In 2006, one week after a Palestinian attack on the Kerem Shalom army base next to Gaza, two Israeli soldiers were killed and one wounded was taken off to Gaza. His name is Gilad Schalit. One week later, on July 1, 2006 I received a phone call from a Hamas member, a Professor of Economics at the Islamic University of Gaza who I had met half a year before and unsuccessfully tried to create an Israeli-Hamas dialogue, and said “Gershon, the situation here is hell, we have no water and no electricity and we are being bombed”. I asked “What can we do?” He said “let’s open a channel of communication between the two sides”. Shortly afterwards I received a phone call from the Hamas Prime Minister’s office suggesting that I arrange a phone call between the father of the soldier and a Hamas leader. The phone call took place later that day. The next day I met the Schalit family and told them that I would do everything possible to help return Gilad alive. Six months before a first cousin of my wife had been kidnapped and murdered by Hamas. I swore to myself at his funeral that I would do everything humanly possible to save a human life in the hands of Hamas. That began a saga of more than five years trying to bring Gilad Schalit home. After less than three months I was able to get a hand written letter from Schalit proving that he was alive and that we had a channel of communication open with his captors. It took five years for my secret direct channel to become official and several months later Israel and Hamas agreed on a exchange that include 1027 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier. More than 300 of the Palestinian prisoners were convicted of killing Israelis, including four who killed my wife’s cousin. The current Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar was one of the freed prisoners.
My main interlocutor in Hamas was Dr. Ghazi Hamad. He was then the Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister. Today he is a minister in the Hamas government and a member of the Majlis Ashoura – the body that controls Hamas. We have remained in close contact all of these years and with him for the past eight years we have tried to negotiate another deal to free the bodies of two soldiers killed in Gaza in 2014 and two Israeli civilians held by Hamas since 2014. I want to share with you my conversations with Ghazi Hamad from the beginning of the war until I cut ties with him in the beginning of November. On Black Saturday, October 7 Hamas’ attack against Israel was the single largest attack against Israel since its birth in 1948. The brutality and the crimes against humanity committed by these terrorists no longer enable Hamas to be a potential partner for efforts for a long-term ceasefire or a peace agreement. The following is the word-for-word attempts by me to bring home hostages to their families. The text is written chronologically. There were days when the conversations went on during hours with large gaps in between. Communication during war time is often difficult and tensions and emotions are very high. This will give some idea on how these negotiations work. I was conducting these negotiations on my own. I was not empowered or authorized to negotiate. I always let it be known that I am not an Israeli official and not a negotiator, but I also let it be known that whatever I discuss is being transmitted to those in Israel who are the decision makers and those who are in charge in Israel.
On Saturday, October 7 – the day of the attack:
Me to Ghazi: Gaza is going to pay a huge price for this.
Ghazi: We are not afraid.
Me: You should be. And you should have mercy on all of the innocent victims on both sides.
Ghazi: I have told you many times that the occupation is the source of all evils and violations
Me: It is. I have always agreed. How is this war going to end? In the end wars only end when enemies talk. There is no other way.
Sunday, October 8
Me: You know that the Israeli public pressure will be to reoccupy Gaza and kill all of the Hamas and Jihad leaders. Hamas should release all of the women children and old people. This is the humanitarian thing to do. Any chance of that happening? Ghazi talk to me. Let’s open this channel again. Let’s do something.
Later that day:
Me: I just heard that they bombed your house. I hope that your family is alright. Please let me know. If they are going after you, who they know, it is a sign that they are very serious about destroying Hamas. I am in contact with Gal Hirsch the new point man for Netanyahu on the abducted Israelis.
Ghazi: So, what do you think to do?
Me: Open up possibility for a small deal first for women and children. I think both sides need more days but let’s plant the seeds for that deal.
Ghazi: We need to release all the prisoners
Me: I understand that. That’s not on the table now. Let’s get the women and children out first.
I don’t know if you are following the news in Israel. The government the army the people want to kill all of you and bring Hamas down even if it means reoccupying Gaza.
Monday, October 8.
Me: Ghazi at the first moment possible let’s try to make a deal on the women and children and aged. A good friend of mine called me this morning and told me that 12 close relatives of his were taken from kibbutz Be’eri. We all know people who have been abducted or killed. Israelis and Palestinians are in the same boat. Let’s look forward on how to save some lives, not only kill more. There are reports on Qatari efforts for a deal for women and children. Israel responded that they will not negotiate. That is the official response that we know very well. If Hamas is serious and willing to do a deal, we can get the families to make a lot of pressure. Ghazi, please for the sake of humanity let’s get a deal on the children and women.
