Gilad Shalit made a long-awaited visit last month to the home of his late commander, Hanan Barak, and told Barak’s family emotional stories about the June 25, 2006, incident in which Shalit was kidnapped and Barak was killed.
NJJN reported in December about the frustration of Barak’s parents, who had hoped that they would be among the first people Shalit would contact after his release in an Oct. 18 prisoner exchange.
Barak, 20, was from Arad, the Partnership2Gether sister community of the New Jersey-Delaware cluster that includes the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. He was Shalit’s officer in the armored brigade when terrorists attacked their tank as they patrolled Israel’s side of the border with Gaza.
On the evening of Jan. 29, Shalit came to Barak’s Arad home accompanied by an IDF psychologist and met with the families of Barak and of Pavel Slutzker, another soldier in their tank who was killed in the incident.
“It was emotional,” Barak’s mother Nelly told NJJN. “We waited a long time for this. He wanted to come much earlier but the psychologist said he wasn’t ready yet.”
In the tear-filled meeting, Shalit told the Baraks and Slutzkers what he remembered from the incident. He said he had a feeling that Hanan and Pavel were killed, because he heard them being shot when he was still in the tank.
“Gilad said he heard Hanan shout at him to flee the tank before its gas canisters would explode and the tank would catch fire,” Nelly Barak said. “Gilad was scared to leave the tank, even though the terrorists were trying to throw in grenades. He thinks Hanan saved his life.”
Shalit told the families a little about what he went through during more than five years in captivity in Gaza. He said he did not know exactly where he was but that he was kept in different places at first and then he was in the same place underground for the rest of the time.
He complained about not seeing the sun for so long and revealed that he was afraid that the building he was being kept in would be bombed during the 2008 war in Gaza.
Regarding Barak, Shalit said that all the soldiers admired him and that he had consistently fought for the rights of the soldiers under his command.
“It wasn’t a surprise for me that everyone loved him,” Nelly Barak said. “We see that so many of the soldiers who served under him still come to his memorial ceremonies, even though they don’t have to. They even wrote a song praising him.”
Nelly expressed disappointment that Shalit did not have a chance to visit Hanan’s grave because it was dark. She said she hoped he would come to the next memorial ceremony and perhaps on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, which this year is on April 25.
“Gilad coming to us really helped close the circle,” she said. “We got the last testimony about Hanan’s last weeks, days, and moments. That’s it. But it’s never going to get any easier.”