Wednesday, October 19, 2011

800 Words: Excerpts from the Private Diary of Gilad Shalit

Pesach 2013: I write this entry from the Presidential Suite of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem. In the next room over has lain Ariel Sharon and his feeding tube. Amazingly, there is no malnutrition, no broken bone, no hygenic infection and no torture wound that results in my stay this time. I am merely here for Cirrhosis and the dozen strands of venereal disease I’ve acquired in the last fourteen months. Apparently the malnutrition of my stay in Gaza has depleted my immune system, so all the sex I’ve been having gave me AIDS-like symptoms - even if by some miracle I don’t actually have HIV. The doctors asked me to recall how many girls I’ve slept with since returning, I can only guess a number that is roughly a hundred seventy-five. At first it was awesome, there was always a girl wherever I go: at government events, HaPoel games, backstage at concerts, bars, parties, interview sets, even walking down the street. It’s amazing that a guy like me could ever be in this position. Even before prison, I was just a bony little sports nerd who joined the combat unit to buff up and get women to notice me. Just eighteen months ago, my only experience amounted to some handjobs from a high school girlfriend and a few times with a prostitute during off-duty nights. Well they certainly notice me now, but at this point sex just feels like just another official responsibility - if I refuse anything, people will get pissed.

I guess there’s something good in every misfortune, at least that’s what I ought to tell myself - now as then. In this case, its taken a hospital stay to give me the first chance in a year to spend real time with my parents. At least my siblings can come with me to all the concerts and afterparties, but how many appearances at a Dag Nachash concert or Betar games can Abba and Ima take? They need to re-establish their business - and after all those years spent camping in front of the prime minister’s house and the money spent hiring PR to influence leaders to act, they have to work like dogs if they ever want to retire - and they need me to work too. Their lives were devastated nearly as badly as mine, and they purchased my freedom with life as they knew it. So if my family ever wants to return to something resembling regular life, they need me out as a public figure earning money for us all: the commercial endorsements have to keep up, the interviews on television, the official appearances for the government. Even if they say that I don’t need to do any of this, my family has five years of life to make up for, so I will probably have to keep being ‘Gilad Shalit’ for at least another five.

I never cease to be amazed at how easily this all came to me. One night I went to bed awaiting death, the next morning I was told that I was arriving home my country’s hero. What they call rehabilitation was a joke. I found myself exactly the same ‘Gilad’ as I was six years ago. My family was always there, friends visited me daily, physical therapists were always on call and even the press respected some distance. The only thing that got me nervous was the interlopers who mobbed the cars whenever I had to leave for tests at the hospital.

I’d have never realized it at this time last year, but home is hundreds of times easier than crowds. After those first five months, I was like a lion let loose into the wild kingdom. I’m still scared to ride buses, turn the keys to a car, or even walk down the street. But every one of those experiences were exhilarating - as though you were walking down the street with no clothes. Here I am, regularly among people for the first time in five years, and at any moment they could be coming back for me....I know that’s it? But what can you do? You accustom yourself to the thought that each day will probably be your last, so every new risk seems like another ‘fuck you’ to the jailers. Even if only once, I have survived death, and they can never take that away.

Tisha B’Av 2015: Today was the low point. Some rider walked right up to me and started screaming. It all happened so fast that I couldn’t tell whether he was going to physically accost me before the security detail restrained him. But I did hear him say: ‘What did you live for if we’re all going to die?’ Every time I hear something like that, I feel the need to be seen in public more often. Still, I can’t say I disagree with his point.

It’s nearly four years and forty-seven hundred more Israeli civilian casualties later - suicide bombings, bus hijackings, proxy bombs, drivers who run over pedestrians, qossam and ketushah rockets, letter bombs, mass shootings. A hundred Israeli soldiers detained in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Egypt forever on the brink of a government controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood from which they can create a base in Gaza to launch dirty bombs (or worse) into Israel. Southern Lebanon and Gaza seeming to be under the conditions of a permanent war that could flair into a regional conflict at any moment: in the last three years, seven-to-eight thousand civilian casualties on both borders from Israeli fire. What relief could it be to me that Hamas and Hezbollah have killed just as many civilians when so many say that all these problems can be traced back to my release.

Even if that doesn’t seem fair, who am I to tell these people that they’re wrong? Clearly, it was Netanyahu’s plan to use the exchange as an excuse to go into Gaza and kill as many of the most dangerous prisoners he gave up as possible. And there began the war that’s still going. Even Adi refers to it as the ‘Gilad War.’ I always laugh when she does....

Chanukah 2018: Well, it finally happened. You can go into a bathroom stall five-thousand times only to find on the five-thousand-first that the stall reminds you of your jailcell and for the realization to cause you to faint. I can’t be too surprised by this. No matter how many times Adi tells me that I scream in my dreams, I don’t remember any of it. That’s all I want to say about this matter.

