Israeli officials described Gilad Schalit’s first interview after his release as
“exploitative.” They could have added amateurish, propagandistic,
opportunistic and downright cruel.
Tuesday’s travesty – carried live on
state TV – was conducted by Shahira Amin, a leading Egyptian journalist who in
February quit the channel because of its skewed coverage of the popular protests
that unseated president Hosni Mubarak. That Amin now appears to be doing Cairo’s
bidding bodes ill for hopes the “new Egypt” would usher in the first free media
environment in the post-colonial Arab world.
The notion that Schalit
agreed to give Nile TV an interview of his own free will defies belief. Forcing
him to do so immediately after his release from Gaza – before seeing medical
staff, much less an Israeli representative or his family – is in itself an
apparent breach of journalistic ethics.
That issue aside, more than a few
of Amin’s questions ran the gamut from fatuous to sadistic.RELATED:
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that time of captivity, you did just one video to tell the world and your family
that you’re alive,” she tells the soldier. “Why just once? Why didn’t it happen
Rather than letting him answer, however, Schalit’s Hamas
minder-cum-interpreter scolds Amin for asking the same question twice (a
peculiar accusation, given the footage shows the question hadn’t been asked
The resulting argument between interviewer and minder is one of
the interview’s more regrettable scenes. Amin says Schalit appears unwell, and
“that’s why I’m asking the question again” – as if drilling him repeatedly will
have a salutary effect. The question is itself absurd, roughly tantamount to
asking a hostage victim why he or she didn’t escape sooner.
subsequent question is little better: “It was the Egyptian national security
that mediated for your release. There were previous failed mediation
efforts, including one by the Germans. Why do you think that this time round,
the mediation was a success, and what would you like to tell the Egyptian
The reporter is seated beside an Egyptian flag – as if she were
not the interviewer but an Egyptian government interviewee. Schalit, by
contrast, sits next to a houseplant. Throughout the 12-minute ordeal, the
soldier breathes heavily, his eyes either downcast or darting sideways and his
tone of voice anxious.
Struggling to reply, Schalit mumbles, “I think the
Egyptians succeeded because they’re on good relations both with Hamas and with
He could well have said, “Don’t use me as a prop for Egyptian
propaganda. I haven’t a clue how the mediations were conducted, given I know
nothing about anything that has happened over the past five years. Next
Amin proceeds to ask Schalit what “lessons” he learned in captivity.
After asking for the question to be repeated, he says he believes a deal could
have been reached sooner. Here the Hamas minder renders his response as praise
for reaching a deal “in such short time” – a mistranslation repeated by the
BBC’s own real-time interpreter.
“Gilad, you know what it’s like to be in
captivity,” Amin continues as the painful charade drags on. “There are more than
4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help
campaign for their release?”
Schalit’s answer, after a few seconds’ stunned
silence, is superior: “I’d be very happy if they were released,” he says, then
adds the caveat, “provided they don’t return to fighting Israel.”
the Egyptian interpreter fails to translate the sentence’s second clause, and
again the omission is repeated by the BBC’s interpreter, though he too was
apparently translating from Hebrew in real-time.
“I will be very happy
for the prisoners to go free, so that they can be able to go back to their
families, loved ones and territory. It will give me great happiness if this
happens,” the BBC’s interpreter relays.
Yonit Levi is the Channel 2 News
presenter who throughout Tuesday’s coverage waxed poetic over Schalit’s every
step, shunting aside the sensitivities of bereaved families or the thought that
the lopsided prisoner exchange could spawn further acts of terrorism. In
reacting to the Egyptian interview, however, she was spot-on: The “bizarre”
spectacle, she said, “was borderline abusive.”
On his Twitter feed, Adel
Abdel Ghafar, an Egyptian graduate student based in Australia, summed it up
better still: “After five years in captivity, Schalit has to go through one last
form of torture: an interview with Egyptian Public TV.”