Years before he was a soldier seized by Palestinian militants, 11-year-old Gilad Schalit penned a simple parable about how enemies can get along.
His story, "When the Shark and the Fish First Met," has now been published as a children's book that teaches tolerance — while its author, now 21, spends his 19th month captive in the Gaza Strip.
The tank crewman was seized in June 2006 by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip in a cross-border raid into Israel. Two of his comrades were killed in the attack. Secret negotiations on a prisoner swap deal have stalled.
The story Schalit wrote as a fifth-grader in 1997 was published Saturday with its 64 pages illustrated by 29 Israeli artists. The project is also on display in a gallery in Nahariya, the Mediterranean coastal town where Schalit was born.
In the story, a shark is about to eat a little fish, but the fish persuades the shark to let him live. Instead, the two play hide-and-seek underwater and become friends.
But their mothers disapprove. "The fish is an animal we eat. Don't play with it!" the shark's mother tells him.
"The shark is the animal that devoured your father and brother — don't play with that animal!" the fish's mother tells him.
After avoiding each other for a year, the two meet again. The shark says, "You're my enemy, but shall we make up?"
The fish agrees, and eventually the two announce their friendship to their mothers.
"Since that day, the sharks and the fish have lived in peace," wrote Schalit.
His message: 'Even enemies can live together'
One of Schalit's teachers found the story while doing spring cleaning last year and brought it to his family, said Noam Schalit, Gilad's father.
"This is a message from an 11-year-old kid who believes that even enemies can live together in the end," Schalit told The Associated Press. "It's amazing how relevant that is to his situation today."
Mazal Gabai, Gilad Schalit's fifth-grade teacher, said he wrote the story after she taught the class about parables.
"I believe that the prophecy will come true, and the two will live together," she told Israel Radio on Sunday. "The message is clear — nothing can happen without dialogue. Even if the other side is extremely difficult, we'll find a way to bridge the gaps."
All of the illustrators who took part in the project volunteered their work, said Lee Rimon, the artist who came up with the idea of turning Schalit's story into a book. The illustrations are on exhibit at The Edge, the gallery she runs with her husband in Nahariya, and will begin touring Israel this week.
"When we heard about this story, we knew we had to do something," she said.
A year ago, Rimon's gallery put on an exhibit of photographs taken by Ehud Goldwasser, an Israeli soldier taken captive by Hezbollah guerrillas along the Lebanon border in July 2006. Goldwasser and another captive soldier, Eldad Regev, have not been heard from since.
Hamas wants hundreds freed
Talks over Schalit's release have produced no results so far. Hamas wants Israel to free hundreds of Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis. Israel has refused, though the government recently has been discussing relaxing its criteria for a prisoner release in order to bring Schalit home.
"We are holding on to our right to release the Palestinian prisoners," said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas militants holding the Israeli. "We will never give up this holy right, and until they fulfill our demands, Schalit will remain in captivity."
Schalit's captors have not allowed Red Cross representatives to see him, and his condition is unclear.
The only known sign of life from the soldier was an audio recording released in June 2007, a year after he was taken captive. Apparently reading a prepared statement, Schalit said his health was deteriorating and implored the Israeli government to release Palestinian prisoners.
Schalit's book is online at habanim.org/en/gilad_story_en.html