Fourth episode of The Heroes: From freedom to captivity
The Fourth episode of the documentary series "The Heroes" aired on Al Mayadeen, showcases the different journeys the freedom-tunnel heroes took on the path to liberation and how they were re-arrested.
If you missed the previous episode, click here.
"I felt like I was on cloud nine... I just wanted to run through the vast space of freedom."
With these words, Zakaria Al-Zubaidi recounts the journey of the prisoners who conquered their jailor and liberated themselves... Here is the fourth episode of " The Heroes".
At exactly 01:43 am, on the morning of September 6, 2021, the six prisoners experienced freedom for the first time in years as they walked out of the tunnel opening.
Yes, the heroes are free, and all paths are open ahead. While the occupation forces are on high alert, with non-stop aircraft hovering in the skies and ground patrols.
On the first anniversary of the liberation of the six prisoners from Gilboa prison, prisoner Mohammad Al-Aridah narrates the details of the operation.
"We crossed the field next to the prison, and while crossing Street 71, someone almost ran over Al-Kamamji. The prisoners took notice that a taxi driver may have spotted them and reported them," stated Al-Aridah.
Mohammad continues, "We entered a nearby cotton field and headed north to the village of Al-Na'ura, which we were familiar with, so we knew that the road to Al-Na'ura normally needs about two hours, but it took us three hours to reach the village."
The heroes arrived at Al-Na'ura at around 04:30 am, where they settled in a horse stable, all the while the occupation aircraft were on the look for them. They proceeded to the village mosque, where they were able to buy some of their needs from a nearby bakery. And after performing the dawn prayer, they made a call that alerted them that plan (A), which instated that someone would pick them up and transfer them, had been canceled, so they resorted to plan (B).
They divided themselves into three groups: The first group included prisoners Mahmoud Al-Aridah and Yaqoub Qadri. While the second group consisted of prisoners Mohammad Al-Aridah and Zakaria Al-Zubaidi. Lastly, Ayham Kamamji and Munadel Nafi'at joined each other forming the third group.
The 6 Palestinians' break-out plan from Gilboa prison was not left for luck or coincidence. This is what #AlMayadeen's 'The Heroes' will uncover in the last episode.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) October 2, 2022
Tune in for more. #الأبطال pic.twitter.com/NGCVIvPfR8
Mahmoud al-Aridah and Yaqoub Qadri.. and the guava fruit
Mahmoud Al-Aridah and Yaqoub Qadri headed to the mountain of Al-Na'ura, which overlooked the whole village. They decided to sleep during the day and move by night. However, they soon discovered that their current position was not densely forested and will not offer them a good cover. Thus, they decided to head north to the village of Tamra. Mahmoud and Yaqoub mistakenly headed towards the northwest rather than north, which landed them at an Israeli camp. To their luck, the prisoners found a group of cows in front of them which they quickly took cover behind. The cows protected the two prisoners from being caught by the soldiers.
Mahmoud decided to climb the opposite mountains to reach Tamra but Yaqoub was feeling very ill due to the lack of food and water, so the two comrades returned to the village of Al-Na'ura to take easier routes. However, the journey did not go as planned, as they headed towards a town they thought was Tamra, they found that they have actually arrived at Sulam village, where they decided to sleep during their second day. Following their short rest, the prisoners decided to head to the village of Iksal and while marching alongside Afula village, they discovered a street full of cameras, so they turned back around along the mountain road to find themselves at the village of Na'in, where they decided to sleep there on their third day.
The following night, the two proceeded to the Iksal fields. However, they had their doubts that this is the destinated village (Tamra), so they hid in a wooded area between Iksal and the village of Dabouria, where they spent some time going back and forth to the town to get food and water. Following the brief rest, the prisoners headed from Iksal to the Fakhoura area, where they reached Al-Kafza mountain in Al-Nasirah area, where they remained there for some time. After Mahmoud and Yaqoub attempted to carry on their path, they were arrested in sheer coincidence, for there was no ambush nor reports on their whereabouts. Their arrest took place on Friday evening, September 10, 2021, five days after breaking out from the Gilboa prison.
The journey of the two heroes was full of unforgettable moments. After the six prisoners parted ways in pairs following the breakout, Mahmoud and Yaqoub entered an area full of trees where they found cows, which gave Mahmoud a great sense of joy, as he described in his letters. After most of the cows ran away, Mahmoud approached one that lingered behind, While Yaqoub was amused by this whole encounter.
