Hamas has confirmed that Gilad is alive and well, but nothing has been heard from him. He has not received any visits from the Red Cross and Hamas has not revealed where he is being held. There are many rumours about negotiations for his release in a prisoner exchange but, as Noam observed, the vast majority of the newspaper reports are disinformation. No-one knows whether Hamas and the Israeli government will reach an agreement at all, let alone when.
When I called Noam to request an interview, he said, very politely, that he did not have any new information about his son. I told him that we were interested in writing a piece about him. "But I am not the story," he protested gently.
Noam Shalit has been described as a hero and a symbol of peace. When asked whether it was true that he had spoken to Ghazi Hamad, the (Hamas) spokesman of the Palestinian Authority (PA) who recently expressed harsh criticism of his own people for their failure to build a functioning society in Gaza (article here), he said, "Yes, I’m not very political. He seemed like a nice man and I have no problem talking to anyone who is willing to talk to me and doesn’t want to kill me. " He speaks frequently with PA officials and is planning to visit Gaza in order to meet Hamas politicians.
He visited the families who were bereaved at Beit Hanoun, and he also visited the wounded residents of Beit Hanoun who were evacuated to Israeli hospitals.
"I know Beit Hanoun was a mistake, but it was a huge tragedy and a lot of innocent people who just want to live normal lives were caught between battling powers. At the hospital, I appealed for a break in the cycle of violence."
Quite a lot of people read about Noam Shalit’s actions and concluded that he was a leftist who did not represent mainstream Israeli society. Actually, I think he is a good example of Israel’s silent majority.
Noam describes himself as non-political. He did not vote in the last elections ("I was in Eilat") but when asked, he said he most identifies with Ehud Olmert’s centrist Kadima party. He also describes himself as pro-peace, although he thinks that calling him a hero of peace is "very exaggerated." He was "strongly" in favour of the withdrawal from Gaza because he saw it as a chance for peace: "I hoped that the Palestinians in Gaza would build businessess and hope for the future, factories and houses. But instead they built tunnels to smuggle weapons and they built bomb factories. It is very disappointing." But his desire for peace remains unshaken. "I really believe that the extremists on both sides are dragging us into this conflict. Because the vast majority on both sides, I think, want peace and quiet. We don’t love each other, but we are sick of wars and violence."
Gilad Shalit has become a symbol and a bargaining chip, but of course for Noam he is just his son - and he wants him back. Right now the negotiations for Gilad’s release are stuck on the issue of how many Palestinian political prisoners should be freed in an exchange (there is talk of exchanging 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails for Gilad), and also on who those prisoners should be. There is controversy, for example, about releasing Marwan Barghouti, the popular former Fatah activist who was sentenced in a Tel Aviv civilian court to five life sentences for murder and attempted murder (more about Barghouti here).
Noam sees all these negotations in simple and pragmatic terms: "I have appealed to the Palestinian and Israeli governments, not to make grand political deals on the back of my son. I know that the political prisoner issue is very important on the Palestinian street, but we won’t be able to resolve it using my son. They abduct my son, we jail Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament, and then they respond with another kidnapping... It’s endless, and nothing will be resolved like this. The only solution is for both parties to sit down and negotiate."
We asked Noam if he had made any plans for Gilad’s return.
"No," said Noam. "We haven’t made any plans. We haven’t even thought about it. We know we will have to treat him very carefully because he was only 19 years old when he was abducted. He had been in the army for less than one year."
Then he said, "Gilad’s release seems so far away."
Story Credit and thanks to: Lisa Goldman [Original Post]
Lisa Goldman is a Canadian-Israeli freelance journalist, based in Tel Aviv.