Analysis: Schalit on Egypt TV: exploitative, abusive, cruel
Israeli officials described the interview as "exploitative"; they could have added amateurish, propagandistic and cruel.
Israeli officials described Gilad Schalit's first interview after his release as "exploitative." They could have added amateurish, propagandistic, opportunistic and downright cruel.
Tuesday's travesty - carried live on state-run TV - was conducted by Shahira Amin, a leading Egyptian journalist who in February quit the channel for its skewed coverage of the popular protests that unseated president Hosni Mubarak. That Amin now appears to be doing Cairo's bidding bodes ill for hopes the "new Egypt" would usher in the first free media environment in the post-colonial Arab world.
The notion that Schalit agreed to give Nile TV an interview of his own free will beggars belief. Forcing him to do so immediately after his release from Gaza - before seeing medical staff, much less an Israeli representative or his family - is in itself an apparent breach of journalistic ethics.
That issue aside, more than a few of Amin's questions ran the gamut from fatuous to sadistic.
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"During all that time of captivity, you did just one video to tell the world and your familythat you're alive," she tells the soldier. "Why just once? Why didn't it happen again?"
Rather than letting him answer, however, Schalit's Hamas minder-cum-interpreter scolds Amin for asking the same question twice (a peculiar accusation, given the footage shows the question hadn't been asked before).
The resulting argument between interviewer and minder is one of the interview's more regrettable scenes. Amin says Schalit appears unwell, and "that's why I'm asking the question again" - as if drilling him repeatedly will have a salutary effect. The question is itself absurd, roughly tantamount to asking a hostage victim why he or she didn't escape sooner.
Amin's subsequent question is little better: "It was the Egyptian national security that mediated for your release. There were previous failed mediation efforts, including one by the Germans. Why do you think that this time round, the mediation was a success, and what would you like to tell the Egyptian authorities?"
The reporter is seated beside an Egyptian flag – as if she were not the interviewer but an Egyptian government interviewee. Schalit, by contrast, sits next to a houseplant. Throughout the 12-minute ordeal, the soldier breathes heavily, his eyes either downcast or darting sideways and his tone of voice anxious.
Struggling to reply, Schalit mumbles, "I think the Egyptians succeeded because they're on good relations both with Hamas and with Israel." He could well have said, "Don't use me as a prop for Egyptian propaganda. I haven't a clue how the mediations were conducted, given I know nothing about anything that has happened over the last five years. Next question?"
Amin proceeds to ask Schalit what "lessons" he learned in captivity. After asking for the question to be repeated, he says he believes a deal could have been reached sooner. Here the Hamas minder renders his response as praise for reaching a deal "in such short time" - a mistranslation repeated by the BBC's own interpreter.
"Gilad, you know what it's like to be in captivity," Amin continues as the painful charade drags on. "There are more than 4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?"
Schalit's answer, after a few seconds' stunned silence, is superior: "I'd be very happy if they were released," he says, then adds the caveat, "provided they don't return to fighting Israel."
Again, the Egyptian interpreter fails to translate the sentence's second clause, and again the omission is repeated by the BBC's translator, though he too was apparently translating from Hebrew in real-time. "I will be very happy for the prisoners to go free, so that they can be able to go back to their families, loved ones and territory. It will give me great happiness if this happens," the BBC's interpreter relays.
Yonit Levi is the Channel 2 News presenter who throughout Tuesday's coverage waxed poetic over Schalit's every step, shunting aside the sensitivities of bereaved families or the thought that the lopsided prisoner exchange could spawn further acts of terrorism. In reacting to the Egyptian interview, however, she was spot-on: the "bizarre" spectacle, she said, "was borderline abusive."
On his Twitter feed, Adel Abdel Ghafar, an Egyptian graduate student based in Australia, summed it up better still: "After 5 years in captivity, Schalit has to go through one last form of torture: an interview with Egyptian Public TV."