Saturday, October 31, 2009

First Foot Patrol

Having arrived at al-Madina al-Muqaddasah on a Wednesday, my platoon was informed that we wouldn't be starting operations until Sunday. The rest of the company was going to start right away. It's just us greenhorns (tzairim - youngin's) who were supposed to wait. That wasn't because they wanted us to get settled, or to relax a little in a first deployment, or anything quite as magnanimous as that. Rather, the logistics NCO's needed bitches to set up the company's area. From hanging signs to organizing shipping crates to moving cabinets - stuff that the veterans wouldn't dare raise a finger for.

Just as we started the agony, and it really is terrible to work for the RASAP, my platoon commander called my squad over to the side. I had heard some rumors earlier in the day that a foot patrol would be sent out of the wire, but rumors fly constantly around here. When my entire squad was called over, however, I just knew I had caught yet another lucky-Danny the American break.

"Listen up," he started. "You guys are going to take a foot patrol. Go work on your gear. I want it to be fix. Perfect. Don't let anyone take you to work on anything else. You are in nohel krav - combat procedure. Again, if the RASAP tries to have you work for him, come tell me."

And with that he sent my squad off to the barracks, leaving the rest of the suckers in my platoon to do all the worst initial setting up. As we walked off, I looked back at my buddies heaving a locker full of unbelievably heavy M113 periscopes onto a high shelf. Suckers.

Our personal gear is so important to the IDF, in that it has to be exactly the way the platoon and company commanders want it, that whenever you receive a mission you are sent for hours to work on the stuff. I, however, always make sure that my gear is exactly the way they want it. It's become so rote to me, actually, that even now I want my gear to be the way they want it. Gear tradition is one of the great mysteries of the army that you would only understand if you had to live it. Essentially, in Golani, you have G-d, country, and gear - in no particular order. So, my gear was already perfect, fix, and ready to roll.

I spent the next couple hours helping others with their gear. And hanging out on my bed, of course. I cleaned my gun like a maniacal germ-freak, over and over and over. Finally, we were called to the briefing room. Walking past the still-working platoon, my squad couldn't help but feel real tough. We were chosen above everyone to take the first mission of the entire company. We must be cool. Send me out Rambo style. I'll keep the peace, singlehandedly.

After a long series of briefings from three different NCO's and CO's, replete with satellite maps, quizzes on protocol and patrol structure, rules of engagement, scenario testing, and even a preparatory drill (as if we haven't trained for a year doing this simple movement!), we got the order to move out. I walked up to one of my squadmates and said, like some American army movie, "MOUNT UP!" He looked at me pretty funny. I told him that if he hears me say that, it means put on your gear. Listen, if I'm going to do an army, I want to feel cool. I'd love to say things like Oscar Mike and Stay Frosty, but that's too much explaining to these guys. As you can tell, I was giddy.

FINALLY! Here it is! A year of training, and finally I'm going to get out there. Our mission was simple, just to establish a presence, but in our eyes any mission was a great and wonderful gift. I would have taken a 50km patrol happily at that point! Yes please! More please! Can this last, like, I dunno, 10 hours? When you've been waiting all your life to do something, or at least feel that way, the moment instantly before is no less than euphoric. I didn't feel the extra 60 or so pounds on my body. I didn't feel the ceramic armor digging into my shoulder blades. I didn't feel my uncomfortable, stiff new boots. It was all adrenaline.



And in no less than two minutes there we were, walking in between Arab houses. Now, don't get the idea that I think all Arabs are bad people, the enemy, or suspects. As a matter of fact, in high school I had a good friend that just so happened to be from al-Madina al-Muqaddasah. He even lived here just a few years ago, since they still have all their family in the area. This was a good, good friend of mine. I obviously don't hate Arabs. But when you're geared up like I am, and a scary ass Tavor assault rifle pointed at the low and ready... they probably hate us. And since I'm the pointman in the squad, and therefore the tip of this patrolling spear, they hate me first.

