years after Schalit was captured, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, sparking what became known as the Global Financial Crisis. During the following months, large financial institutions across the US collapsed, and stock markets around the world fell.

Hardly an hour could go by without the crisis being brought up – in personal conversations, on world news and business talk the world over. Ripples of the crisis were also felt in Israel, though certainly to a lesser effect that in other Western countries.

Did stories of what is seen as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s make it to where Schalit was being held in Gaza?

The Palestinian Statehood bid

For the past few months, Israeli media has been flooded with news of the Palestinian Authority’s decision to ask the United Nations to approve statehood. Last month, both Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly, with the former calling for an immediate return to peace talks, and the latter calling for the immediate establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

In the coming months, the Palestinian request will be discussed and voted on in the UN Security Council. Does Schalit know anything of this?

International Natural Disasters

The past five years have seen multiple natural disasters, with hundreds of thousands of fatalities.

While Gilad would remember the Indian Ocean tsunami that hit South Asia and killed over 230,000 people in December 2004, did he hear about the Haiti earthquake that left almost a quarter of a million people dead in January, 2010? Or the earthquake and subsequent tsunami which killed 15,000 people in Japan, and threatened a nuclear disaster?


Civilian Internet access was widespread by the time Schalit was captured, but Web usage in almost every sector has expanded and developed exponentially in the past five years.

There is hardly a person that has not heard about the new-media group WikiLeaks, and its releases of documents relating to the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and US international diplomacy.

Many of the US State Department documents released in the last batch, known as CableGate, pertain to Israel and the Palestinians. Have Gilad’s captors told him about this?

This list could go on and on. Does Schalit know that South Sudan is now an independent state as of January this year, that Barack Obama is the US president, or that Australia has a female prime minister? Did he hear about the Mumbai bombings of 2008, or the 2009 anti-government protests in Iran? Does the acronym H1N1 mean anything to him? Did he see any episodes of the Israeli television show Prisoners of War (hatufim) which aired in 2009? Does he know what a Kindle is? Even once the media storm has died down and the 25-year-old has settled in his home in Mitzpe Hila, catching Gilad up on the past five years is not going to be easy.

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