‘Without dialogue we'll always have barrier between us’

An open letter from Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin who interviewed Gilad Schalit upon his release from over five years in captivity.

Shahira Amin 311 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Shahira Amin 311
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
When I met Gilad Schalit I found he looked terribly tired and malnourished. He was thinner than pictures I had seen of him and pale.
His voice was weak and he seemed to have difficulty concentrating but was in high spirits telling me he was excited about going home and seeing his family.
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My motive was: I felt that at this time of high anti-Israeli sentiment in Egypt and the Arab world (especially after the killing of the Egyptian border guards) it was important to try and diffuse tensions by showing Arab viewers that people on both sides were paying the price for this conflict. I felt it would earn Schalit the compassion he deserves.
Many in Egypt are outraged that I gave him this platform saying I made a hero out of him. I wish other journalists in our region would reach out to “the other.” Only then can there be peace. Without dialogue and communication we shall always have a barrier between us and the hatred and mistrust will grow.
My other motive was to have Schalit speak to the world as many people were concerned about him. I met him after he had been released and he had had a medical checkup by the Red Cross and he had already communicated with his family to let them know of his release and that he would be home shortly.
Only then did I enter the room. I spoke with him for a few moments asking him if he would like to tell the world of his ordeal. Had he refused, I would NOT have pressed him.
If there was any coercion behind the scenes, I am not aware of it. All I know is that an Egyptian security official said that the interview was simply an Egyptian request, not a condition for his release.
He had already been released and the Hamas troops had left the area.
The only remaining one was the Hamas soldier (a member of the Ezzeldine el Qassam Brigade) filming our interview.
I asked everyone including him to leave the room before starting as I said their presence were making us both nervous.
My voice can be heard on the tape in Arabic (as the interview was broadcast unedited) telling the translator I would skip some questions because Schalit was clearly tired and we do not want to wear him out.
In the middle of the interview I stopped and offered Schalit a drink of water and a packet of biscuits. I then asked if he would be more comfortable to speak to me in Hebrew and he said yes. We had originally started off in English.
I truly regret that my motives were misunderstood. I also am angered by some of the comments in the Israeli press about the questions I asked: I asked how he was, if he had anticipated his release, how he’d received the news of his release after all these years in captivity and what he had missed most while in captivity. I also asked how he had been treated and about his future plans.
But I also had to ask why he thought previous mediation efforts had failed and why he thought this one had succeeded.
That is not a propaganda question at all. I just felt that Egyptian authorities had managed to secure a deal and deserved to be acknowledged for their effort while Mubarak had only made promises and never delivered. (If you follow my TV stories, you will know that I have been holding the interim regime to account for their actions just as I did the former regime.) Finally I had to ask about Palestinians still in Israeli jails.. NOT all of them have Israeli blood on their hands... those who do should remain imprisoned.
I was not aware that Israel had not been informed nor did I know that the Israeli government had said there would be a media ban on Schalit’s case for 10 days after his release.
Schalit answered honestly and courageously. He was not afraid that he might be put back behind bars because he had already been released. He said he would be happy if all Palestinians in jails would be set free as long as they promise not to commit acts of violence against his country. He also said that he feels the mediation succeeded this time because Egypt’s relations with both Hamas and Israel were better now than they were under Mubarak.
I hope this helps you understand and if you can, please spread the message that I am all for peace. I was raised abroad and always had Israeli friends in my class growing up as a kid so I feel no contempt for Jews and Israelis. All my stories have been about promoting peace and tolerance.