But with all that being said, we were in hostile territory. At least on paper. In reality, my squad made our way through endless grape fields, admiring the clusters as if we were Moses' spies, amazed at the bounty and impossibility of this land. Nearly as endless as those chest-sized clusters were the Arab houses, many built illegally no doubt, and their porches. Sitting on the porches were families, old men playing backgammon, young men smoking hookahs or talking on the phone, and women knitting. Children playing soccer. Life happening. Quiet.

STOP - instantly I dropped down to the kneeling position. We were approaching a turn in the dirt path, and at that moment a 20-some year old guy appeared in front of us. That's the key age for trouble. You never know. I instinctively told him to stop, in Arabic, and eyed his body for any unnatural bulges. Gun. You never know. In this area, word spreads quickly. "There's a patrol coming your way" probably found it's way on at least one phone. Is this guy a hero, I wondered.

Nope. Just a dude walking to some other place. It is his neighborhood - he just happened to get a little close. That's ok. It was unavoidable. Yeah, your ID checks out. Have a nice day. I signaled him to walk to the side, and not in-between the patrol.

First contact. OK, that wasn't so bad. Yeah, I know they're just people. Yeah, that kid was probably on his way to his girlfriend's. You never know, though.

We made our way on, stopping here and there to check an ID, make sure that that car that turned off the path as soon as it saw us just did that because we're scary and not because he's got something planned. Yup, he's cool. Have a nice day. Keep a close eye on that guy that went inside when we neared his porch. Check that corner. Stop. Drink some water, guys. You're sweating a lot more than you realize.

With the sun going down, we took a few minutes break to switch to night vision scopes, rest, rehydrate, and soak up the geographical location. The expectation to learn our operating area is high, and nothing is better than a foot patrol to learn just where that intersection is, or where that typically hostile neighborhood tends to heat up. But as I knelt there, checking my scope, I watched the kids next to me play soccer. Two little girls sat on the side, staring at us, obviously more entertained by the "big bad Zionists" than their little crushes.

And you know what was the most surprising and impacting impression I made from this first patrol? Not tightening my grip because some guy briskly walked inside his house and then came out with a long wooden thing - which from 100 meters looked like a rifle, but really was a cane. Not how much power we had over these people (which we do, and have to respect). But rather, I was absolutely blown away by how much the kids seemed to like us.

This isn't Iraq, and the IDF is not the liberators or heros of al-Madina al-Muqaddasah. They are supposed to hate us. According to the world, we are the people that shot these kids' dads in front of them... for fun. But those kids, from 5 year olds to 13 year olds, were all smiles! They giggled and pointed and laughed. I was as serious as it gets for the entire patrol, for obvious reasons, but once we continued on the path and came upon a gaggle of little boys and girls playing in the street I naturally loosened up. They playfully ran to the side, next to a fence, and stared and giggled. Dropping my mission-oriented tone, I winked at one particular chamuda.

Just like any kid, she put her hands up to her face, snickered, and buried herself in her best friend sitting nearby. Just like my friend's nieces, little ultra-orthodox Jewish girls.

What? Aren't we the terrible, oppressing, evil Zionist pigs stealing Arab land? Shouldn't these 10 year olds have heard by now about the Nakba, and about how these black-gun toting devils will break your neck upon the slightest, if any, provocation? Apparently, and this was my impression on the street, the IDF makes a smaller footprint than some would have you believe. I know that there are certain places where the army is more intrusive, even in other areas of al-Madina al-Muqaddasah. But even here, even with an ID-checking, car stopping patrol, we don't seem to be the worst thing in the world.

Last anecdote on that matter: Once we passed a house on our left, and I was busy checking our right because my right-hand pointman was new at that position and I felt he was missing some of his sector. I glanced at him, and he cocked his head upwards and to my left. Towards that house. There were about five people sitting on a second-story porch, just hanging out. Middle-aged people. They interpreted his signal to me to check them as the international head pump, which says "hey, what's up." They waved. What? They freaking waved at us?

I was pretty sure at that moment that the army lied to me and actually sent me to an Israeli-Druze village. That would explain the Arabic text on the walls, at least.

