A video released Sunday by the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, includes new footage of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli prisoner of war who was held in Gaza for five years.
Shalit was released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange Israel negotiated with Hamas.
Israeli media had reported years ago that Shalit beat his Hamas guards at rounds of the video game FIFA Soccer.
But the new video shows scenes of the smiling Shalit grilling meat at a barbecue. It also shows him drinking tea with Hamas fighters and watching television.
In one clip, Shalit sits in a relatively spacious cell with an exercise bicycle and adjoining toilet as an attendant brings him a beverage.
The footage of Shalit is part of a 10-minute video highlighting the Qassam Brigades’ Shadow Unit, whose secret mission the video describes as “securing enemy prisoners who come into the hands of Qassam.”
It also says that the unit’s mission is to “treat enemy prisoners with dignity and respect, according to the principles of Islam, and to provide them with physical and moral sustenance, notwithstanding the enemy’s treatment of captured resistance fighters.”
The video calls the successful years-long effort to conceal Shalit’s location from Israel – he was captured in 2006 – “one of the most complex security operations” in the movement’s history.
The video names five members of the Shadow Unit who were involved in securing Shalit. It also provides their ages when they were each killed by Israeli action in recent years.
They include Sami Muhammad al-Hamayda, 42, and Abdallah Ali Lubbad, 45, killed in Israeli air attacks respectively in 2008 and 2011.
Khalid Muhammad Abu Bakra, 35, and Muhammad Rashid Daoud, 28, were both killed in a confrontation with Israeli soldiers east of Khan Younis in November 2013.
Abdulrahman Salih al-Mubashir, 29, died last month in the collapse of a tunnel dug by the resistance.
The video shows still images of two men it identifies as al-Hamayda and Lubbad sitting with Shalit as he eats.
Other than a few trips abroad soon after his release, Shalit has largely declined to take part in official Israeli propaganda.
Keeping a low profile may be Shalit’s own choice, but it may also be that he provides little propaganda value.
Aside from the fact of his long detention – which largely conformed to the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war – Israel has presented no evidence he was not treated humanely, and Shalit himself has made no such claims.
He has said he was frequently bored and made up games, wrote or played Scattergories to pass the time.
The Qassam Brigades video is clearly aimed at conveying a message that Shalit received humane and even favorable treatment.
In the past, the Qassam Brigades has released carefully produced videos aimed at projecting the armed group’s strength and capabilities and boosting local morale.
A video depicting its fighters operating behind enemy lines during Israel’s July-August 2014 assault on Gazawas widely circulated last summer.
Dead or alive?
The new video may be intended to reinforce a message to Israel that Hamas still has the capability of concealing prisoners far from its reach.
In July, Israel admitted that at least two of its citizens are currently detained in Gaza, at least one by Hamas.
One is Avera Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent. Israel says he entered Gaza across a beach in September 2014, after the 26 August truce. But a senior Hamas leader has claimed the Israelis had already inquired about Mengistu’s whereabouts during the negotiations in Cairo that led up to the truce.
The other is reportedly an unnamed Palestinian citizen of Israel.
Hamas also reportedly holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were part of Israel’s invasion force in the summer of 2014.
Israel says the two soldiers are dead, but Hamas has refused to confirm this.
Israeli forces implementing the so-called Hannibal Directive likely killed Goldin to prevent his capture near Rafah on 1 August 2014.
As part of the procedure, Israel launched a massive bombardment of civilian neighborhoods in the southern Gaza city intentionally killing hundreds of civilians.
Oron Shaul was part of a force that invaded Gaza City’s Shujaiya neighborhood on 20 July 2014.
Last month, Shaul’s mother told a press conference that “we, the family, have no solid or substantiated information about whether Oron is alive or not, wounded or dead, and we are in a state of uncertainty.”
Hamas has said it will not negotiate over the release of any Israelis or provide any information about the missing soldiers until Israel releases prisoners it freed in the Shalit deal and subsequently recaptured.
The message of the Shadow Unit video is that Hamas’ military wing can hold on to prisoners for as long as it takes and Israel will not be able to find them.