Gilboa Prison Break: The masters of their own jail
Did you know that in Gilboa Prison, “Israel’s” maximum-security prison, six Palestinian heroes, driven by their thirst for freedom, outlined one of the most epic stories?
On Monday morning of September 6, 2021, six Palestinian prisoners carried out a heroic operation to liberate themselves from the Israeli Gilboa prison, one of the most fortified Israeli prisons -- nicknamed in "Israel" as the “iron safe”. with determination, they dug a tunnel that led them outside the prison walls. Despite the high-security facility, the six heroes were able to dig their way out of the prison through concrete and metal rebar floors.
Their will to live freely inspired millions around the world.
Know their names:
The six Palestinian heroes, who've carried out Operation Freedom Tunnel and showed the world the true meaning of resistance and resilience, are Mahmoud Al-Arida, Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, Yaqoub Qadri, Mohammad Al-Arida, Ayham Kamamji, and Munadel Nafi'at.
Mahmoud Abdullah Al Arida (46 years old)
Al-Arida is the architect of the Gilboa prison escape operation - Operation Freedom Tunnel.
He was born in the town of Arraba, Jenin District. He was arrested for the first time in 1992 and released in 1996, then arrested again in the same year on September 21, 1996.
He was also sentenced to life in prison, in addition to 15 years, on charges of membership in the military wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement and participation in resistance operations.
During his lengthy detention, prisoner Al-Arida was subjected to punishment and restrictive measures, as he was isolated on June 19, 2011, for four months, after which an internal court convened and renewed his isolation for 60 additional days with no justification.
Furthermore, the occupation prisons authority re-isolated him on June 11, 2014, upon the discovery of a tunnel in Shatta prison through which he intended to escape.
In a heartfelt letter to his mother, in which he described his time outside the Gilboa prison before being recaptured, his words had a great impact: "I tried to go to you and embrace you dear mother before you leave this world, but God has decreed for us otherwise."
Zakaria Al-Zubaidi (46 years old)
Born in the Jenin refugee camp, Al-Zubaidi is the former commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of the Fatah movement. Al-Zubaidi was elected as a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in 2006 and was arrested in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 27, 2019.
Prior to the prison break, Al-Zubaidi was still detained and no verdict was issued against him after he was charged with being a member of the Al-Aqsa Brigades.
Mohammad Qassem Al-Arida (39 years old)
He was born in the town of Arraba, Jenin District. He was arrested in an Israeli ambush on January 7, 2002, then released in mid-March 2002.
On May 16, 2002, he was besieged and arrested in Ramallah and was sentenced to three life sentences and 20 years in prison.
Al-Arida said, "My five-day journey through the streets of my country will compensate all the years of detention."
Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri (49 years old)
Qadri was born in the village of Bir Al-Basha, Jenin district. In 2000, he was chased by the occupation. He participated in the battle to defend Jenin camp in 2002 and was arrested on October 18, 2003. In 2004, Qadri was sentenced to two life sentences and 35 years in prison. In 2014, he planned an unsuccessful escape through a tunnel from Shatta prison with a group of prisoners. He said, “A five-day journey is great for a person who has been deprived of everything for 19 years.”
Ayham Kamamji (35 years old)
Born in the village of Kafr Dan, Jenin, the occupation began pursuing Kamamji in May 2003 and arrested him on July 4, 2006. He was sentenced to life in prison. Kamamji was the first to respond to the assassination of the martyrdom of the Al-Quds Brigades' Muhammad Kamil, by carrying out a shooting on an Israeli bus in Ramallah.
Munadel Nafi'at (26 years old)
Nafi'at was born in the town of Ya`bad, Jenin district. He was arrested in 2006 and released in 2015. Then, he was re-arrested in 2016 and 2020 on charges of belonging to Saraya Al-Quds (Al-Quds Brigades) -- the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement -- and participating in resistance operations against the occupation forces.
It is noteworthy that the Israeli occupation re-arrested Yaqoub Qadri and Mahmoud Al-Arida on September 10, 2021, in occupied Al-Nasira. On September 11, 2021, the occupation re-arrested Zakaria Al-Zubaidi and Mohammad Qassem Al Arida and re-arrested Ayham Kamamji and Munadel Nafi'at on September 19, 2021.
"Israel's" crushed pride
“The first [goal] was to see my family and live in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority’s protection, and the second was to prove to all Israeli security organizations and the Israeli government that they are a failure. We managed to dig a tunnel from Israel’s most secure prison,” Al Arida said as quoted by Israeli media during his investigation shortly after he was re-arrested after the operation.
Simultaneously, Israeli media reported the occupation's Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked as saying that the Gilboa Prison escape is a serious failure that cannot be covered up, as it exposed a series of failures in the prison service.
According to Israeli Channel 12, Shaked said she believed that the PM's decision to form an official inquiry on the Gilboa escape and the prison service's failure was the right step to take.
She also added that the escape has revealed two things: the prison service's many failures, and the living conditions of the "security prisoners".
Israeli Minister of Public Security Omar Bar-Lev considered the operation an immense failure of the Israeli establishment.