And despite seeing with my own two eyes how friendly these people can be, I know the history. And the commanders remind us of the history, and remind us what happens all the time and doesn't make the news. Most importantly, not everyone that is nice to you on the road while on patrol are representative of the guy sitting in his room, sulking, staring at you through the window. Stoking his anger. Planning. Rocks to start, knives, acid bottles, and so on. The cycle continues. His dad waved. His uncle waved. Even his cloaked aunt raised a finger. He sulked.

So we stay prepared, and hope that the moderates look around and see what could be! Fields of grapes, nice houses, nice cars, businesses - not everything is rubble in the West Bank, and not everyone hates Israel or the IDF. It seems.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My 25th Birthday In The Israeli Army

(If you don't read the post, at least check out the photo comparison at the bottom. I think it's hilarious)

It's pretty damn hard to believe that it has been exactly one year since I had my 24th birthday in the army. I was drafted four days previous, on the 22nd of October, 2008. Still nervous as hell every morning upon waking up, I kept my mouth shut when my birthday came. No one knew about it, and that was the way I wanted it. Despite that, as I said in that post from a year ago, "It was really tough spending your birthday getting yelled at."

Well, days have changed. I am a fully-rated combat soldier, and yelling is reserved for... nevermind. They still yell at us all the time! Not like in the movies, like basic training in Full Metal Jacket, but it is for when we do something wrong. And that happens all the time.

So, I guess I will also spend my day getting yelled at!

But again, as I said in 2008, "I've always wanted to be a soldier, especially for the only army in the world that I think is 100% imperative for the existence of the state it serves. So, ideologically I didn't need cake or toys or songs." The only thing I'd change about that now is that yeah, I'd like cake. And don't you worry, I will eat some cake!

Seriously though, and I know everyone says this at this age, but I am having a hard time understanding how I'm already 25. I remember quite distinctly being about 17 and thinking long and hard about what Danny Brothers of 2009, a 25-year-old man, would be like. This is the age that definitively signals adulthood. This is the age where your profession becomes your life. Where marriage and children become a reality. Where you become, I don't know... grown-up.

But I don't feel like that! Man, I feel like a kid still. I'm pretty sure I'm 18 and just started college. That ridiculously handsome, athletic, muscular body in the mirror? That's not mine, is it? Those rugged good looks on that wise, mature face? Could it really be? And the prophetic eyes staring back at me; where did they come from?

At 16 I thought about myself at 25 as being everything I wasn't at the time: confident in my beliefs, set in my ways, and self-sure. Some of those are good things, others less so. Regardless, at least those things have come with age. For that I am thankful. I don't think I am quite as emotionally stable and mature as I hoped I would be, but over the past few years I have learned that emotional stability is one of the rarest traits. And considering the challenge I've gone through over the past year, I think I'm doing ok coping with difficulties, and stability in general.

I'll stop rambling now. It's just that this is the one forum where I can tell everyone how weird it is to have arrived. I'm sure my 40-year-old readers are rolling their eyes. I don't care. Keep rolling. It's my blog and I'll express amazement when I want to! Honestly, listen to me, I could go on for hours about all types of things I expected with this age, from my body (I used to be a serious weight lifter, and I always dreamed about the "prime of life" 25-year-old body) to my intelligence to knowledge to career to love life, and so on.

Hey, us old people are supposed to ramble, right? And be incoherent? Welcome to senility, I say! I guess I really am the grandpa of the army now.

Here's some photos for comparison to what six years does to a man:

A 19-year-old backpacking young buck, ready to roll

A 25-year-old: give me coffee or don't talk to me

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finally Deployed

After eight months of training, and then another three or so of brigade-wide retraining that we unluckily stepped right into, my unit has found its place in "combat." I use that word lightly, especially considering that we have found ourselves in the West Bank during one of the quietest periods in Israeli history. Knock on wood and all that, but I simply believe that it's peaceful because we've brought the hammer down hard on the terrorist groups. Operation Cast Lead sure as hell put a beating on Hamas, and I don't think they're ready for round two.

But they will be, eventually. For now, peace.