Purim 2023: I’m in Geha Psychiatric Hospital. Twelve years and it’s my first ever breakdown. I was on the phone and wasn’t paying attention to Zvi, who probably only wanted to tell me something about Moshe Oofnik. But I couldn’t pay attention, so the little pisher bit me. What could I do, I suddenly felt a huge wave of anger. Given how I was feeling, it’s amazing that I only hit him once. But he still has a bruise from it. Seeing the bruise a few hours later was much too much for me. I literally fell to the floor in front of him and started wailing as though my son were dead. For two days I was inconsolable before Adi and Ima decided I needed to go to the hospital. In a single moment of rage, I may have become Zvi’s captor. Life will never be the same again.

Sukkot 2023: As my dreams are getting increasingly vivid, Dr. Atzmon has asked me to keep a diary of my dreams.

Erev Rosh Hashana: I’m shackled in irons on a bus while a captor beats me and a crowd chants ‘Rotzeach’ (murderer). I then see an explosion in slow motion that incinerates everyone. I see myself on fire but I do not burn. I step outside the burning bus and I see that the bus is straddled on the Gaza Strip Barrier and thousands of people are looking up from either side. I tell them that the wall needs to be much higher, and suddenly the wall grows exponentially. Just as it reaches a cloud, it breaks off, and I plummet to earth, crushed by the wall and the burning bus.

Erev Tzom Gedaliah: I’m in a pit with hundreds of people looking down on me from above. They’re laughing at me, some of them are trying to drop rocks on me, but the rocks turn into rain. Somebody throws me a giant rope to climb out. I’m halfway up when the rope turns into a snake. After I reach the top, there’s Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barack, announcing that they’ve sold me to a Palestinian souk dealer in exchange for a bowl of soup. I look down at my hand and suddenly every bone in it is broken again. I turn around for one last look at the hole and turn into a statue.

Erev Shabbat Shuvah: I’m deep underwater, unable to breathe. The waters part and I’m on a dry shore with water a thousand feet high facing me on either side. A rock falls from the sky and a donkey suddenly appears to tell me that I should talk to it: it makes me mad I throw the rock at him. He responds ‘you shouldn’t have done that’ and the waters crash on us.

Erev Yom Kippur: I’m back at my Gaza jail. The sun has not risen for all week. I hear millions of footsteps marching around the jail. Every day this happens until the seventh day, when the walls of the jail collapse. I’m put into a chariot of fire which carries me through the air to my home, but just as I see home, the chariot turns around. It reaches Tel Aviv and then past the shore, the chariot then turns upside down and deposits me in the water. I’m then swallowed by a whale, the whale spits me out onto the shore near Yarkon Park. I begin my walk home, but the earth opens up and swallows me.

Hannukah 2028: I’m leaving Adi. She refuses to admit it, but it’s the best thing for her and the best thing for the kids. It’s probably the best thing for me too. Adi won’t have to put up with knowing that I’m out late because I’m drunk and screwing around, Zvi, Lelli and Noam won’t have to put up with regularly watching their parents fight and their father break a different piece of furniture every week. I’d like to think that I’m not leaving Adi for anybody. The official line will of course be that the military career is too much work. But everybody who knows us knows what a crock of shit that is. By the time I came back, I was already too old and stressed to train for another career. The army was extremely happy to hear that I was re-enlisting to train as an officer. Obviously, my graduation from officer training was a national event. But by now it’s clear I may not even make Colonel, let alone General. Is this the life I left Gaza for?

Purim 2033: Oh my god I’ve been elected to the Knesset. Gilad Shalit MK, 23rd on the Likud list, deemed by Yediyot a likely fast riser, and with seats on the Foreign Affairs and Defense committee and the Education Culture and Sports. In four months I’m getting married to Dafna, thank god I was there at that school play so that Yael could introduce me to the older sister of her friend. Dafna is the best thing to ever happen to me. All in all, this is as good as life can get.

Rising fast is all too easy for somebody like me. Long before I was in prison my eyes would glaze over whenever there’s a political argument. Life is too short not to find the common ground between people. People have always asked me to give opinions about what Israel should do, but I have very few. I just think people should find common ground and try to come up with solutions. When they asked me to run, I simply said what the party officials told me to say. What does it matter?

Shavuot 2043: Why, oh why, did I ever run for Prime Minister? Whoever told me that that was a good idea should be thrown into my old cell. It’s bad enough to have your record in prison called into question, but when your own children tell you that their friends called you a ‘collaborator’ and a stooge to your jailers is the moment when you know that you’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake. I know that I told them nothing about strategic locations when I was in captivity, but when the entire rest of the party will do anything it can to prevent your election, I have no way of proving that. Those Likudniks will believe anything they’re told so long as it makes them scared.

So back to rank-and-file Knessetry I go. And honestly, it's exactly where I want to be. Other people might find it a boring job, but really, I was born for this. Believe it or not, all those basketball stats I used to memorize as a kid were perfect preparation for being a policy wonk. No other Likud MK seems much interested in facts. For all sorts of reasons, I can now be the public figure who keeps this posse of demagogues in check.

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