Former Israeli soldier recalls 5 years in Gaza captivity
Published: October 13, 2012 12:44PM
Updated: October 13, 2012 12:48PM
FILE - In this photo taken Thursday, July 12, 2012, freed Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit attends a Bastille Day event at the French Ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv, Israel. Monday, Oct. 18, 2011. Schalit who was held for more than five years by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip has disclosed details about his life in captivity, his fullest account to date, in a forthcoming Israeli TV documentary. The transcript appeared Friday in the Israeli Yediot Ahronot newspaper. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Jerusalem • Almost a year after he was released from five years of captivity in Gaza, Gilad Schalit, the former Israeli soldier, has revealed more details of how he coped with the ordeal and his fears of being forgotten.

Aware from the beginning that negotiations for his release could take years, he said that he feared he could meet the same fate as an Israeli airman who was captured in Lebanon in the 1980s and never returned.

“I was afraid that would happen to me, that I would be forgotten and there would be no one to talk to,” he said in a rare interview published in the Israeli news media.”That they would make me disappear, people wouldn’t know where I was.”

Schalit, who was seized by Palestinian militants in 2006, when he was a 19-year-old corporal, is still treated as a celebrity in Israel. But his family and friends have also guarded his privacy during his recovery and he has spoken little about his experiences.

Now, he has granted an interview for a television documentary. An excerpt was broadcast Thursday night and transcripts of the interview were published in the national newspapers on Friday.

Schalit said that during his captivity he tried to focus on the good things, small as they were: “Whatever I was allowed; television, radio, reasonable food, the fact that they did not abuse me too much.” He said he tried to maintain a regular schedule and to keep active. “I would get up at about the same time and go to sleep at the same time,” he said.

He said that he began to understand a little Arabic and built a kind of rapport with his guards over a shared enthusiasm for sports. “There were moments when a kind of emotion would arise, a kind of laughter,” he said, “when we watched a good game on television or a movie.” He would also play chess and dominoes with his captors, he said, saying these activities helped him “stay sane.”

He described the shock and relief after he was freed last October in an exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and first crossed into Egypt.

“After I hadn’t seen more than a few people at once all those years, to suddenly see such a commotion around you, it was an odd feeling,” he said.