Gilad Shalit was born in 1986 in Nahariya, a city in northern Israel. When he was two years old, his parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, moved to the nearby village of Mitzpe Hila. Neighbors and friends describe Gilad as well-mannered, shy, and very close to his family.
After graduating from his local high school with honors, Gilad was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces in July 2005. Although pre-army medical tests showed that he had a less-than-robust physical constitution (and he therefore was eligible for a low-risk assignment), he nonetheless chose to serve in a combat unit, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Yoel.
Gilad Shalit served in an IDF Armored Corps unit that was posted to a base in southern Israel close to the Gaza Border. In the early dawn on June 25, 2006, eight heavily armed Palestinian terrorists used an underground tunnel to cross into Israel from Gaza. In an explosion of gunfire and rockets, the terrorists ambushed several areas on Gilad’s base. One of the rockets hit the rear of a tank carrying four soldiers, one of whom was Gilad Shalit. Two soldiers were killed, and two, including Gilad, were wounded. With the ongoing attack as cover, the terrorists – members of Hamas – snatched Gilad from the tank and carried him back across the border. Most commentators believe that the raid’s goal was to kidnap a soldier.
Gilad was held captive by Hamas for five years. In a gross violation of international law and all standards of human decency, his captors refused to allow the Red Cross to visit him, did not let him contact his family, and did not provide reliable information on his physical condition throughout the 1,941 days of his captivity. Hamas made it clear that he was a bargaining chip: For his release, they demanded that Israel free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, including convicted terrorists and murderers.
In October 2011, news broke that a prisoner swap agreement had finally been reached between the Israeli government and Hamas leadership. In return for the release of Gilad Shalit, Israel would free 1,027 “security prisoners,” a term used for those Palestinians arrested for terrorism-related activities. Among them, 280 actively participated in murdering Israelis.
On the morning of October 18, 2011, Shalit was taken from the Gaza Strip into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and then driven to Israel’s Vineyard of Peace border crossing. From there, he was flown by helicopter to Tel Nof Air Base in Israel, where he was reunited with his family – parents Noam and Aviva, brother Yoel, and sister Hadas. Though Shalit showed signs of malnutrition and lack of sunlight, initial examinations showed he was in reasonably good health.
After the family made their way to their home in Mitzpe Hila, Gilad’s father Noam told the press, “The first thing that we did when Gilad came home was have a family meal after a very long day.” The family also released a statement to the public, asking, “We now need to exhibit patience, and allow Gilad – after 1,941 days – to return to daily life at his own rate.”