While the rest of my platoon took a pre-dawn bus to our base in al-Madina al-Muqaddasah, I was chosen to stay at our previous base in order to help put the final touches on cleaning up. Logistics officers, jobniks with big ranks that you couldn't care less about, were roaming the area, just looking for an excuse to yell at the young, arrogant combat soldiers. "You're aren't leaving here until..." was the line of the day. I heard that no less than twenty times.

Suddenly, in the middle of carrying some containers back to the kitchen, the commander watching over us told me to run to the transport truck waiting at the base's front gate. "HURRY," he told me numerous times. It seemed like the truck was waiting for me, specifically. However, upon getting to the gate, there was no one to be found. After waiting nearly two hours, I finally hitched a ride with a transport carrying our shipping crates which we use to store gear.

"Jump on up!" the animated driver told me. For the entire five hour ride I was all alone in a tractor-trailer with a reserve duty soldier who rambled on and on with his wife on the phone. With just three hours of sleep the night before, I fought back my leaden eyelids the entire way. I was told to not let this guy stop at his base for the night, but rather to carry on all the way to our deployment, so I had to stay awake. And as they warned, between calls to his wife, he called just about every officer in the IDF for permission to go sleep at the truck base.

Finally we neared the border crossing into the West Bank. The driver started showing his true colors pretty quickly. He made a call to his dispatcher on the speakerphone. It essentially went like this:

"Uh, so when I cross over, what happens? I only have one soldier with me. Is that enough?"


"OK, are you sure? Because it's just one soldier, and you know, it's at night! How will I know if I'm going into a bad area or not?"

"There's nothing to worry about."

"Well!.. Famous last words, no? OK, I have one soldier, but should he put the magazine in the gun, and a bullet in the chamber? Ready to shoot!"

"No, that's not necessary."

"Is there a signal truck that could guide me to the base?"

As he drove hesitantly toward the border crossing, unarmed Israeli civilian cars zoomed by, headlong into the territory. My jumpy driver and his wide-open eyes rubber necked the entire way to our base, making terrified comments one after another. I giddily seared into memory the crossing, marveling at the towers and guard posts and concrete barriers and mazes of chain-link gates used to check Palestinian pedestrians. All the things the world hates Israel for. What all the protestors were losing their minds over. Every little detail shone brilliantly under the yellow, sodium lights. I was happy to finally be deployed, after so much waiting. The frightened driver was ready to get the hell out.

My favorite line of the night? While driving past an Arab town with a green-lit minaret, he asked seriously, "Do they have rockets?!" And then once we made it to the base, with relief he inquired if we had "finished the Arabs finally?" That's less racism/prejudice than it is excitable cowardice.

After wishing him a good night and laughing at his catharsis upon reaching the safety of a Golani base, I made my way to our barracks. I entered the small, squat building to cheers from my platoon. I had no idea what al-Madina al-Muqaddasah was all about, and at night I had seen nothing, but I had arrived.

Time for patrols and guard duty and checkpoints and guard towers and seated ambushes and arrest operations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

OPSEC Is The Name Of The Game

Taking a page from one of my favorite Iraq War bloggers, Matt Gallagher of Kaboom, I feel I have to make this post about Operational Security (OPSEC). OPSEC is defined by the U.S. Army 1st Information Operations Command as:

A process of identifying Essential Elements of Friendly Information (EEFI) and subsequently analyzing friendly actions attendant to military operations and other activities to:
  • Identify those actions that can be observed by adversary intelligence systems
  • Determine indicators - Adversary intelligence systems might obtain that could be interpreted or pieced together to derive EEFI in time to be useful to adversaries
  • Select and execute measures that eliminate or reduce to an acceptable level the vulnerabilities of friendly action to adversary exploitation

With OPSEC on my head, I plan on continuing my blog for at least the next three months. My unit has deployed to an active area, and we have already begun our operations. In all reality, as the army works, we have switched places with the unit that was here before us - so no one should think this is some new campaign or new mission or new operation. The Israeli army works really as a police force, so we're just continuing keeping the peace. That's our mission: keep the peace.