At the foot of Mount Al-Na'ura, Mahmoud and Yaqoub entered an olive field where they found fennel plants. They happily ate a bunch of the leaves and joyfully observed a beautiful bird flying in front of their eyes. They also devoured some Mandarine oranges from the land of Sulam.
When the two entered the outskirts of Iksal, they met a woman, whom Mahmoud describes as one of the greatest of all women. The woman, which was very poor, brought them into her house, showered them with affection, and provided them with water and food, she also offered to go to Jenin a few days later to deliver a message to anyone they desired. However, the greatest surprise came after they left, where they found out that she packed for them guava fruits, their biggest craving since they were in prison.
Zakaria Al-Zubaidi and Mohammad Al-Aridah.. And coffee on firewood
Zakaria and Mohammad headed north to the village of Tamra. It was no coincidence that all the prisoners chose that village, they all knew that it contains Palestinian workers who return to Jenin every day.
The two mistakenly entered a camp belonging to the occupation forces, also with cows grazing around it. The two prisoners decided to hide under a tree full of thorn bushes until it was dark, where they had to lay low next to a snake's nest. When nighttime arrived, Zakaria and Mohammad went to Mount Tabor near the village of Dabburiya. The heroes stayed in forests and farms near the eastern edge of the mountain. Upon consideration, they decided not to approach anywhere that contains cameras and not to enter any town or inhabited houses. They also agreed to limit their travel to nighttime and only walk between trees. The prisoners sticked to their plan up until they were arrested near an olive field adjacent to a truck stop in the Shibli Umm-al-Ghanam village. Their whereabouts were discovered by trackers without being tipped off. This happened on Saturday dawn, September 11, 2021, five days after their breakout.
In the forest near the village of Tamra, Mohammad Al-Adridah says that he and Zakaria sat under an olive tree and found an onion, two stale "Manakish", Arabic coffee, and an abandoned kettle- which Mohammad cleaned with soil. The two drank coffee brewed on firewood, the most delicious coffee they have ever tasted, as Mohammed expressed.
Ayham Kamamji and Munadel Nafa'at.. for Jenin
The two heroes set off towards the North, going to the village of Taybeh, and as they approached it, they decided to head west to the village of Kafr Misr. Due to his experience in being pursued and having to adapt, Ayham relied on the stars to identify the path, and he guided Munadel on how to do so as well.
The two also decided to walk through the forests and off the roads and stay away from populated areas. The two proceeded east to the Marj Ibn Amer plain, where Ayham used to work when he was still a young boy. After reaching the valley, they saw the lights of the city of Jenin, which was bright white compared to the red and orange lights of the settlements.
Ayham and Munadel decided to go south to Afula-Tabariya Street No. 65, walking through the valleys that transported sewage to the city of Afula and its surrounding villages. The goal was to reach Salem Village because it is one of the closest points to the separation wall and then to Jenin, as they planned to cross the wall to reach Rummana village from the northwestern side of Jenin.
The two were discovered by Israeli soldiers and police dogs in a small field inside an area called Ain Kadi, to which they parted and ran in separate ways. Ayham passed through Salem Village hiding within the ranks of workers. Even though he was chased by the soldiers and shot, he was able to reach his village, Kafr Dan, but chose not to approach his home that was being monitored, and instead was assisted by the people of his village and the people of Barqin, Al-Hachimiya, Al-Yamoun, and other villages as well. As for Munadel, after he reached Salem Village, he sneaked in with some workers too, where Israeli soldiers tried to stop him but to no avail, after he managed to escape towards Rummanah village, then left towards the village of Ya'bad.
On the third day of the chase, the two heroes arrived at the Jenin camp where they met again. They stayed in the camp under the protection of the Jenin brigade. However, as the occupation forces heightened their pressure on the camp, by now threatening to storm the camp even if this led to a massacre, Ayham and Munadel decided to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of protecting the people of Jenin, as well as Gaza, which threatened to retaliate and enter the battle for Jenin. As soon as they left the camp to the eastern neighborhood of the city, where they were sheltered by a family there, the two got surrounded by the occupation forces. They decided to surrender to protect the members of the family who sheltered them. The occupation forces threatened to demolish the house over the heads of its residents. That was after 14 days of the breakout, on a Sunday morning, September 19, 2021.