Ghazi: Gershon, first the death in Gaza must stop. Here there is mass killing and massacres against the civilian population, there are entire families that have been exterminated. We will not be able to talk about the prisoners until the aggression against Gaza stops.
Tuesday, October 9.
Me: Ghazi your people did a massacre in Israel. More than 1000 people killed. Mostly young people. Families dragged from their homes. Babies shot and killed. Old people shot and killed in their homes. This was the kind of brutality that we saw from ISIS not from Palestinians. The shock of the brutality is the price now that will be paid by the people of Gaza. The future of Gaza will have no resemblance to the past. Dark days are ahead of us. God help us all.
Thursday, October 12.
Me: There is an idea floating around for Israel to immediately release all of the prisoners in exchange for all of the hostages. All of the prisoners would be sent to Gaza or abroad. Could this be a deal? it was proposed by the person who was terrorism advisor to Shamir and Rabin – very right wing and comes from the military – if you think it is something that could be accepted by Hamas – I can use my connections to push it. There are 559 prisoners serving life sentences. – meaning that they killed Israelis – I assume that if Hamas agreed that they be sent outside – this would help. I want to be honest with you – as you know I am always honest with you – I think that after the hostages are freed, Israel would continue with the war
Ghazi: Let me understand you well: release of all Palestinian prisoners for your hostages??
Me: exactly – with the 559 being sent outside of Palestine
Ghazi: Who is working on this?
Me: It was proposed by Yigal Carmon – former terrorism advisor to Shamir and I believe that David Meidan (former Mossad who led the negotiations on Schalit) and other senior people from the Mossad and Shabak (Israel Security Agency) may support it – there is a chance that we can get Gantz and Eizencott behind it – but first I need to know that Hamas is willing to discuss this. Ghazi the mood in Israel and the decisions being made and implemented is to finish off Hamas. 6000 bombs on Gaza is just the beginning. I appeal to you to do the moral thing and release unilaterally the women, children, elderly people. Do the humanitarian thing. This war is the end of Hamas in Gaza. There is no way to stop it. Be the human being that I know you are. Help to send these innocent victims home.
Friday, October 13.
Me: It seems that the ground operation will start soon. It will be massive and it will be effective. Sure, there will be surprises along the way and Israeli will also have losses. But Hamas in finished Ghazi – be a hero – do the right thing – go around and free hostages. You are not going to free prisoners – that’s what you wanted – it is not going to happen.
Ghazi: Gershon don’t speak with me with ghat language, your heart and mind is Israeli, you need your occupation to kill us and to destroy us, but we will always be against your brutal state which kills women and children, you must be shameful about your barbaric state. Hamas will continue to fight and fight until we get our freedom. Hamas will never end. Even if Israel kills 100 thousand and destroys 100 thousand will never surrender.
Me: Ghazi – it is not about politics this moment – the brutal killing of innocent people next to Gaza – your neighbors, is an unforgivable war crime. A pregnant women stabbed in her belly and cut open with the fetus exposed, burnt families, beheaded people, burning whole communities – this is inhuman. Do the right thing – free the hostages – your people have done more damage to the Palestinian cause than ever done before. You have set Palestine back decades – do the right thing. I know you are suffering – and you don’t have to convince me about the injustices of the occupation and Israel’s crimes – that is not the issue now – the issue is doing the right thing. It is against your own principles to hold women and children – it is against Islam which you believe in.
Ghazi: You are the occupier and victimizer. We must fight against you everywhere to stop your occupation. It’s enough to stay under the occupation for 75 years without future, hope, safety. It’s enough.
Me: Not everything done is justifiable. This is not the way to end the occupation and to free Palestine – you have set the whole world against you by the crimes against humanity done on Saturday. You know i have done more for Palestine than many Palestinians – i am a friend of the Palestinian people – i have been your friend – it is time for you to do the right thing Ghazi. You know that holding the hostages is wrong – it is immoral and you have to save their lives – it will also save Palestinian lives
Ghazi: We spent 30 years in false peace, and your state destroyed each chance for political solution
Me: I agree with you about false peace.
Ghazi: You have to blame them not us.
