Gilboa prison break left permanent mark on Israeli security apparatus
On the second anniversary of Operation Freedom Tunnel, the people of the Jenin refugee camp recall the day the six prisoners snatched their freedom from the high-security Israeli prison.
On September 6, 2021, six Palestinian prisoners: Zakaria al-Zoubaidi, Mahmoud al-Aridah, Mohammad al-Aridah, Ayham Kamamji, Munadel Nafi’at, and Yaqoub Qadri successfully broke out of the fortified Israeli Gilboa Prison under a well-planned operation dubbed Operation Freedom Tunnel.
With a small rusty spoon and their bare hands, the six heroes dug a tunnel underneath their cell that led eventually them to liberty and to their eyes beholding once again the beauty of Palestine, even for a few days, away from prison cells. On that day, the world was amazed by the image of a member of the Israeli occupation forces sitting cross-legged and leaning in front of a hole in the ground -- the same hole that the six prisoners escaped from and began their few-days-long freedom.
Located in northern Palestine, the Gilboa Prison was established by the Israeli occupation in 2004 and is described as the most intensely secure of its kind. It is also known as "The Safe". Thus, the success of this operation embarrassed "Israel", shook settlers to the core, and dealt a heavy blow to the security of the Zionist entity. The following lines recount how the Israeli media reported the failure of "Israel" in containing the 2021 Gilboa prison break, as well as the statements of senior Israeli officials expressing their concerns and admitting “Israel’s” defeat in this round of confrontation against the six heroes following their historical operation.
The jailbreak prompted the Israeli occupation to mobilize massive forces in search of the six heroes, setting up roadblocks to prevent them from reaching the occupied West Bank, especially Jenin, which is 13 kilometers away from the Gilboa Prison, as well as Jordan, which is less than 20 kilometers far from the prison.
Then-Israeli occupation Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described the heroic operation as "a grave incident that requires an across-the-board effort by the security forces."
In addition, then-Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked considered the prison break a serious failure that cannot be covered up, as it exposed a series of failures by the "Israel" Prison Service (IPS).
Israeli media also quoted an IPS official as describing the prison break as "a major security and intelligence failure."
Most Israeli media outlets considered the incident a failure for all Israeli occupation ministries and security apparatuses, since the tunnel that the prisoners dug was not discovered by anyone.
Some of them even revealed that the Israeli guard on duty in the Gilboa Prison was asleep when the prison break happened, while others indicated that the escape was caught in real-time by the prison's security cameras but the guard in the control room was watching television at the time and was not aware of the alert system that was activated.
It was to the six prisoners' advantage that the architectural firm that designed the Gilboa Prison had made the facility's blueprint available online, as per Israeli media.
Fearing additional tunnels, the Israeli occupation transferred around 400 prisoners from Gilboa Prison to other facilities.
Due to the severity of its impact, the dramatic operation reminded us of the TV series Prison Break, which also recounts the story of a character called Lincoln Burrows, who has been sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. However, in our case, the six prisoners were imprisoned for defending their land and resisting the Israeli occupation.
On this day, 2 years ago, 6 #Palestinian heroes managed to break the shackles of injustice and break free from one of the most notorious Israeli prisons.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 6, 2023
How did it happen?#OperationFreedomTunnel pic.twitter.com/qPVGRixNEr
"The operation left a mark on all of Israel," Mahmoud Abou Hatab, a Palestinian youth from the Jenin refugee camp, told Al Mayadeen English, on the second anniversary of Operation Freedom Tunnel.
He continued, "We were ready and opened our homes and our neighborhoods and prepared our vehicles and everything else to protect the liberated prisoners and shelter them."
Jamal Abou Sbeih, a Palestinian elderly also from the Jenin camp, considered that the operation "was extremely important as it established for good that Palestinian people do not surrender or despair; they resort to all methods, even digging inside prison cells with their nails until they achieve their freedom."
Back then, the world and Palestinians woke up to the news of the operation. In several towns and villages, jubilant Palestinians started distributing sweets and staged car rallies in support of the prisoners who snatched their freedom in spite of the Israeli occupation.
"They boosted our morale and that of the whole Palestinian people," Hammouda Al-Hawasheen, from the Jenin camp, told Al Mayadeen English.
"It’s just a matter of time" before the prisoners and all Palestinian prisoners are liberated from Israeli occupation prisons.
Mahmoud -- the mastermind behind the Gilboa Prison Break -- and Yaqoub were re-arrested four days later, on September 10, 2021, in Al-Nasirah. Zakaria and Mohammad were re-arrested the next day, while Ayham and Mundadel were re-arrested on September 19, after the house they had barricaded themselves in, east of Jenin, was surrounded.
In mid-May, an Israeli occupation government-appointed investigative committee, tasked with examining the 2021 prison break, presented its final findings.
The committee's 400-page report recommended the dismissal of a high-ranking official within the IPS and emphasized the urgent need for substantial improvements in the service's operational procedures.
Delivered to Israeli occupation Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, the report meticulously details a multitude of IPS shortcomings and operational inadequacies. These include areas such as intelligence gathering, prisoner transfers, and the handling of prisoners, all of which the commission asserts contributed to the success of Operation Freedom Tunnel.
Furthermore, the commission strongly recommended the dismissal of IPS Northern District Commander Arik Yaakov and advised against his placement in future leadership positions within the IPS.
The Times of "Israel" indicated that Operation Freedom Tunnel "was seen as a major failure and embarrassment to the IPS and exposed a series of lapses at the prison, including a failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders."
#OperationFreedomTunnel was a great display of the fragility of the Israeli security complex famously described as frailer than a spider's web. #Palestine #نفق_الأبطال #نفق_الحرية pic.twitter.com/EojFUK1t4b— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 6, 2023
IPS Commissioner Katy Perry dismissed in November 2022 Freddy Ben Shitrit from his position as the warden of Gilboa Prison due to his perceived unsuitability in light of the prison break, among other incidents.
In a press conference, Commission Chairman Menachem Finkelstein said the Gilboa prison break was a "serious and dangerous failure" by the IPS.
"We found failures in the organization [IPS]… The prisoners surpassed the guards in their vigilance and sharpness,” Finkelstein indicated, noting that lessons from a previous prison escape attempt in 2014 had not been heeded.
It is noteworthy that in 2014, the Gilboa Prison witnessed an attempted escape, where Israeli occupation prison guards discovered a tunnel dug beneath a bathroom. The eight Palestinian prisoners suspected to be involved in the attempt were reportedly affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and shared both the prison cell and the bathroom.
Pointing to the failure of the Israeli occupation security establishment, Israeli media noted that the IPS did not modify its operational procedures following the 2014 prison break attempt. According to Walla News, three of the prisoners involved in Operation Freedom Tunnel had been involved in the 2014 attempt, and remarkably, they were still allowed to share the same cell.
The success of Operation Freedom Tunnel and the six prisoners' ability to roam in occupied Palestinian for as much as they could, served as a reminder for them about the beauty of freedom and the beauty of Palestine, which will be awaiting them after the ever-near liberation is achieved at the hands of Resistance fighters. The incident, in addition to other prison break attempts from Israeli prisons, is also a warning to the Israeli occupation that the Palestinian people will continue resorting to all methods in the course of attaining freedom and ultimately liberation.