Ten Years After Infamous Shalit Interview, Egyptian Journo Recalls First Encounter With IDF Soldier

© AFP 2022Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit saluting in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (unseen) as he arrives by helicopter at the Tel Nof airbase near Tel Aviv on 18 October 2011, following his release following 5 years of Hamas captivity under a landmark Egyptian-mediated deal that will see Israel release a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit saluting in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (unseen) as he arrives by helicopter at the Tel Nof airbase near Tel Aviv on 18 October 2011, following his release following 5 years of Hamas captivity under a landmark Egyptian-mediated deal that will see Israel release a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 17.10.2021
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Shahira Amin has faced harsh criticism since her interview in 2011. Many Egyptians accused her of preferring an Israeli soldier over Palestinian inmates, whereas the Israeli press slammed her for putting Shalit through an ordeal.
Shahira Amin, one of Egypt's most prominent journalists, vividly remembers that day in October 2011 when she received a phone call from the Ministry of Information telling her that she would soon be given a scoop.
Amin could easily guess what "scoop" the ministry was referring to. At the time, Israel and Hamas, an Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip, had agreed upon a prisoner swap deal in which the Jewish state would receive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails on terrorism charges.
Cairo had mediated that deal.

Exciting Prospect

The Egyptian journalist was excited at the thought of interviewing the newly-released Palestinian prisoners and she was eager to talk to their families, who hadn't seen their loved ones for ages.

"I was in Vienna attending the WAN-Ifra conference but when I received the call [from the ministry], I returned to Cairo, and the following day I went straight to Rafah, where the prisoners' exchange would take place".

But when she reached Rafah, she was informed by the Ministry of Information that the freed Palestinians would be interviewed by a colleague, while she would be given the chance to do a one-on-one sit-down with Gilad Shalit himself.
The journalist still doesn't know why she was chosen for the job. She was not prepared by the Egyptian authorities. Neither was she briefed about which questions to ask, but she embraced the opportunity.

"What could I ask someone who has just been released? Nothing much really. You want them to describe how they felt at that moment, whether he knew that he would eventually be released, how he was treated by his captors, and what his plans were once he gets home".

The interview didn't last long. When Shalit was brought into the room, where she and her cameraman were waiting, he looked frail, pale, and tired. He was weak and when he spoke, his voice was hardly audible.

"My first thought was that I thought what a terrible ordeal for him and his family that must have been".

Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants in 2006 after the latter penetrated Israeli territory via a tunnel and attacked an IDF post close to the Kerem Shalom crossing. That raid killed two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinian militants. Shalit himself was injured and was taken to the Gaza Strip, where he was held in difficult conditions at an unknown location for five years.
© REUTERS / MOHAMMED SALEMA masked Palestinian boy looks on as Hamas militant take part in a protest over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in the Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, in the northern Gaza Strip May 7, 2021
A masked Palestinian boy looks on as Hamas militant take part in a protest over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in the Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, in the northern Gaza Strip May 7, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 17.10.2021
A masked Palestinian boy looks on as Hamas militant take part in a protest over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in the Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, in the northern Gaza Strip May 7, 2021
Amin didn't want to add to his nightmare, especially because Shalit's captors, militants from the Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades were present in the room and they were armed.

"I asked Shalit if he would agree to talk to me. If he had said no, I wouldn't have pressured him but he said he would and asked to keep it short because he wanted to go home. I then noticed that his captors were still in the room. I insisted they left. I wouldn't conduct the interview in their presence. And they did leave".

Shalit first responded in English. He then switched to Hebrew and Amin used an interpreter to communicate with the IDF soldier.

"During the interview, I noticed how uncomfortable he was, I told the translator I would stop there, as he was exhausted. The interview was aired unedited and you could actually hear me saying that on tape".

Harsh Response

When the interview finally aired, Amin came under fire. Many Egyptians accused her of giving precedence to an Israeli soldier instead of the Palestinians.
The Israeli media raved about her "inhumanity and brutality". They accused her of using Shalit's fragile situation to score journalistic points and even called her "an enemy of Israel".
Amin, however, says those accusations were far from the truth.

"I am neither brutal nor inhumane. I am a journalist who seeks the truth. So many lives have been lost in this [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict. So much blood has been shed. But to have lasting peace, we need justice for all. We need a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel".

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