Me: The occupation is to root of all of these evils. You are victims of this conflict; you deserve your rights and freedom. But this is not how it should be done. i blame you for the things done on Saturday to more than 1300 innocent people – babies – my God – they stabbed and burnt babies – how are they responsible for the occupation? i am very sorry to what is being done to Gaza now. My heart bleeds for the millions of innocent people in Gaza – I have many friends that I care deeply about in Gaza. You brought this on them. Take responsibility and free the hostages – it is the right thing to do – do the right thing. I think it may be too late to save Hamas – but before your chapter in history ends – do the right thing. My heart pains for you personally and for your family – we have developed a relationship over the past 15 years – we trust each other – you have to do the right thing.
Saturday, October 14
Me: Ghazi a deal can be made now for the women, children, elderly, and sick in exchange for all of the women and minors in Israeli prison. There are 43 women and 190 minors in prison – we have signals that the deal can be made if Hamas is willing
Speak with Mohammed ElEmadi (the Qataris Emissary). Let’s make a deal – the women, children, elderly, sick in exchange for your women and minors, and a humanitarian ceasefire for allowing people to get food, medical care – supplies will enter via Egypt.
According to Reuters, Hamas is currently in negotiations to release Israeli women and children hostages in exchange for the release of 36 Palestinian women from Israeli prisons. The talks, facilitated by Qatar and coordinated with the U.S., are reportedly “moving positively,” although there are no indications of an imminent breakthrough. I hope this is true.
Are you supporting a deal for the women children elderly and sick for your women and minors?
I hope you and your family are still alive. They killed Ali Qadi today. He killed my wife’s cousin Sasson Nuriel in 2005. He was released with Sinwar.
Sunday, October 15
Me: Is your side ready for the prisoners deal? Women children elderly sick hostages for women and minor prisoners plus 48 hour ceasefire?
If you want a deal on the Palestinian women and children prisoners, we can get that done – I am in contact with the decision makers on this – it depends on your side – it can include a short ceasefire too – but it is in the hands of Hamas – it can be done before the ground invasion
any response from your side on a possible deal?
Monday, October 16
Me: Haniyeh is in Teheran the Iranians just said that Hamas will release all of the hostages for a full ceasefire. I think that’s a non-starter. But the Qataris are running negotiations now – talking to you and to the Americans. The Americans are talking to the Israelis. It’s all too complicated. The Qataris need to talk directly to the Israelis. tell them. I will put them in touch with Eizencott or Gal Hirsch directly – let’s move quicker.
Ghazi. Let push the small deal. Do the right thing with the hostages. I will push for ceasefire
Tuesday, October 17
Me: Good morning. Do you want to advance a deal
Are you so angry at me for being honest and direct with you that you are not speaking to me anymore?
Wednesday, October 18
Me: The hit on the hospital in Gaza is a criminal act of war. Whoever did it, Israel as claimed by Palestinians or Jihad as claimed by Israel should admit their guilt. If it was intentional, it is even more horrific.
Do you have many other channels to get directly to the decision makers in Israel? I suggest that you use the one that has worked before, and not toss it away. That’s my suggestion
Saturday, October 21
Ghazi: Yesterday your army killed 352 innocent civilians
This is your good response!!!
Me: It’s war. You know that.
What are the next steps. Ceasefire and civilian hostages. We have to stop the killing.
Someone wrote yesterday: interesting how everything in Gaza is running out except rockets.
Ghazi how do we move forward?
Ghazi: No. The heavy strikes on Gaza block any effort to do something regarding the hostages
Me: Still ready to release all civilians for ceasefire?
Ghazi: I think so. If I receive from you formal proposal I can convey it to the leadership.
Me: I am passing in the message
Later Hamas Military wing posted on telegram that they will be releasing two Israeli American women
Me: What’s the story about the two old ladies?
The Israeli side says: you give me Hamas’ proposal and I will give it to the decision makers in Israel
Ghazi: That’s mean I may receive a reply?
Me: Yes. If you send me something official. I will send it to them and hopefully we can advance something good. You can send in Arabic
Ghazi: Do you think that they’ll deal with it seriously? The civilians for the final ceasefire?
Me: I think they will deal with it very seriously. That doesn’t mean they will agree. Send me something that says it’s office and represents the position of the leadership
Ghazi: Do you think that we can convey the proposal to the Qatari first? And they may convey it to you?
Me: The Qataris I understand don’t communicate directly with the Israelis. They give it to the Americans and then it gets to the Israelis. Unless something has changed in the last few days
Ghazi: If your side is serious I can convince my organization to deal seriously. I don’t want to waste time.
Me: Israel wants the hostages back home now. We are talking about human lives. There is no wasting time.
Ghazi: Do you have good connection with decision makers?
Me: Yes. I get the messages directly to people sitting in the war cabinet.