As Kaboom found useful, I too will strictly refer to this area of operations with a made up name. Though the name will be made up, and you can guess all day where this stuff is taking place (and I will never say a word on the matter), I can tell you that it is inside the West Bank. I can say that because as anyone familiar with the geography of Israel knows, it is the only place that the Israeli army operates within Arab population centers. Gaza is a closed-off area, and the northern borders, though hot, are on the other side from Hizbullah and Syria.

So what name will I refer to the area as...? I don't know as I'm typing this! How about...

al-madina al-muqaddasah

Friday, October 16, 2009

What A Relief!

Many months ago during advanced training I found myself trudging through exhaustion in one of our "war weeks." Think Hell Week, I suppose. Finally, after nearly 24 hours of non-stop drills and hiking and carrying loaded stretchers and all types of worst case scenario preparation, we were given a few hours to sleep. I plopped down in a forest with my platoon, fully geared up and ready to pass out. Helmet on head (forbidden to remove), combat vest strapped tight, gun tucked under my arm - pass out I did.

I'm not sure what happened, if anything happened at all at the moment that woke me, but I opened my eyes an hour later to a certain degree of pain. On my left shoulder, towards the back, there was a slight stinging. I pulled the shoulder straps of my vest to the side, pulled my shirt off the area as far as possible, and there on my skin was a raised, bloody bump. I just kinda looked at it for a few minutes.

"What the hell is that?"

The first thing that went through my mind was that I was stung by a bee, or even worse, a scorpion. Eventually I rubbed the bump, and there seemed to be something underneath the skin. I felt like I could move some large, straight, hard chunk of hidden something or other. Despite playing with this thing for a solid hour, missing a most important amount of sleep, I didn't see anything come out. Except blood, of course. And some pus. It was pretty gross.

It wasn't until a few days later that I realized another possibility. My hypochondriac mind reminded myself, much to my dismay, that years ago I had to have a mole removed because I ripped it and that could potentially start cancer growth (namely, melanoma). The more I thought about it, the more it seemed plausible: the shoulder straps of my vest rub that area constantly, and between all the stretchers resting on my shoulder, as well as hundreds of pounds in waterpacks and enormous backpacks full of ammo and food and gear, well, there's no reason that a mole couldn't have been traumatized.

A normal person would have seen a doctor right away. I am in an army run by Israelis, however. I'm pretty sure they don't believe in diseases here, cancer included. I knew not to even ask about some weird bump that sometimes bleeds, sometimes dries up and peels a layer of skin off. Yeah, that sounds pretty bad, right? Crap. What was I going to do? I figured I'd just wait it out...

But then, two days ago, the bump was raised again. I kinda just moved it around, and some pus came out. Gross, sorry, but bear with me. Then some blood came out. A day passed, and the thing looked terrifying! It was raised pretty high, scabbed over, and obviously had both blood and pus underneath. Honestly, I was starting to worry that maybe indeed I had something serious on my hands. What the hell would I do about it? If the doctor in the army dismissed my 101.2 degree fever by telling me to rest, no medicine included, what would they say about a bump? I know: it's a pimple. Bastards.

Well, with all that worry, I finally got home this afternoon. After taking my shirt off in order to take a shower, I glanced at the scabbed bump. I figured I'd be 15 and play with it. I peeled the scab off, and a small amount of pus oozed out. Awesome. And then, for no reason at all, I figured I'd touch around the sides. So as I barely pressed a side, out squirts a long, thin, sharp thorn. It was like Old Faithful how fast that thing flew out. It kinda even scared me to see some foreign, alien object shoot from my flesh.

Whew. We're talking about more than four months of suppressed worrying here, people! Today, I tell you, is a good day!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Luck With Gear

We just got rain gear today. The rainy season starts very soon, and we're expecting a wet winter. Water-proof rain jackets and pants are essential for 8 hour guard shifts outside.

