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When Gilad Shalit was on the brink of freedom, I wrote about a particular resonance his case held for me, and recalled my experiences during the years of campaigning for him.

I was thrilled to spend the afternoon with him yesterday.

I felt nervous as I travelled to meet Gilad. I wondered what emotional state he might be in after all he’s been through, and I dreaded the thought of accidentally saying the wrong thing and upsetting him.

He greeted me with a broad smile and firm handshake. We had a delicious tea with his family and then went on a sightseeing drive around London. We stopped to look around several landmarks, including St Pauls Cathedral, and then took a stroll down the South Bank, before stopping at the National Theatre for a drink.

It was blissfully surreal to see Gilad, who was held hostage in Gaza for five years, out and about in London, eagerly snapping photographs of landmarks on his iPhone.

He seems, on the surface at least, to be remarkably well following his five years of captivity. He has a deeply curious mind and seems determined to see and understand as much of the world as he can. He’s interested in London architecture and loved the stunning red twilight that hung over the city ahead of dusk yesterday evening. He told me that in Israel the sky usually moves from light to dark in an instant.

He’s quietly observant and sharp. He asked me how old I am. People always say I look young for my age, so I suggested he guess my age and then readied myself for another flattering estimate. His guess was just four months out. I was crushed but impressed. Nobody ever gets that close.

We talked about football a lot. I was disappointed to learn that Tottenham are his favourite English club. “What’s wrong with Arsenal?” I asked. He giggled and explained that he always prefers teams with white shirts rather than red, due to his football and basketball loyalties back in Israel. He actually has a great sense of humour (by which I mean he laughed at most of my wisecracks).

I did feel like I’d put my foot in it at one point. I was telling him about the time I was waved through security at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport because I was wearing a Shalit campaign t-shirt. He asked me if I’d ever been stopped for questioning at the airport. “Yes,” I replied, “they kept me for two hours and 45 minutes once.”

It suddenly felt preposterous to have said this to a former hostage, so I nervously added: “But I don’t know why I’m complaining to you of all people about that.” I was relieved when he burst out laughing.

He laughed and smiled a lot during the afternoon. His vigour and humour after all he’s been through are inspirational. They certainly put my troubles in perspective. He is really living.

Really nice to meet you, Gilad. I wish you a beautiful life.

28 Responses to “An afternoon with Gilad Shalit”

  1. Damian says:

    WOW! What an incredible opportunity! Great piece. Did people around London recognise him?

    • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

      Not really, though he had a hat on (because it was bitterly cold!)

      • Lynne T says:

        Would the average Londoner even be aware of who Gilad is or what he endured? After all, there probably weren’t any demos in front of PSC headquarters, the Iranian embassy, etc., demanding his release or dramatic “Cage Prisoners” style posters splashed all over town demanding justice for Gilad were there?

        • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

          We held many demos for Gilad in London.

          You’re right, though, that he can be mostly anonymous in London. Which is lovely for him. :)

  2. Tal H says:

    I was in London the day he got released! I was dancing all through the tube! Seriously, and then Hadar and I went to the Apple Store and opened every laptop on the Gilad Shalit page :) So glad you got to meet him, you’ve done a lot for him!

  3. Gail says:

    How wonderful to spend some time with him!

  4. sharna says:

    WOW! still no words to describe the feeling of happiness that Gilad is free & well, absolutely thrilled thrilled thrilled to read he’s doing well, enjoying London & to hear of your afternoon that you so desereved to do.

  5. Shmuel says:

    There is no better person than you for this to happen to. And nice shirt lol

  6. Duvid Crockett, King of DeLancey Street, /Home of gefilte fish and kosher meat says:

    Fantastic. Brilliant. Duvidl is still enjoying the smile on both your faces in the photo. Kol Hakavod.

  7. Davieboy says:

    That’s a lovely report, great for you to get such an inspiring experience, no less than you deserve for your staunch support for Gilad.
    Tal H. – loved your Apple-store escapade! Great idea, well done.

  8. Janet says:

    It must also feel surreal for Gilad to meet people like you who worked so hard on his behalf

  9. F Callen says:

    Amazing. Honestly thought you had photoshopped that. Grinning from ear to ear here. :)

  10. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Difficult to know how to ‘top’ this post!

    Would anyone like to suggest a topic/issue for me to post on next?

    Meanwhile, here’s a new photo of Gilad and I.

  11. Eleanor S says:

    wow such a lovely photo of you and gilad. it must have been such an honour to meet him, he sounds like a great person! xx

  12. Eleanor S says:

    and im sure also he was excited to meet you chas!

  13. [...] bearing that in mind, I was gobsmacked to see his conduct in this video of his short meeting with Gilad Shalit’s father Noam, from 2009. The disdain that Carter shows towards Noam, who was in the middle of years [...]

  14. [...] birthday, Gilad Shalit. To 120, young [...]

  15. [...] him that day. The Gilad in the film reminded me a lot of the thoughtful, quietly-witty Gilad I spent a day with in London earlier this [...]

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  17. [...] day with Gilad Shalit in [...]

  18. [...] jailed for years on end, such as Natan Sharansky, Gilad Shalit, Nelson Mandela or the biblical Joseph, who succeeded in staying positive, are truly remarkable [...]

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