The Israelis want all of the civilians with no exceptions. Time is running out. After the ground invasion it will be a new situation. The forces are ready to go in. They are just waiting for the orders to be given. The amount of fire power that will go in is so much more than Hamas has ever seen. Time is running out for a deal Ghazi. So much more death and destruction is on the way. Let’s try to stop this. We want the civilians out
Ghazi: The air strikes are more fatal and heavier, what the tanks can do more? Gershon , Be sure that we are not afraid. I want be sure that your side is serious in the release of the civilians for the full ceasefire.
Me: Ghazi my suggestion is that we try hard to get it done. Negotiations you know are always complicated and difficult. Neither side wants to take the first step. I’m not an official. Use me. We have nothing to lose by trying to get an agreement.
Saturday, October 21
Me: Get me an official proposal so we can push it forward.
Sunday October 22
Me: Do you have the agreement of the leadership to send me a proposal?
Ghazi: Still waiting
Me: Ok. I’m always online
Ghazi: I talked to Hanyieh right now and he will back to me. He is very serious with the proposal
Ghazi: We will contact Gaza to see
Nothing yet? Every hour that passes is time that more people in Gaza are losing their lives.
What are the chances of us doing something?
Ghazi: I am working hard to get reply
Me: Good. I hope we get it soon. If your side gave a proposal to the Qataris who gave it to the Americans to give to the Israelis, I want to know who got it so we know how to pressure the Israeli decision makers
No news from your side??
Did they give the proposal to Qatar?
Come on Ghazi let’s get this done now!
What is holding up an agreement
Ghazi: Gershon, I am as you anxious to get a reply from my leadership
Monday, October 23
Me: Good morning
Ghazi: Good morning. I hope get answer today
Later that day by telephone he tells me that they delivered the proposal to the Qataris and I tell him that I will be speak with people on the Israeli side to see what message they received and I will inform them that the proposal from Qatar was approved by the Hamas leadership in Gaza and outside
Me: Ghazi the message from me is with the war cabinet.
Ghazi: You expect something?
Me: Yes. I am others are pushing hard for agreement. I and others. It is in the works – message passed on. Did you learn anything from your side about the proposal?
Ghazi: Is this correct: i24NEWS Exclusive: The Red Cross is on the way to receive 50 hostages with dual citizenship
Me: I don’t know. The Egyptian intel guy in Tel Aviv called me after midnight last night to get the phone number of the Red Cross head in Tel Aviv. I gave it to him
You should know about this, not me. I think it is not true. But we will see.
The Saudi-based Al Arabiya said on Monday evening that the release of hostages with foreign nationalities was expected in the coming hours. Senior Hamas Leader Khaled Meshal tells Sky News that civilian hostages will be released if Israel reduces air strikes on Gaza.
What about the rest of the civilians?
What about the other 220 hostages?
The Wall Street journal reporting that Hamas has demanded fuel also and ceasefire
What confirmation do you have?
It seems that the Egyptians are in contact with Al Qassam and the Qataris are talking to the political people in Gaza and Doha. Is that right?
Tuesday, October 24
Me: Good morning
The Egyptians did the deal last night – who is in charge? Egypt or Qatar? Who is Qassam talking with? Was the fuel issue what complicated the proposal for the deal we spoke about or something else?
can you talk?
Time is running out on a possible agreement. What are we doing?
Ghazi: Gershon, I sent you what you asked me to do, and you did nothing. The ball is on your side.
Me: Ghazi, I told you the Israelis said the proposal from Qatar included other demands. Not just a ceasefire. If they drop the other demands an agreement can be reached.
I think that your political side is not in control. Qassam is in control and they decide.
I delivered the proposal. They got it from Qatar and what you said and what they got from Qatar were not the same.
I want us to get to an agreement to bring back our people and to stop the attacks on Gaza. We need to work together.
Don’t give up on trying
If the issue blocking is the fuel – will Hamas agree that fuel trucks entering Gaza will go directly to hospitals accompanied by inspectors from Qatar, Egypt, the Red Cross – Israel could send in 1 truck to 1 hospital and see that the fuel enters to the hospital. Israel will not bomb the trucks unless taken by Hamas. what do you think – if you want fuel for the hospitals we can find a solution
Ghazi: Yes we need the fuel for hospitals and just for hospitals. We are ready to give all guarantees.
Me: Ghazi, ElEmadi (Qatari emissary) is requesting that Hamas ask then to solve the fuel issue as I suggested (UN convoys or Egyptian to guarantee that fuel is not stolen). We just got this message from him.
