Lessons From The Great Palestinian Escape

Published September 11th, 2021 - 05:38 GMT
Demonstrators take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners
Demonstrators take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, in Ramallah, on September 8, 2021. ( ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

The Palestinians are once again making their voice heard on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza. Voices in Palestinian cities and towns are being heard loud and clear against Israeli occupation and the price they have to pay for the collective punishment meted against them.

The spark that sent everyone on the street – man, woman and youth – is the news of the escape of the six Palestinians from Israeli’s top security prison of Jalboa that was opened 2004. It is being termed by Palestinians as the miraculous escape through the “freedom tunnel” which the six Palestinians dug through kitchen utensils over as many months under the eyes of prison guards who were not aware of anything suspicious happening.

It really does not matter how the digging was made – with the issue of the spoon coming to light and talked about and posted on the media as the main culprit used – the fact of the matter, this latest action is being called as the “Great Escape” and akin to Hollywood movies like the Shawshank Redemption because of its incredible feat and prowess.

The escape which was done in the middle of the night sent the Palestinian street – from top to bottom buzzing with excitement and elation that the Israeli ‘superman’ could be broken. Its politicians, starting from the Fatah movement, activists from different factions to the ordinary people rejoiced in the “Great Escape” with Palestinian prisoners ready, capable and willing to beat the Israeli might and power judged to have the best weapons and security systems in the world.

Even Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas joined the celebrations, he couldn’t but not to despite the “embarrassing” security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Abbas recently met the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz, a first time affair in a bid to start the long stalemated peace process that exists only in name and have done so for a very long time. None of them are saying anything about the escape but there is bound to be repercussions.

The jailbreak proved that Israelis didn’t have the best security systems in the world after all, despite the tons of American dollars yearly paid into their coffers but showed their vulnerabilities and mediocrity in front of people who have the very essence of guts and confidence to beat a Jewish system that is stacked up against them.

The escape united the Palestinian street despite the fact that the six – one Zakaria Zubeidi is a former leader of the Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the other five Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, Mohammad Qassem Ardah, Yacoub Mohmoud Qadr, Ayham Nayef Kamanji and Yacoub Nfeiat belonging to the Al Jehad Al Islami.

To put it mildly the escape, some say digging under the toilet of the cell and underground the prison floors till a whole was dug up outside, rattled the Israeli authorities and psyche, quickly sending troops and police to looking for them into different directions with their sniffer dogs and machine guns.

The Israeli police first set up 230 checkpoints across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, then they went to the town of Jenin, the traditional bastion of opposition both to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. There, the Israelis arrested some of the relatives of the escaped prisoners that was seen as a form of collective punishment of the whole of the Palestinian community and people but that didn’t bother the street who had been expected such judging of the past Israeli obnoxious behavior and practice.

The collective punishment reached Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons and detention centers – dubbed 23 in total. More restrictions and punitive measures were imposed on them, Palestinian detainees were banned from leaving their rooms and deprived of using sinks, kitchens and cafeterias. Some of the Palestinians of specific factions, mostly Al Jihadi Al Islami were split up and divided. As a result, some cells – in the Negev prison – were set alight – and more was promised if restrictions continued.

But this didn’t matter for the Palestinians or if did, it sent them all out on the streets in mass demonstrations as a reaction to Israeli occupation. It sent Palestinians in Nablus, Ramallah, Birzeit, Jenin, Gaza, Bethlehem, Tulkarem, Howara, Hebron, Issawiya and East Jerusalem out in the public space despite major clashes with the Israeli police.

For a while many thought this was the spark for another Intifada against the Israeli occupation. The spark is still there because of Israeli troop action who are looking for the escapees. According to the social media, they have already found four of them in Nazareth.

This might not be surprising because of the level of manpower that has been put by the Israeli manhunt. However, it was also reported that someone had snitched on them. They were hungry, exhausted and begged for food. The other two are still at large.

Meanwhile Palestinians have been celebrating, still reveling at what had happened. Across the West Bank they have been congratulating themselves on this feat and distributing sweets and candy over this incredible affair that left Israelis stunned with many Israelis MPs demanding an official investigations and saying heads should roll over this affair from the Jewish prison authorities.

But this episode must show the dichotomy between the Palestinian and Israeli populations. Despite the strong Israeli state, there is an emerging “parallel” Palestinian state away from the Palestinian Authority that is able to put up as good a fight as it gets. Away from the jailbreak, which is a part of the equation should be a sobering eye-opener for the Israelis. Otherwise extreme tension would continue.

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