Daily Archives: October 24, 2011

Shahira Amin responds to Herb Simons

{Below is Shahira Amin’s e-mail response to Herb Simons. He and I  have been in contact with her about the interview with Gilad Shalit. I reprint it here with Shahira’s permission. The post following this one establishes some context.} Don Ellis


Dear herbert,
  I apologize for the late reply but i have been bombarded with emails from angry Israelis and from Egyptians who were upset because they said “I made a hero out of Shalit. ” I would like to explain:When i met Shalit i found he looked terribly tired and malnourished. he was thinner than pictures i had seen of him and pale. His voice was weak and he seemed to have difficulty concentrating but was in high spirits telling me he was excited about going home and seeing his family.
 My intentions were as follows: I felt that at this time of high anti israeli sentiment in egypt and the arab world (especially after the killing of the egyptian border guards ) it was important to try and diffuse tensions by showing  arab viewers that people on BOTH sides were paying the price for this conflict. I felt it would earn Shalit the compassion he deserves. Many in Egypt are outraged that i gave him this platform saying I made a hero out of him.  I wish other journalists in our region would reach out to “the other”. Only then can there be peace. Without dialogue and communication we shall always have a barrier between us and the HATRED AND mistrust will grow.
My other motive was to have Shalit speak to the world as many people were concerned about him. I met him AFTER he had been released and he had had a medical checkup by the Red Cross and he had already communicated with his family to let them know of his release and that he would be home shortly. Only then did i enter the room . I spoke with him for a few moments asking him if he would like to tell the world of his ordeal. Had he refused, i would NOT have pressed him .  If there was any coersion behind the scenes, I am not aware of it. All i know is that an egyptian security official said that the interview was simply an Egyptian request not a condition for his release . He had already been released and the Hamas troops had left the area. The only remaining one was the Hamas soldier ( a member of the Ezzeldine el Qassam Brigade) filiming our interview.  I asked everyone including him to leave the room before starting as I said their presence were making us both nervous.
My voice can be Heard on the tape in arabic (as the interview was broadcast unedited)  telling the translator i would skip some questions because Shalit was clearly tired and we do not want to wear him out. In the middle of the intv. i stopped and offered Shalit a drink of water and a packet of biscuits. I then asked if he would be more comfortable to speak to me in Hebrew and he said yes . We had originally started off in English.
I truely regret that my motives were misunderstood . I also am angered by some of the comments in the israeli press about the questions i asked.. i asked how he was , if he had anticipated his release, how he’d received the news  of his release after all these years in captivity  and what he had missed most while in captivity. I also asked how he had been treated and about his future plans.But I also had to ask why he thought previous mediation efforts had failed and why he thought this one had succeeded. THat is not a propaganda question at all . I just felt that egyptian authorities had managed to secure a deal and deserved to be commended for their effort while mubarak had only made promises and never delivered. Finally i had to ask about palestinians still in israeli jails..NOT all of them have israeli blood on their hands…those who do should remain imprisoned.
 arrangements for the interview were coordinated between Hamas and the Egyptian military security. I was not aware that Israel had not been informed nor did I know that Israeli governemnt had said there would be a media ban on Shalit’s case for ten days after his release.
Shalit answered honestly and courageously. He was not afraid that he might be put back behind bars because he had already been released. He said he would be happy if all Palestinians injails would be set free as long as they promise not to commit acts of violence against his country. He also said that he feels the mediation succeeded this time because Egypt’s relations with both Hamas and israel were better now than they were under mubarak.
I hope this helps you understand and if you can, please spread the message that I am all for peace. I was raised abroad and always had Israeli friends in my class growing up as a kid so i feel no contempt for jews and israelis. All my stories have been about promoting peace and tolerance. Thank you for taking the time to write to me and for giving me a chance to explain.


Gilad Shalit Interview and Journalistic Standards

Gilad Shalit was abducted on June 25, 2006 by militants near the Gaza border who had ambushed an Israeli army post. Hamas and an umbrella group called the Popular Resistance Committees took credit for the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was held for five years and only once in 2009 did Hamas release a video of the pale and gaunt looking soldier holding a newspaper as proof that he was alive.

Initially, Israel refused to negotiate but then used Egypt to broker talks with the involvement of a mediator. Israel and Hamas reached an agreement on October 11, 2011. Israel agreed to release over 1000 prisoners in exchange for Shalit. The ratio of 1000 Palestinian prisoners to 1 Israeli soldier seems high, but Israel sees itself as surrounded by enemies and as a militarized society who sends all of their sons and daughters to the military to protect the state. All Israelis can identify with the plight of Shalit, as can the Palestinians identify with their imprisoned family members. Consequently, Israel has a policy of leaving no soldier behind.

On the day of the exchange, Shalit was transferred to Egyptian mediators with Israeli representatives present. The Egyptians then transferred Shalit to Israel. But before Sgt. Shalit was fully returned to Israel and transferred to airbase Tel Nof  he was subjected to a television interview by the Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin. There was an outcry about this interview and some called it “abuse” and “continued torture.”

The appropriateness of this interview raises an interesting journalistic question. The Israelis have agreed to handle the story with sensitivity by keeping their distance from Shalit and avoiding photography and invasive questions in an effort to ease his transition. The Israelis have objected to the image of the bewildered and emaciated soldier in front of the camera. Did the interview meet any accepted journalistic criteria – newsworthiness, need to know, human interest, timeliness? Clearly, it did. No journalist would pass up the opportunity to interview Gilad. The story was newsworthy, timely, and met about every criteria of interest you could apply.


Then again, there is simply the issue of sensitivity and the circumstances surrounding the interview. The Israeli claim that the circumstances were ethically questionable and generally unfair to Shalit is certainly a defensible argument. A matter of moments before the interview he was in the hands of Hamas and under complete consertive control and there would be no reason to believe at the moment of the interview Gilad was suddenly liberated and free to speak his mind. We would not expect more from Shalit then we would expect from any captive prisoner saying what is necessary to stay alive.

Shahira  Amin’s interview with Shalit is available at: Shalit interview with Shahira Amin. Shalit spoke in Hebrew in response to questions posed in English which created some confusion. Amin has been roundly criticized for conducting the interview but claims that she received Gilad’s permission (as if it could be freely offered under such circumstances).

It is important to note that Shahira Amin is in Egyptian peace advocate and resigned her position as a broadcaster in protest of the coverage of Tarir Square. And even though the Egyptian press can be very hard on Israel, even at times blatantly unfair, there is nothing particularly unfair about the questions she asked Shalit.


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