Mine, however, are riddled with cigarette burn holes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The President of Israel Listens to ME

Last Sunday night was the beginning of Yom Kippur, and I was off from the army. For the first night I decided that I would go to the popular 'meat market' synagogue nearby. I swear I wasn't checking out the ladies on the Day of Atonement. I just wanted to, you know, see to it that everyone was repenting for all that gawking that takes place there (they weren't). My flatmate was walking in the same direction, but then had to take another direction eventually. As I turned onto a sidestreet I noticed a big government Suburban blocking the way to a locally famous synagogue (there are lots in Jerusalem, you know). Next to the Sub was a moveable barricade.

Security was abundant. The first thought that crossed my mind was that they were making sure no bad guys tried anything tricky with all those congregants. I quickly remembered, however, that I had seen some government security doing the same thing one morning as I walked to my bus stop on the way back to the army. As soon as I recalled that, a few guys in suits turned the corner. Secret Service guys. Tall, strong as hell looking. M16's not dangling to the side like a soldier going home, but rather with hands on the grips, pointed forward but to the ground. "Who the hell is this for," I wondered.

And out walks Shimon Peres, the venerated President of this fair state. Here we were, just me and Peres on a tiny sidestreet walking in opposite directions. And about 10 ready to pop badasses culled from who knows which army units. Shayetet (Seals), Sayeret Matkal (Delta Force), 669, Palsar (Rangers), Yahalom (special forces demolitions), Egoz (anti-guerilla warfare), some others probably, and even former Mossad who took an even more prestigious assignment if I had to guess. Me, Peres, 5 feet apart - and the world's scariest bodyguards.

I'm not one to get starstruck or shocked over a fellow human being. I mean, we're all flesh and blood and dust and ashes. But this isn't an ordinary man. He is considered one of the founders of the State, and at this very moment he is probably the most respected man in Israel. Peres is like a modern Israeli James Madison. What do you say to a man like that, in passing, on the eve of Yom Kippur? Do you wish him an easy fast? Tell him he's doing a great job? Maybe even something as cliche as saying, "Good evening, Mr. President"?

And so I found myself as shut up as a Tibetan monk in solitude on top a great, lonely mountain. Honestly, I'm not sure that if I had even tried to speak that the words would have come out at all. And just imagine if the security saw some bumbling idiot, big and as potentially threatening as I could be, making a move towards the head of state! That would have been an inauspicious start to the new year. I think the security, black suits and assault rifles and dark sunglasses and all, probably put the kibosh on any greeting or words more than any other factor.

But now, days later, I really wish I would have said something about Gilad Shalit. If you haven't been reading the news, our soldier captured in 2006 by Hamas is still a hostage. He's been subjected to the discommunication between Israel and her enemies for over three years (1,195 days in captivity) now, and just about the entire country is saying the same thing: bring him home already. We don't care how, just do it. Now.

Man, I wish I would have said exactly this:

"Gilad Shalit."

That's it. Nothing else. In a normal tone of voice, no inflection at all, no gesticulation. Nothing. You know why? Because he knows what the country wants, and it would have been foolish to insult him further. I know that he isn't solely responsible for that situation, and the resolution, but he sure has a voice in the matter. He sure can make some moves.

But I didn't say a word, and that's OK - probably for the best. Definitely for the best. I don't need the Secret Service beating me up before I go to the meat market synagogue, giving me a bloody lip or something. Girls don't like a bleeding, awkward tall guy. Or maybe they'd think I was tough and just beat up some bad guys.

Ahh, the delusions of a sleep-depraved soldier...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dissonance Among The Ranks

(Meant to post this a couple weeks ago...)

Just a little on the fly "had to tell someone" blogging here.

We are in Jerusalem for a day of touring, and of course we've found our way to the Western Wall. There are tons of military border and security police around - even more than usual. Now, these aren't the guys who give out tickets to soldiers who forgot to shave. They are the riot police, among other things. I'm pretty sure the army even chooses kids to go to this unit based on a tendency to fight. In short, they are notorious for being rough and short tempered.

As I walked by one on the way to the bathrooms, I noticed that on the handle of his billystick was a sticker for a popular spiritual movement inside Judaism. They're the hippies of Judaism, if you will.

It's a smiling face with a yarmulka and sidelocks. Not what you'd expect from a riot squad. If your head happens to meet that billystick, you could call it divine justice.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gilad Shalit Proof of Life

I just want to post this here now as the news breaks. I have a short word or two to say about the matter in a post coming out at the end of the week, but just for now...

