JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed from five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to a joyous reception, but may need time to recover from his time kept in sun-deprived isolation and other injuries, his father said.
Noam Shalit said they were reunited in Israel and that his noticeably gaunt and pale 25-year-old son would require care for improperly healed shrapnel wounds. He said his captors had also treated him “roughly” at times.
“He will undergo a process of rehabilitation. We hope the process will be as quick as possible,” Noam Shalit told well-wishers who feted his son’s return to his Israeli hometown.
“We hope he can resume normal life,” he added.
Being deprived of sunlight while also being locked in isolation with nobody to communicate with save for his captors were other issues that may weigh on his son’s ability to pick up where he left off, Shalit said.
The soldier himself seemed utterly overwhelmed as he was seated for what Israeli pundits saw as a forced interview with Egyptian television, conducted before he even had a chance to telephone his family waiting in Israel.
“I don’t feel so good from this whole event ... to see so many people after such a long time ... after not having seen people for such a long time. I am on edge,” Shalit said in Hebrew to questions fired at him in English and Arabic.
Later Israeli media said the soldier felt unwell and faint while on a helicopter that ferried him from the Egyptian border to a military base to meet his family. He was nearly hospitalised, reports said.
Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and grabbed him from his tank, holding him incommunicado ever since.
They used him as a bargaining card to negotiate the freedom of 1,027 Palestinians held in Israeli jails for carrying out attacks against Israelis.
Shalit said his son had suffered minor shrapnel injuries that had not properly healed due to improper care, though it was unclear whether this stemmed from the 2006 Gaza border attack in which two other soldiers were killed.
Other traumas may also weigh on Shalit’s recovery.
His father said the soldier had so far given him scant details about his time in Gaza.
“At first there were difficult conditions and he was treated roughly but that afterwards mainly in recent years the treatment improved,” he said, but gave no further details.
The Islamist group Hamas has said it treated Shalit well during his captivity.
Former Israeli captives from previous conflicts said coping with liberty again could also pose tough challenges.
Mickey Zeifa, an army reserve colonel who was held as a prisoner of war by Egypt in the 1973 Middle East war, said Shalit would require careful management to enable him to settle back to the life he knew before his capture.
“It takes a very long time for a person to get back on course ... you mustn’t crowd him,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
“In my case ... the celebrations around me, which at first were flattering and moving, brought me down. Sometimes the return is a trauma in and of itself, no less difficult than captivity,” he added.
Psychologist Rivka Tuval-Mashiach told Israel’s Channel 2 television that Shalit would need time to absorb the fact he has become such a huge public figure during his prolonged absence.
“He will need to be given time even to the physiological changes of light and darkness, not to be afraid to speak. We don’t know if he suffered violence or was tortured, but even in the first instances after he was back in Israel we saw that his frozen state thawed a little, with a first smile,” she said.
Still, Noam Shalit seemed optimistic, saying he felt he had “experienced the rebirth of his son” and that generally “Gilad feels well” and was very glad now to be home.
Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Sophie Hares