Shalit’s father, Noam, also attended the proceedings and submitted his own response to the petitions, arguing that “any change in its delicate framework could torpedo the entire deal.”
The deal for Shalit reportedly was signed by the two sides on Oct. 6 in Cairo following years of negotiations and mediation via the Egyptians. News of the deal was first reported by the satellite TV station Al Arabiya.
There was also a secret channel between Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad and Gershon Baskin, the Israeli co-director of the dovish think tank IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information.
Shalit’s release would mark a remarkable end to a five-year saga that has transfixed the Israeli public, frustrated two successive Israeli governments and spanned two wars.
Then a corporal in the Israeli army, Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006. Almost immediately his family launched an incessant public campaign to free him. The crusade included vigils, marches, meetings, statements by world leaders, celebrity endorsements, bumper stickers, congressional resolutions, songs and a protest encampment opposite the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.
Shalit’s plight struck a chord in the Jewish state and the Jewish world, and Israelis and Jews from all walks of life and political camps took part in activities calling for his release.
It’s not clear whether this public campaign helped usher in the deal announced or whether it hindered an agreement from being reached.
Shalit’s family believed it had to keep up the public pressure on the Israeli government to seal the deal. At the official state Independence Day ceremony last May, Shalit’s brother Yoel darted onstage with his girlfriend and a banner reading “Shalit is still alive.” Instead of getting arrested for the stunt on national television broadcast, he got an audience with Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
But some analysts warned that all the public clamor to free Shalit only made a deal more difficult by increasing the price Hamas demanded for his release.
The issue of Palestinian prisoners is a top priority for Palestinians, and the deal was expected to strengthen Hamas in Gaza. Hamas had been losing ground to the rival Fatah faction, which controls the West Bank and whose leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was cheered as a hero for petitioning the United Nations last month for Palestinian statehood recognition. The deal is seen as a victory for Hamas in the rivalry between the two factions.
Over the past five years, Gilad Shalit had become a household name in Israel. In thinking about Shalit and the efficacy of such a prisoner exchange, parents in this country of mandatory army conscription invariably ask how they would feel if it were their son being held captive.
Now, with Shalit set to be released, many wonder about his physical and mental state. In five years and four months of captivity, Shalit was allowed no international visitors. Two years ago, his captors released a brief video of Shalit issuing a call to Israeli leaders to agree to a deal for his release.
“The video showed he is functioning and speaking, but who knows what has happened to this young man,” Reuven Gal, the former IDF chief psychologist, told Israel Radio. “Gilad was presumably held in physical and emotional isolation, and the result is likely to be serious trauma.”
Gal said the best chance for full recovery is for Shalit to spend as much time with his family as possible.
– JTA, with supplemental reporting by Jewish Press staff.