Mitzpe Hila, Israel — At the Shalit household, once again there is no Gilad. His father, Noam, is in the front garden — but not forlornly waiting, as in many press photographs taken on this spot. Instead, he is kvelling.
When the Forward visited in mid-June, Gilad Shalit, the former Israeli soldier held prisoner in Gaza for five years by Hamas, was away at the just-completed NBA finals in Miami for his new job, writing color commentary on basketball games for Israel’s best-selling daily newspaper, Yediot Aharonot. In his debut article on June 15, he told readers of his love for the sport and how it gave him strength through his captivity, with televised games sometimes even providing a “common denominator” between him and his captors.
Everybody in Israel recognizes this picturesque Galilee home from the scenes of a distraught Noam Shalit after his son was kidnapped by Hamas back in 2006. They also know it from the emotional scene that took place at 2:56 p.m. on October 18 of this past year, when the helicopter carrying him, just released from Gaza, touched down and he returned.
Back then, the nation wondered, and worried, about Gilad Shalit’s emotional and psychological state after going so long with no human contact except that of his captors’ representatives, with hardly any sunlight and with poor nourishment and medical care.
But his father reports that the family has been taken aback by his progress. “On an emotional level he was quite surprising,” he said. “After some weeks or months, it was like nothing happened to him.
“Now he’s fully recovered, and emotionally. I think you can never know what will be in the future, [but] as far as we can see, now he’s okay and willing very much to go back to normal life, to go out to travel, to spend time with his friends, to attend sports games.”
In fact, Noam Shalit admitted that before he was taken, his son lacked confidence: “He was not a social master.” But he also said that he returned stronger and is now “much more sociable.”
With iPhone and iPad in hand, Gilad Shalit is doing well catching up on developments in the world that he didn’t glean from the radio access he was permitted in the past three years of his captivity, his father reported.
His son hopes to study at university, though he has not set a timetable or chosen a subject. As for whether he will return to the army for reserve duty — as most discharged soldiers do — that remains an open question.
But while Gilad Shalit may be returning to a “normal life,” his father, who led the campaign to enable him to do so, cannot. He tried to keep his job in the marketing department at the Iscar metal working tools company during that time, “but it wasn’t the same. Sooner or later I realized it was not possible. I worked for almost two years, but I couldn’t go on with our campaign and at the same time go to my office.” By the time his son came home, Noam Shalit was no longer motivated to return.