'We Feared Harming Gilad'sprospects of Release,' Says Shalit Activist

Shimshon Liebman - who has chaired the committee to free Gilad for the past three years, directing protest activities and government lobbies for a prisoner-exchange deal - speaks about the restrained but pressuring struggle for the IDF soldier's return.

Shimshon Liebman has assisted the Shalit family from the time of Gilad's capture five years ago. A resident of Mitzpeh Hila, where the Shalit family lives, he has chaired the committee to free Gilad for the past three years and has directed protest activities and government lobbies for a prisoner-exchange deal.

Do you think the activity of the committee to free Gilad Shalit contributed to this newly announced deal?

Shimshon Liebman, Shalit activist
Yaron Kaminsky

"I think so. I think that the campaign directed by the family and this committee accomplished two things: It made the public think about the meaning of solidarity, as compared to abandoning Gilad in captivity. We made everyone in Israel, including children in nursery school, aware of Gilad's plight. The second thing - and this we found hard to accomplish - was to catalyze a decision-making process that would lead to an exchange deal in the end. I have no doubt that the campaign and the awareness of the Israeli public helped, as a basis for the prime minister's ability to reach a bold and courageous decision. I think our contribution was vital."

Were you worried that your activity would backfire, encouraging Hamas to increase its demands once it saw the Israeli public pressuring its political leadership?

"The fear that our activity would damage prospects of Gilad's release was always present, and so all of our activity was undertaken in a measured fashion. But you have to understand that without applying pressure, you don't attain results here. On the first or second day after the kidnapping, the aching sorrow left by [missing Israel Defense Forces navigator] Ron Arad's example burdened my thoughts. It was clear that we would have to wage a campaign. I admit that I never thought it would take five years, but it was clear that we would have to wage a real struggle, due partly to the fact that Israeli society best understands the language of pressure and force. Yet we also decided to act in a manner suited to the family's character: We remained restrained, did not use inflammatory language, and used legal, democratic methods."

How did you manage to maintain this tactic of restraint?

"Many activists came and complained to us, saying that they were very angry with this method of restraint. They wanted to act more forcefully, and introduce more politics into the campaign. But we acted with tremendous responsibility."

Do you know what the day of Gilad's release will be like, where the family will meet him?

"We do not have information right now as to where, and what it will be like. Nothing is finalized, even though we keep hearing reports in the media. Our community, Mitzpeh Hila, is preparing to welcome Gilad and create a situation in which we will all put the story aside after he returns, and allow him to reunite with his family. "