Why did two of the six #Palestinian prisoners who broke out of Gilboa prison leave the safe place they took refuge in back in Jenin although they were able to stay? #الأبطال pic.twitter.com/8fOcsWvyfL— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) October 2, 2022
Israeli setbacks and the escalation of retaliatory measures
The Israeli occupation wanted to discredit the people of the villages and cities that embraced the Palestinian heroes, so there were many rumors and fabricated news that a tip-off by some of the residents of these villages led to the arrest of the heroes. Mahmoud Al-Aridah explains that he and Yaqoub were in fact arrested by a traffic policeman, who was joined minutes later by unarmed and unequipped police forces, and not by special forces as it was said, which means that the arrest was accidental and not a result of a tip-off.
The claims that the people of Al-Nasirah gave them up are also not true. The first evidence being that a man that was quoted saying that he saw two people (Mahmoud and Yaqoub) on day four, but the two heroes did not actually reach Al-Nasirah until the night of the sixth day. Here Mahmoud adds: "The greatest blow to me was not in my arrest a few days later, but in the rumor that came out about Al-Nasirah.. the people in Al-Nasirah took us in and embraced us, and we didn't mention it at the beginning so as not to cause anyone harm," he said.
One of the 6 #Palestinian prisoners who managed to break out of the Israeli Gilboa prison reveals on #AlMayadeen that none of the rumors about the residents of Al-Nasirah turning them in is true.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) October 2, 2022
Mahmoud Al-Arida explains why they did not reveal this fact from the beginning. pic.twitter.com/1qWtmaFsLt
The Israeli setbacks prompted the occupation to tighten retaliatory measures. These measures began from inside the prisons during the first hours after the discovery of the prison-break operation. Among the measures was vacating the Gilboa prison completely, including prisoners of Islamic Jihad, and dismantling the organizational structure that the prisoners movement established in the mid-eighties. In addition to transferring the leaders of the movement and its cadres from within the facilities, especially members of the supreme leadership committee, and placing them in confinement cells.
In refusal to recognize the decisions of the prison authorities, that snatched away rights that had been attained through long struggles, the imprisoned leaders of the Islamic Jihad decided to burn the sections and cells in which they were located. The decision to burn section 6 was carried out, which led to a series of transfers and various procedures over the course of 35 days.
For 35 days, the Islamic Jihad prisoners were imprisoned in the scorched section until they succeeded to force their release from it.
In conjunction with the Israeli measures against the prisoners, the occupation forces tried to put pressure on the families by carrying out raids, arrests, and threats in an attempt to reach any lead that might help them catch the heroic prisoners.
The Israeli judiciary in practice is no different than the intelligence and security establishments
The heroes dealt a major blow to the Israeli security establishment through their operation, as it exposed the occupation's weak intelligence and preemptive capabilities, and according to the lawyers present, the prisoners dominated the interrogation sessions.
The hero Mahmoud al-Aridah told the interrogators that he was the one who planned the whole operation and bears responsibility for all of it. In usual cases, the intelligence or police officers handling the interrogation would have some kind of leads to go over with the prisoners and walk their way from there. However, in the case of the six prisoners, there was a vague mystery, the investigation was based only on the information that the prisoners decide to offer.
The heroes were placed in isolation, which is the Israeli verdict for all prisoners who try to break free. The prison administration in turn classified them as a threat, and transferred the six heroes to a dark room measuring 3 meters long and two meters wide, sometimes even smaller, lacking all basic life necessities while they are being subjugated to various forms of torture.
"The greatest prison inside Israel is Gaza."— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) October 4, 2022
Former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell tells #AlMayadeen how "Israel" turned #Gaza into an open-air prison. #الأبطال pic.twitter.com/vzQWdr4CqN
Lawyers and legal experts describe the Israeli judiciary as part of the Israeli security, intelligence, and even political establishment. And with these actions against prisoners, the occupation, that even enacted special laws for military courts, refuses to work in accordance with the Geneva Convention and international laws.
Former #CIA officer describes the Israeli prisons as 50 times worse than the United States'.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) October 3, 2022
Watch in full the fourth episode of 'The Heroes': https://t.co/QwPvlfkMgY#Palestine #الأبطال pic.twitter.com/M52JG8L9ft
The story is yet to be over... The covert details are being narrated to Al Mayadeen by its heroes through private messages, conveying the details of their journey to liberation, every step they took, decision, and challenge, alongside the fruits of Palestine and the smell of Jasmine.
The stage is theirs, stay tuned.
To find out more details about the "Gilboa" prison operation, follow the upcoming "The Heroes" episodes, at 21:00 Al-Quds time on Al-Mayadeen.