'Shalit must not be forced to speak out'

By Ruth Eglash, October 19, 2011

Ori Shahak, who spent eight months in a Syrian jail following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, joined Gilad Shalit's family in celebrating the news of his impending release last week. But the crowds and loud cheers forced the former pilot to exit the party early.

"Today, more than 37 years after being a prisoner of war, I still cannot stand loud noises and I need silence," said Mr Shahak, chairman of Erim B'Leila ('Awake at Night'), an organisation that campaigns for the rights of prisoners of war. "I was at the Shalit protest tent when the family received the news about his release but I could not stay there too long, it was too stressful."

According to Mr Shahak, who spent much of his jail time in solitary confinement, the hardest part was being alone. "It was harder than the beatings or the torture," he said. "If I found it hard for eight months, I cannot imagine what Gilad has gone through for five years."

While it is still too early to know what exactly Shalit went through, most trauma experts who have worked with Israeli former prisoners of war agree that he and his family will, first and foremost, need peace and quiet, far away from the cameras and well-wishers.

"Everyone feels like Gilad Shalit is their own child but he is not, and he should not be forced to speak about what he has gone through," said Dr Eleanor Pardess, a lecturer on trauma at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre.

She added: "Even though so many people have been involved in campaigning for his release and naturally want to be near him or give him a hug, the nation, as a collective, must now start to separate itself from this mission and not end up suffocating him."

Rachel Dekel, a Bar Ilan University professor who has researched post-traumatic stress disorder, said: "I really hope that the media will get the information it needs from the Shalits, pass it on and then let the family move on."

Last updated: 12:00pm, October 19 2011