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