Analysis

ANALYSIS - Palestinian quest for freedom still alive despite short-lived jailbreak

Israel recaptured six Palestinians, who had tunneled out of high-security Gilboa prison on Sept. 6

Awad Rajoub   | 21.09.2021
ANALYSIS - Palestinian quest for freedom still alive despite short-lived jailbreak

RAMALLAH, Palestine 

After a large-scale manhunt, Israeli forces managed to recapture six Palestinian prisoners, who had tunneled out of the maximum-security Gilboa prison in northern Israel on Sept. 6.

Israeli forces announced Saturday night that it re-arrested Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kahamji, the last two escaped prisoners, in the West Bank city of Jenin.

In a statement, the Israeli army said the escapees left their hideout “unarmed and without resistance” and “were caught alive and handed over for interrogation by the security forces.”

Despite the jailbreak, which was celebrated by Palestinians as a “big victory” and exposed Israeli security and intelligence failure, the runaway did not last for long.

Former Palestinian prisoner Walid al-Hawdali said the inmates escaped from the Gilboa prison to find themselves in a big prison, in reference to the occupied West Bank.

“The prisoners liberated themselves from the small jail but ran into a big prison,” al-Hawdali told Anadolu Agency. He said the recapture of the prisoners was “expected” because of their minimum capabilities.

Al-Hawdali, who authored "The Tunnel", a playbook that talks about a jailbreak, said while the escape was short-lived, it carries “long-lasting meaning.”

He also cautioned against “exaggerating” the prison escape and treating it as a “miracle.”

"It is a human effort; the prisoners did their best with simple means. They achieved something great and sent all their messages."

Israeli control

For his part, Riyad al-Ashqar, the director of the Gaza-based Prisoner Studies Center, said the re-arrest of prisoners was "normal and expected in light of the occupation forces' complete control over the occupied West Bank."

Al-Ashqar believes that “the occupation's superior security and military capabilities” make it almost impossible for any prison escape to last.

"It is true that the six prisoners made the impossible by liberating themselves,” al-Ashqar said. “But the expectations were also that their freedom will last for a lesser period.”

He noted that Israel controls “every inch of the West Bank” and mobilized thousands of security forces in the man-hunt operation.

“The prisoners’ escape from the heavily fortified Gilboa prison constitutes a severe blow to the Israeli occupation and sends a strong message,” al-Ashqar contends.

“Hence,” he said, “the occupation intensified search efforts to redeem some of its lost dignity and prestige,” in reference to the Israeli security and intelligence failure.

Quest for freedom

For Helmy al-Araj, the director of the Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights, the jailbreak in itself "affirms the prisoners' right to freedom.”

“The escape is a message to the world about the right of Palestinian prisoners to be freed from the shackles of prison,” al-Araj said.

“If their quest for freedom is blocked, they will snatch it with their fingernails."

Al-Hawdali concurred with al-Araj’s for the right of Palestinian prisoners to be freed.

"Freedom of Palestinian prisoners has not been forgotten throughout their years of detention,” al-Hawdali said.

“The prisoners have conveyed their message to all the free people of the world that they are prisoners of freedom who have the right to be liberated."

“By this,” al-Hawdali noted, “the prisoners achieved 90 percent of their goals.”

Although the escape was eventually foiled, al-Araj argues that it “brought the subject of prisoners to the attention of the global public opinion and the international community that there are prisoners who have been suffering from the Israeli occupation for many years and are determined to wrest freedom."

He cited the global coverage of the prison escape by media outlets across the world as a success.

“All media outlets around the world have heard about the prisoners’ heroism and miracles in the way they defeated the highly sophisticated Israeli security system,” al-Araj said.

“Internally,” he said, the jailbreak was a source of “pride” for the Palestinians.

Al-Araj hailed Palestinians for standing firm by the recaptured prisoners which he said dissuaded Israel from executing them for fear of an uprising and perhaps another round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza.

There are around 4,850 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, including 41 women, 225 children, and 540 “administrative detainees,” according to observers.

*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar

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