Former Israeli POWs: Shalit Will Need Mental Health Grace Period Away From Media

Former POW: 'He will look fine on the outside... The problem is the emotional scars. This is a prolonged process'; Clinical psychologist and former POW: Shalit may have benefited from his position as a bargaining chip.

Former IDF prisoners of war say Gilad Shalit's road to recovery may be fraught with emotional stumbling blocks after spending five years in enemy hands and possible solitary confinement.

But they also said Shalit may benefit from the country having learned from past mistakes in helping Israel Defense Forces POWs return home.

IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in 2006

Arik Avneri, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treatment of captured soldiers, and who was himself a POW kept by the Syrians for eight months following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, said Shalit may have benefited from his position as a bargaining chip.

"We were hit, abused and tortured because the goal was to humiliate us," he said. "The Yom Kippur War was, for the Arabs, revenge for past defeats, and the idea was to put beaten IDF soldiers on display. In this case, the abduction's goals were different; he was a precious asset for those who held him, and so I hope that they interacted with him, and protected him."

All former POWs concur that it will be important to remove Gilad from the glare of the public and media spotlight after he returns home, and to give him a period of grace in which he has a chance to assimilate what has happened to him.

"The worst mistake would be to start exposing him right away. I would advise shielding him, with medical monitoring, and to keep him concealed at home and allow him to go through the process, one which will certainly take some months," said a former POW who was held in captivity for eight months in Syria and who asked not to be identified.

"He will look fine on the outside," estimated Amos Levital, who spent two years in captivity in Egypt, during the War of Attrition. "The problem is the emotional scars. This is a prolonged process. I assume that he won't be able to cut himself off from the national celebration that will ensue here in Israel. Such celebrations will have a positive aspect - in a way, paradoxically, it will be like a shiva mourning period. They keep you busy, they visit your home and embrace you and not allow you to have any time to be immersed with yourself."

Levital recalled that when he was released, he felt as though he "could not swallow anything. There was a terrible problem trying to concentrate."

"There is total disconnect between what happens outside, and what goes on inside you," explained Avneri. "When we returned, I saw from the plane a banner saying 'greetings to heroes of Israel,' and I though that some sports team had landed before us, and that the sign was for its members. That's because when you're in captivity, you don't think of yourself as a hero. If possible, it would be good to keep him away from the media - that will be hard for us, because we prayed and cried for him, and we want to see the results, but it's not what Gilad needs."