6 Palestinians freed themselves from the Gilboa prison, which is one among Israeli Occupation’s high-profile prisons, on Monday at dawn. Four of the six prisoners were serving life sentences.
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennet described this as a “grave incident”, with an Israel Prison Service Officer calling the breach as “a major security and intelligence failure”.
The prisoners were reported to be cellmates and tunneled out of the prison in Northern Israel, using spoons (exact materials used are unclear so far, however, spoons have been found in the tunnel), which they were digging for over a year.
A video released by the Israel Prisons Service showed that the excavation began next to the cell’s toilet, from which they crawled their way out of the facility. The other end of the tunnel was later found a few metres outside the prison walls, covered with weeds.
Isreali forces are actively searching for the prisoners, with soldiers and police from the powerful internal agency Shin Bet joining the effort. Sniffer dogs and checkpoints are set up around the Gilboa area. The Army has “prepared and deployed” forces in the occupied West Bank, especially in Jenin City where they are suspected to have escaped to, as part of the operation.
The prisoners coordinated with outsiders using a smuggled mobile phone and successfully fled the prison via a car waiting outside for them at the break of dawn.
The escapees opened a tunnel adjacent to the cell’s toilet, in order to access passages formed during the prison’s construction, according to Arik Yaacov, IPS’s northern commander.
The chronology of events that took place on Monday:
At 1:49am, the police received a report from a driver on the way to the city of Bisan after he noticed a strange group of people running through the agricultural plains, following which the police arrived to check the surroundings.
At 2:05am a worker in a gas station reported a mysterious figure walking behind the station. The head officer at Bisan’s Police station called the prison, expressing his concerns of a suspected escape.
At 3:29am, the Prison Authority announced three people missing in one of the cells, following which all forces were informed and a search operation was initiated.
Israeli police spokesman Eli Levy said the escapees are believed to be trying to reach the nearby West Bank, the Israeli-occupied territory where the Palestinian Authority weilds little control, or the Jordanian border.
According to this sequence of events reported by Israeli media, the actual prison break is reported to have taken place around 1:00am, about 3 hours before the discovery of the escape, which, according to Palestinian activist Adnan Barq, is enough time for the prisoners to have crossed the Green line over to the Westbank, and from there, over to Jordan.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club has published details of the six prisoners: Zakaria Zubeidi, 46, from Jenin Camp, had been imprisoned since 2019. He is a well-known Palestinian resistance figure, former commander of the millitary apparatus of the mainstream Fatah Party.
Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, 46, is from Jenin. He had been detained since 1996 and sentenced to life. Back in 2014, he had reportedly tried to escape from Shata prison by digging a tunnel, without success.
Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri, 49, from Bir al-Basha, Jenin, had been detained since 2003 and sentenced to life. He had also accompanied
Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, along with a number of other prisoners in the failed prison escape mission from Shata Prison back in 2014.
Mohamed Qassem Ardah, 39, also from Jenin, had been detained since 2002 and sentenced to life.
Ayham Nayef Kamamji, 35, from Kafr Dan, north of Jenin, had been detained since 2006 and sentenced to life.
These people have been sentenced on charges of armed confrontations in resistance against the Israeli Occupation.
However, Munadil Yaqoub Nfeiat, 26, from Ya’bad, southwest of Jenin, and had been in jail since 2019 without charges.
After Monday’s incident, in light of reports that 400 prisoners from Gilboa Prison have been transferred to unknown locations, The Palestinian Authority’s Commission for Prisoners’ and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs called on human rights groups and international NGOs, specifically the International Committee of the Red Cross, to immediately visit Gilboa prison and reveal the fate of these prisoners.
Palestinians in Occupied West Bank and Besieged Gaza Celebrate the Escape
In light of the escape, Palestinians around Westbank, especially in Jenin, and Gaza have been distributing sweets in joy. Qadura Faris, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, described the brazen escape as a victory against the Israeli security system. “We are happy with this escape. We have called a lot for the necessity of liberating all Palestinian prisoners.” Faris, who spent 18 years in prison, said.
Palestinian leaders have called the escape a real defeat and a “severe blow” for the Israeli Occupation security systems.
Palestinian activist Mohamed El Kurd tweeted that this escape proved that, although the “fangs” of the Israeli Occupation’s Surveillance system are “sharp indeed”, “Palestinian Skin is (even) thicker.”
While instances like these are extremely rare, this isn’t the first escape case of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli Occupation prisons.
In 1995, three Palestinians broke out from the Kfar Yona facility. And, as mentioned before, an escape in a similar manner had also been attempted from Shata Prisons, in 2014.