The message I get from Israel is cease fire for hostages. Hamas has fuel – you should give it to the hospitals. You want ceasefire – that’s the deal.
Ghazi: Gershon you are playing with me!!! I talked to you frankly that we have no problem, but you didn’t any reply from your side . I don’t need messages I need decision
Me: I am pushing for a solution to this problem of the fuel. I take it very seriously. I want to save lives
Ghazi: Yes we need urgently the fuel to save the lives
Me: I know that. The Israelis say that Hamas stole fuel from UNRWA
Ghazi: So UNRWA must say that – it’s a Big lie
Me: We are stuck over this issue. So many live are at stake here
I don’t want to argue with you by the UNRWA administrator confirmed that the fuel was stolen by Hamas. They even tweeted about it and then were forced by Hamas to remove the tweet
Nonetheless, I am trying to find a solution
Wednesday October 25
Me: Ghazi I want to know today from Hamas’ point of view what is preventing reaching an agreement for stopping the bombing of Gaza for a release if the civilian hostages. Let’s solve this today. The clock is ticking before the ground incursion of Israel into Gaza.
Here is my proposal for a deal to release the abducted civilians and a ceasefire for the Gaza Strip
- Hamas and Israel inform Qatar and Egypt that both sides are ready for the immediate release of all civilian abductees and to stop shelling the Strip.
- The International Red Cross and Egypt will prepare to receive the abductees according to a list that Hamas will provide them.
- Israel will undertake that 6 hours before the agreed release of the abductees, all shelling on the Strip will stop. At that agreed time, Hamas will cease its fire on Israel and stop all attempts to penetrate Israel.
- The UN (foreign forces and not Palestinian UN employees) will undertake to escort fuel trucks directly to hospitals in Gaza and they will remain in the hospitals to ensure that the fuel is not taken by Hamas.
Ghazi: This proposal from whom??
Me: This is my proposal. If your side agrees, I can send it to the decision makers in Israel. Galei Zahal just called me and said there seems to be an agreement for a hostage release. Tzahi Hanegbi thanked the Qatari PM for helping with this issue – is it true?
I think maybe you don’t even know about it – how long have you been in Beirut? I thought that you were in Gaza all this time with your people. So for about 3 months you have been in Beirut.
Is there progress with Qatar? What is holding up agreement?
The bombing of Gaza is increasing. A ceasefire is urgent. What about the hostages?
Ghazi: You give just words without any action. I don’t want to waste my time.
Me: I asked you to find out what us holding up agreement. If the problem is on Israel’s side we can push. Your people are being killed. I want it to stop also.
Arouri says no release of Israelis without a prisoner exchange. That’s a change in your position. Who is playing games now?
Thursday October 26
Me: Ceasefire today?
Ghazi take me seriously. I can help. If I know why the agreement is stuck, I can help to unlock it. I don’t know why it is not happening
My humble assessment is that Al Qassam is running the show and you people in Doha and Beirut have no real role to play in these negotiations
When the war started with the Hamas attack I was in Europe. My flights were canceled but I found a way to get home. There was no way that I would not be home with my people when we are at war. Why aren’t you with your people?
This was the last message that Hamad opened – after that this line of communication went silent.
These were my messages to him over the next days until November 1 when following his interview on Lebanese Television in which he completely justified the terror attack against Israel and promised many more until Israel’s annihilation.
Me: What about an agreement. Ceasefire. Release the women children elderly wounded and sick.
What if the US and the EU and other important countries were to label Qatar as a state that supports terrorism? Do you think that Qatar will risk its standing in the world to save the Hamas leadership living it up in Doha? You should act to release the women, children, elderly, wounded and sick hostages before this happens. It may happen, so you should act in your own best interests – ceasefire for the release of the hostages
Friday October 27
You got a lot of press from your BBC interview. Why aren’t you in Gaza?
Why isn’t Khalil Haya in Gaza?
What are you people waiting for? Ceasefire now for hostages.
Saturday, October 28
Ceasefire now for hostage release now. Before it’s too late.
You’re not opening my messages. Not talking to me won’t help you. I assure you if that.
Sunday, October 29
Other colleagues of yours are in contact with me –
Your friend Sinwar says he’s ready for an immediate deal. What’s the deal?
Monday, October 30
Not talking to me does not help
The following day I sent my letter to Ghazi Hamad following his horrific interview on Lebanese Television. After more than 17 years of contact, the man that I knew all of these years is not the same person who deserted his people in Gaza and is now the official spokesperson of this war for Hamas.