Here's the video itself on the Israeli news channel's website

An article:
Link to original Jerusalem Post article

Watch new Schalit video: 'I yearn to see my family again'
Oct. 2, 2009 Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
After over three years in which IDF St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit has been held in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, Israel breathed a sigh of relief on Friday afternoon after video footage of the captive soldier was released to the media and aired on Israeli television channels.

Click on the image on the right side to watch the clip. A version with English subtitles will appear shortly.

The two-minute long clip shows Schalit addressing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his parents Noam and Aviva, telling them he is being treated well by the Hamas and is in good health, but yearning for the day on which he will see his family again. Schalit is seen clean shaven with a fresh haircut, wearing black clothes.

The video was received in return for the release of 20 Palestinian female prisoners. Israel released 19 of them on Friday morning, 18 to the West Bank and one to Gaza. The 20th prisoner will be released Sunday, after it turned out that a prisoner released Wednesday was finishing her sentence anyway and would therefore be released regardless of the deal.

Following is the full transcript of Schalit's video message:

"Hello, I am Gilad, son of Noam and Aviva Schalit, brother of Hadas and Yoel, who lives in Mitzpe Hila. My ID number is 300097029.

"As you see I am holding in my hands the Palestine newspaper of September 14, 2009, published in Gaza. I am reading the paper in order to find information regarding myself, hoping to find some information from which I would learn of my release and upcoming return home. I have been hoping and waiting for the day of me release for a long time. I hope the current government under Binyamin Netanyahu will not waste the chance to finalize a deal, and I will therefore be able to finally have my dream come true and be released.

"I wish to send regards to my family and say to them that I love and miss them and yearn for the day in which I would see them again.

"Dad, Yoel and Hadas, do you remember the day when you visited my base on the Golan Heights on December 31st, 2005, that if I am not mistaken was called Revaya B. We walked around the base and you took photos of me on the Merkava tank and on one of the old tanks at the entrance to the base. We then went to a restaurant in one of the Druze villages and on the way we took photos on the side of the road with the snow-covered Mount Hermon in the background.

"I wish to say to you that I feel good, health-wise, and the Mujahadeen of the Izzadien al-Qassam Brigades are treating me very well. Thank you and goodbye."

In the footage, Schalit addresses the camera directly, and at one point walks up to the camera and then returns to his chair. He also appears relaxed, not terrified.

By 12:30, Netanyahu's appointee on the Schalit case, Hagai Hadas, reached the Prime Minister's official residence in Jerusalem with the footage. Hadas and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi had already reviewed the footage and approved the release of the prisoners, indicating that the video fulfilled Israel's demands, namely that the video was at least a minute long, recent and showed Schalit talking.

OC Manpower Division Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir arrived by helicopter with a copy of the video at the Schalit residence in Mitzpe Hila, where he was scheduled to view the video with the family.

Noam Schalit said before viewing the tape that the family eagerly awaits it.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement following the release of the clip.

"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu watched the video of Gilad Schalit in his office and has spoken with Noam Schalit," a statement read by the prime minister's media spokesman said.

"The prime minister believes the importance of the tape is in putting the responsibility for Gilad's health and wellbeing squarely on Hamas's shoulders. The prime minister says that even though the the release of Schalit is still far from us, the video is an encouraging sign," the statement continued.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with Noam Schalit and Zvi Schalit, Gilad's grandfather, at around 2 p.m., just minutes after the family viewed the video, according to a statement issued by Barak's office.

The defense minister told the Schalits "I want to hug you. Gilad looks healthy, and this fact only further puts into focus my own responsibility and the responsibility of all of us to bring him home."

A statement issued by the Elysee Palace in Paris called for the "immediate, unconditional release of Schalit." Schalit holds dual Israeli-French citizenship and his father Noam has been lobbying with French President Nicholas Sarkozy to help in securing the release of his son.

Gilad Schalit has been held in captivity in the Gaza Strip for 1,195 days.