Former POW: ‘Even one day in captivity is a long time’

Participants in the march to free Gilad Schalit gather in Latrun on next-to-last day of their trek to Jerusalem.

July 7, 2010 08:58
3 minute read.
Family members of Schalit and their supporters mar

Schalit march 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

When he was a prisoner in Syria, his interrogators tried to convince Amnon Sharon that his country had abandoned him.

“They told me that no one cared, not the government and not my family. They even suggested that I start a new life in Syria,” Sharon recalled as he described his time as a prisoner of war immediately after the Yom Kippur War, from October 1973 to June 1974.

He spoke on Wednesday in the midday heat on the grounds of the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun, where participants in the march to free captive soldier Gilad Schalit had gathered on the next-to-last day of their trek to Jerusalem.

In his heart he knew his captors were wrong, Sharon said. “I had no doubt that the nation was behind me, as was the army and my family. Most certainly they were doing everything they could to release me.”

The thought gave him the strength to endure, he said.

In the end, to secure his freedom, along with the other 64 soldiers held by Damascus, Israel released hundreds of Syrian soldiers. “They also returned territory, they gave back Kuneitra” on the Syrian border, Sharon said.

Israel Radio’s Negbi: Media skewing Schalit coverage
15,000 join Schalit family march

He later told The Jerusalem Post that at the time, there were objections to the deal. Sharon recalled that after his release, during a visit he made to the Knesset, a parliamentarian who sat next to him during lunch said he did not support the swap that freed the prisoners of war in Syria.

“I almost threw up. I got up and walked out,” Sharon said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that Israel cannot afford to release all the prisoners Hamas has demanded for Schalit because it fears they will commit more terrorist attacks.

But terrorists are trying to attack Israeli all the time, and these attempts won’t stop even if Schalit remains in captivity in Gaza, Sharon said.

Speaking to the marchers, he said that the four years Hamas has held Schalit was a long time.

“From my experience, as one who understands very well what is going on with Gilad, I want to tell you that even one day is a long time,” he said.

Another speaker, Haim Erez, noted that the tank standing behind him resembled the one that Schalit had been in when he was kidnapped while patrolling the Gaza border.

He explained that Schalit’s father, Noam, had lost a brother, Yoel, who served in the tank corps and died during the Yom Kippur War. His name is listed on a memorial wall at Latrun, Erez said.

Noam said that he and his family had been to Latrun years earlier, when first their oldest son, also named Yoel, was in the Armored Corps, and then again when Gilad was in the army.

“We never imagined that we would come back here in the heat of summer, leading a march of thousands,” Noam said.

In the history of the state, he said, there has never been a march of his kind. He and his family left their Mitzpe Hila home in Upper Galilee on June 27 and, with the exception of Shabbat, have walked in the direction of Jerusalem every day since.

They have been joined along the way by thousands of people.

“These thousands cannot be wrong,” Noam Schalit said.

He called on all those who supported his son’s release to join them in Jerusalem on Thursday. Later in the afternoon, Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) joined the marchers.

To help welcome the family to the capital, activists who are not connected to the Free Gilad Schalit campaign plan to place messages for Gilad on 25 street signs.

On Thursday evening, the family plans to hold an event in Independence Park. After that, they will sit in a protest tent opposite the prime minister’s official residence until Gilad is released.

Netanyahu has said he will meet with them when they arrive in Jerusalem, but no date has been set.

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