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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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Captured Israeli soldier sends a message of hope

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Though he’s still in captivity, isolated by Hamas from his family and all who long for his safe return, Israel Defence Forces Cpl. Gilad Schalit, LEFT, has, paradoxically, managed to send a message of peace and tolerance to the world. 

It comes in the form of an allegorical children’s story he wrote for a
class assignment in Grade 5, when he was 11, titled When the Shark and
the Fish First Met.

The tale, written in simple prose by a young, innocent Schalit, depicts the struggles the two animals go through to overcome their natural enmity and the worries of their respective mothers, who fear their children are making a grave mistake pursuing this friendship.

Schalit was abducted on June 25, 2006, in an attack by Hamas terrorists near kibbutz Kerem Shalom. He will be 22 on Aug. 28, and this year would mark the end of his three-year mandatory army duty in Israel.

His family has spent an agonizing two years awaiting word of his condition.

A former grade school teacher of Schalit’s found the story last year among her belongings at home and brought it to his family as a gift, his father, Noam, told The CJN last week in a phone interview from Israel.

The Schalits decided to post the story on the website Habanim.org late last year. On it, they encourage Israeli children to read the story and download it as a colouring book.

The website is dedicated to providing updated information about three prominent captured IDF soldiers, Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

In a letter on the website, Schalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, asked children, parents and teachers to “illustrate Gilad’s story, each one in his own way, and to discuss the story and how it relates to the issue of kidnapped soldiers. This way, we can keep them in mind… and be connected to the strong hope in all of our hearts that they will return home soon [and] that we will all live in peace and security.”

Word of Gilad Schalit’s newfound tale spread in the country and in November 2007, owners of The Edge art gallery in Nahariya, together with the Israeli Illustrators’ Association, presented a series of exhibitions across the country, showcasing illustrations by renowned Israeli artists inspired by When the Shark and the Fish First Met.

Subsequently, in January 2008, the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature (ITHL) compiled the professional illustrations and published Schalit’s work as a children’s picture book.

According to Miri Golan, an editorial assistant with the institute, the book has sold briskly in Israel and has been on Israeli “bestseller lists” since its publication.

She said all profits from the sale of the story are “dedicated to help release the three Israeli kidnapped soldiers,” and that the ITHL and all the other organizations involved are volunteering their work and efforts for the cause.

Golan added that the publishers of the book are donating the profits from its sale to the Keren Maor Foundation. The foundation was set up to “co-ordinate resources to assist and advance the funding of activities and efforts made by the [kidnapped soldiers’] families in Israel” and worldwide, according to the Habanim.org website.

So far, the book has been published only in Hebrew, but Golan said it will be translated into Italian this month and that the ITHL is now “negotiating with several publishers” to translate it into English.

The emergence of the story came as a complete surprise to the Schalit family, a soft-spoken Noam Schalit said.

“We didn’t remember he wrote it. We didn’t recognize this side of Gilad. He was always interested in science and mathematics,” he said. “We were also surprised how relevant it is for his status now. We’re not sure who is the shark and who is the fish, but obviously Gilad was a peace searcher.”

When asked if he has received any new information from Hamas or the Israeli government about his missing son, Schalit gave a resigned sigh and said, “Up to now there is no real progress, unfortunately. Only talking and conversations. I don’t feel any real relevant details regarding progress.”

Schalit said he’d held out hope that the recent visit to Israel by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter might help pry loose some communication from his son’s captors, but in the end it proved a fruitless endeavour.

He specified that Carter met with him in Jerusalem last month and told the Schalits that he’d “pleaded with Hamas” to allow Gilad Schalit to release a letter to his family.

Carter told him that Hamas leaders had promised the former president they would allow a letter, but so far there has been no correspondence, he said.

Turning to the question of what the Diaspora communities could do to help his son’s cause and those of the other kidnapped soldiers’ families, Schalit was unsure how to respond.

“I’m not sure what the Canadian Jewish community can contribute to our struggle,” he said. “But if there are any contacts of Canadians with Palestinians… especially with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip or  Hamas’ leader in Damascus [Khaled Meshal], if there is any [influence], they [should] raise this issue and exert pressure on these persons.”

Still, Gilad’s story has left the Schalit family hopeful that the ordeal they’ve been through will end happily, much like When the Shark and the Fish First Met.

Gilad Schalit begins his tale with the line, “A small and gentle fish was swimming in the middle of a peaceful ocean” when a shark appears and chases him, as sharks are wont to do.

But the fish stops mid-flight, turns to the shark and asks, “Why do you want to devour me? We can play together!”

To which the shark replies, “Okay, fine. Let’s play hide and seek!” The two sea creatures swim off playfully and eventually cement their friendship over the objections of their families through sheer force of will.

Schalit concludes his story this way: “The shark said, ‘You are my enemy, but maybe we can make peace?’ The little fish said, ‘OK.’ They played secretly for days, weeks and months, until one day the shark and fish went to the fish’s mother and spoke together with her… they did the same thing with the shark’s mother. And from that same day, the sharks and the fish live in peace. The End.”

For more information, visit www.habanim.org.

 

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