Earlier, I heard the Gilad Shalit tape that was released by Hamas today. It was painful to listen to him speaking from captivity, and even harder to think of what his parents must be going through. Obviously there is some joy too, as this is the first sign of life that we have from the young soldier since he was kidnapped exactly one year ago. But it is not at all clear whether he will be released before his twenty-first birthday on August 28.
Here is a transcript of the tape; it is slightly modified as I noticed that there were some small mistakes in Ha'aretz's. My (very literal) translation is below.
אני גלעד בן נועם שליט הכלוא אצל כתאיב אל שאהיד עז א-דין אל קסאם. אמא ואבא,אחותי ואחי , חברי בצה"ל. אני מוסר לכם מתוך הכלא דרישת שלום ואת געגועי לכולכם. עברה עלי שנה שלמה בתוך הכלא, ועדיין מצבי הבריותי מידרדר. ואני חייב לאשפוז ממושך בבית חולים .אני מצטער על חוסר ההתעניינות של הממשלה הישראלית וצה"ל ואי-היענותם בעניין שלי ובדרישות כתאיב אל קסאם. זה ברור שהם חייבים להיענות לדרישות אלו בכדי שאני אשתחרר כבר מהכלא. ובמיוחד שאני הייתי במבצע צבאי מתוך הוראה צבאית. ולא הייתי סוחר סמים. וכמו שיש לי הורים, אמא ואבא, גם לאלפי האצירים הפלשתינאים יש אמהות ואבות, שחייבים להחזיר להם את בניהם. יש לי תקווה גדולה לממשלתי שתתעניין בי יותר ותיענה לדרישות אל-מוג'אהידין. הרב"ט גלעד שליט.
I am Gilad, son of Noam Shalit, imprisoned with the Katayeb al-Shaheed az a-Din al-qassam. Ima and Abba [mom and dad], my sister and my brother, my friends in the IDF. I convey my greetings to and my longing for you from jail. A whole year has passed over me inside the jail, and the condition of my health is declining. And I require long-term treatment in the hospital. I regret the lack of interest by the Israeli government and the IDF and their indifference in/to my matter and the demands of Katayeb al-Qassam. It is clear that they need to accept these demands in order for me to be released already from the jail. And especially since I was on a military mission under military order. And I was not a drug dealer [emphasis added].* And just as I have parents, Ima and Abba, so do the thousands of Palestinian detainees ['atzirim] have mothers and fathers, that [sic] their sons have to be returned to them. I have great hope that my government will interest itself in me more and accept the demands of el[sic - I am pretty sure he does not say "ha-mujahedin"]-mujahedin.*This is a reference to the case of the Israeli businessman Elhanan Tanenbaum, who was lured to Lebanon by Hizbullah agents who apparently enticed him with promises of money he could earn through a drug deal. Tanenbaum was swapped for several high-profile prisoners by Ariel Sharon in 2004.
Shalit is being held by the same criminal gang that abducted the BBC reporter Alan Johnston. A video of the Johnston was released shortly before the Shalit tape. The group holding them is rumored to be headed by a certain Mumtaz Durmush, affiliated with al Qaeda. Immediately after the Hamas take-over in the Gaza strip, there were reports of clashes between this group and Hamas's armed forces. However, it appears that the two have come to some kind of agreement, although tensions remain. Hamas is clearly trying to use the tape to gain leverage for itself - to force Israel to its knees - and the captors are playing along, since any gains achieved will also reflect positively on them.
The tape is aimed squarely at Israeli public opinion. It is an effort to build up public pressure to force the government to meet the demands of both the Hamas government on one hand and the kidnappers on the other.
On the tape, Shalit is reading from a prepared text. Sometimes the pauses are awkward. It obviously does not sound like a fluid statement coming directly from him. But it also does not sound as if he is reading it with a gun pointed to his head. Making Shalit compare his plight to that of Palestinian security prisoners was an appeal not only to the Israeli public but also to the Palestinian and Arab publics listening to the tape with translation.