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Israel/release of Gilad Shalit

Published on October 20, 2011
Interview given to “France Inter” by the French Ambassador to Israel (excerpts)

Tel Aviv, October 19, 2010

Q. – You saw Gilad Shalit for a few minutes yesterday; he’d just returned to his home in Galilee. How did you find him? On the images he seems very thin, very pale and very much weaker.

M. BIGOT – Physically, he’s obviously weak, he’s pale, but I found him to be an extremely clear-headed young man, one who listened, who spoke very clearly and who, I think, took a very mature view of those five years of total isolation. I sensed he was someone who had suffered a great deal but who was completely in control of himself. He told his parents and my team how grateful he was for all the efforts made for him over the past five years.

Q. – Do you know yet under what conditions he was held prisoner for over five years? Where was he? Was he treated reasonably well?

M. BIGOT – I wouldn’t want to go into too much detail but, as his father said, he sustained a few injuries which weren’t properly treated. He told me he was able to watch television, especially sports programmes and programmes on nature channels. On the other hand, he wasn’t allowed to watch news channels. As a matter of interest, he told me he’d followed the Tour de France and that this had enabled him to stay connected to our country and to reality.

Q. – What are Gilad Shalit’s exact ties to France? Why has he got dual nationality?

M. BIGOT – His ties come from his grandmother, who was from Marseille and went to Haifa in the 1950s. She worked at the cultural centre, and then her son Noam and grandson were keen to keep this close relationship with France, an attachment which is a cultural, emotional and personal one. It’s wholly to their credit, and France was obviously duty-bound to provide them with the fullest support, as is the case for all French citizens, in France and across the world.

Q. – And aren’t his parents Israeli?

M. BIGOT – His parents are Israeli and French.

Q. – Gilad Shalit in return for 1,027 Palestinians: never has Israel paid so high a price. Egypt’s role has been highlighted; what was France’s role in this exchange?

M. BIGOT – France stood by Gilad’s parents but also the Israeli authorities and successive mediators to lend them her full support. This wasn’t just moral support. France repeated in the various fora – at the G20, G8, the European Union meetings – that Gilad Shalit’s fate was a matter of priority for us. That’s important.

It was also very practical, behind-the-scenes support. We supported every request the German mediator, then Egypt, put forward to us.

You know how close France’s relationship is with Egypt and we stood by her to provide her with all that was necessary. You’re right, Egypt’s role was decisive. That country is able to meet and talk to Hamas and shares a border with Gaza. Egypt gave her all in this mission.

Q. – You’ve witnessed the joy of this country, Israel, at the release of her soldier, her son, and you’ve also – inevitably – thought of the victims, the families of the victims of attacks, whose perpetrators have been released.

M. BIGOT – Of course. It was a moment of extraordinary joy; I felt it not only because I live in Israel but also because I know the Shalit family very well. I’ve known them since 2006; they’re extremely noble, moving, brave people. But it’s true, and you’re right to emphasize it: the price of this release is very high. There’s a lot of debate on the subject in Israeli society. We deemed the decision by Mr Netanyahu’s government brave, because it’s true, there are bereaved families: they’re families whose fathers, sons, mothers were killed only very recently during the Intifada. So it wasn’t an easy decision to free some of the perpetrators of those attacks. (…)

Q. – It’s said that this exchange brought together two weak parties: the Israeli government and Hamas, both weakened by Mahmoud Abbas’s demand for recognition of Palestine at the UN. Would it have been impossible if those two weak parties hadn’t come together?

M. BIGOT – My interpretation is much more positive. I think it shows that there can be brave decisions on both sides, that there can be a culture of compromise and that regional players like Egypt can play a crucial role. I think it can be a very positive message for the future, for a resumption – which we’re intensely keen to see – of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and also for allowing a more normal relationship to be established between Israel and Gaza.

As you know, we want the blockade to be lifted and we also, of course, want an end to the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
It’s rather a message of hope, I think, for the whole region./.

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