Cartoon threatens captured Israeli
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas released an animated film Sunday bearing a grisly message for Israel: If it doesn’t meet the Islamic militant group’s demands, an Israeli soldier it has held for nearly four years could return home in a coffin.
The short but sophisticated cartoon — which depicts Sgt. Gilad Schalit’s aging father wandering empty streets with a picture of his son and ends with the words “There is still hope” — is the latest product of Hamas’ growing media machine.
TV and radio stations controlled by the group continuously broadcast Hamas-produced songs and music videos threatening the Jewish state and rallying the group’s militant Islamic base.
But the latest cartoon — which was widely broadcast on Israeli TV — was remarkable for the personal and callous nature of the appeal on an issue that has profound emotional resonance for many Israelis: The fate of Schalit, who was captured by Gaza militants in June 2006.
The website of Hamas’ armed wing, which posted the video, said it was intended to pressure Israelis to accept demands for a prisoner swap and warns the Israeli government it could regret not making a deal quickly.
Schalit’s father, who has become a recognizable face in Israel, is the main character of the three-minute, 20-second short, in Hebrew with English and Arabic subtitles. Noam Schalit is normally clean-shaven, but he appears in the film’s later scenes with a cane and scraggly gray beard, suggesting he has grown old while awaiting his son’s release.
The elder Schalit passes billboards on which Israeli leaders vow to free his son or get information on his fate. He reads a newspaper ad offering $50 million for information on his son’s whereabouts, then tosses it in the trash.
The soundtrack includes clips of his son’s voice taken from a Hamas video released last October to prove the soldier was still alive. That video came amid talks aimed at trading Schalit for about 1,000 Palestinians prisoners. Negotiations have since stalled.
Toward the end of the film, screen text in Hebrew and Arabic informs viewers that the Israeli government’s efforts to clinch a prisoner swap deal succeeded. Noam Schalit sits near Israel’s Erez border crossing with Gaza, where a black van unloads a coffin draped in an Israeli flag.
The father screams, then wakes up, finding himself sitting at a bus stop. A screen text reads: “There is still hope.”
Noam Schalit called the film “psychological warfare” and urged Hamas to reach a deal with Israel in order to ease an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has made life hard for the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas leaders would do better if instead of producing films and performances, they would worry about the real interests of the Palestinian prisoners and the ordinary citizens of Gaza who have been held hostage by their leaders for a long time,” he said in a statement.