Freed Israeli soldier speaks of Hamas captivity
A former Israeli soldier 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, former Sgt. Gilad Schalit said his Hamas captors treated him well for the most part, but he feared he would never be released. The transcript appeared Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily.
"I tried to be optimistic," said Schalit, 26, according to the transcript. "I tried to focus on the little, good things I had there."
Hamas-allied militants from Gaza captured Schalit in a 2006 cross-border raid. Hamas held him in a secret location in the Gaza Strip, the seaside Palestinian territory that Hamas rules.
After a succession of Israeli mediators failed for years to negotiate his return, secret back-channel talks led to last October's prisoner swap, in which Hamas freed the soldier in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
After being hidden from public view from the day he was captured, Schalit was brought across the Gaza border by armed Hamas militants. Before he was turned over to Israeli officials, he was put before an Egyptian TV journalist for a brief interview, as masked militants hovered nearby. The overwhelmed Schalit struggled to speak, and Israeli officials called the interview "shocking."
After that, Schalit has mostly kept out of the spotlight. He published a brief letter last month on the occasion of the Jewish new year, but did not grant any interviews until the documentary.
In the transcript, Schalit said his captors fed him well, played chess and dominoes with him, and "hardly abused me."
He said they let him watch Arabic news on TV, and he started to pick up a little Arabic. Later he was given a radio, which he used to listen to Israeli news. He said he and his captors would sometimes share a laugh watching televised sports matches and movies together.
Schalit didn't keep a journal, but he said he made sketches of his Israeli neighborhood so he wouldn't forget it. He said he tried to keep his sketches hidden, because some of his guards thought he was collecting intelligence.
Schalit said he had a difficult time at the start of his captivity, but eventually he developed a daily regimen, waking up and going to sleep at the same times each day. He said he kept track of the calendar, and calculated the time of day according to the sun and to the Muslim call to prayer five times a day.
He did not say if he knew where he was being held.
Schalit recalled one instance when he and his captors watched an Israeli soccer player score a key goal in a televised match.
"They were stunned by the goal. They were amazed by the fact that an Israeli team could play that way," Schalit recalled. "This is one of the things that helped me stay sane there."