In this context, Knesset Member Amichai Chekli told Channel 13 that "the Gilboa prison escape operation is one of the prison service's most serious failures."
It was also reported by a senior security official that the escape of prisoners from Gilboa reflects a "series of dangerous failures," noting that estimates reveal that the digging of the tunnel took years, not months.
On his part, Israeli PM Naftali Bennett said "the incident is a serious one”.
When a hole humiliates “Israel”
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen English, the Representative of the Islamic Jihad movement in the Prisoners Committee of the National and Islamic Forces Yaser Mizher commented on the systemic failure of “Israel” by saying, “the six prisoners managed to dig the tunnel over a period of 9 months, demonstrating the fiascoes of the Israeli security establishment”.
“The six prisoners rubbed the occupation’s nose in the dirt”, he tersely explained.
“Despite daily security inspections, the Israeli occupation was unable to detect any signs before the operation and was not aware of the prison break until six hours,” he added.
After the operation, the Israeli enemy mobilized all of its military force to arrest the six heroes over a period of five days, he said.
In a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “Israel” unleashed a wave of torture and abuse against the six Palestinian heroes after their re-arrest, where they are imprisoned under inhumane conditions.
Mizher told Al Mayadeen English that the six prisoners were subjected to brutal beating which left obvious bruises on their bodies.
Mizher added that the Israeli occupation has also threatened and arrested the six prisoner’s family members, including the sister and brother of prisoner Mahmoud Al-Arida.
Following the heroic operation of the Freedom Tunnel, the occupation has ramped up its oppressive measures against #Palestinian prisoners, notably the heroes of the operation, in a desperate bid to deter them from snatching their rights and their freedom once again.#Palestine pic.twitter.com/mTODZgOjRI— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) March 27, 2022
The current Health conditions of the six prisoners
Kefah Al-Arida, a former Palestinian prisoner, and cousin of Mahmoud and Mohammad Al-Arida, revealed to Al Mayadeen English the current health situations of the six Palestinian prisoners.
Kefah divulged that Mohammad Al-Arida is suffering from severe back pain and was given painkillers only after his lawyer pressured the Israeli prison authorities.
Meanwhile, Zakaria Al-Zubaidi who was severely beaten alongside Mohammad Al-Arida is suffering from a dislocated jaw with no access to medical care, according to Kefah.
The ex-Palestinian prisoner told Al Mayadeen English that two prisoners, Yaqoub Qadri and Ayham Kamamji, are suffering from critical health issues.
Kefah revealed that Qadri’s health is further deteriorating since he suffers from a heart condition with no access to medical care, stressing that Qadri also needs surgery. In addition, Kefah also noted that Qadri suffers from dangerous head injuries, due to consistent beatings.
The ex-prisoner also told Al Mayadeen English that Ayham is suffering from a severe stomach disease with no access to medical care.
In violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and others, the Israeli occupation pursues a policy of medical neglect against Palestinian prisoners deliberately to aggravate their sufferings, Kefah concluded.
One of the harshest forms of torture in Israeli prisons is transferring prisoners to solitary confinement.
After an unjust trial, the six Palestinian prisoners were charged with escaping in October by the Israeli Magistrate's Court.
The penalty for fleeing prison, where prisoners are constantly subjected to abuse, mistreatment, and deprivation of their basic human rights, is an additional five years.
Simultaneously, the Israeli occupation authorities transferred the six Palestinian prisoners to solitary confinement in various prisons.
since a year ago, the heroes have been incarcerated in deplorable conditions and subjected to inhumane treatment, including arbitrary beatings and denial of family visits.
They are forcefully cramped in dark cells "unfit for the residing of humans," subjected to illegal punitive measures, including being tied to their beds for hours or even days at a time, segregation from other prisoners, and subjection to unjustified, non-consensual strip searches. Prisoners prefer sleeping on the floor due to bed bugs festering the mattresses, while the walls are moldy and crumbling, in addition to mice and rats infesting the cells. As they suffer in abysmal conditions, strict routines govern every aspect of their lives.
Furthermore, Palestinian prisoners suffer from acute mental health problems due to overcrowding and lack of sunlight, especially in solitary confinement. They have little or no access to medical care.
Types of Solitary confinement in Israeli prisons:
First type of Solitary confinement
The first type of solitary confinement is not only the cruelest, most inhumane, and degrading form of punishment, but also a serious form of human rights violation.
The cell is 180 cm long and 80 cm wide. It has no windows and no toilet. The Israeli occupation usually keeps the prisoner locked inside for 21 days; yet, that period can be extended to 37 days, breaking their own laws.
The cell has one camera, and it is always directed at the prisoner, leaving no room for privacy whatsoever.
In this cell, a prisoner loses the track of time. The prisoner is kept alone in this cell for 24 hours a day.
The six Palestinian prisoners have been transferred to this type of solitary confinement before the Israeli court decision.
Ex-Palestinian prisoners described this type of solitary confinement as a grave.
“It doesn't require much imagination to realize how horrid the situation is: there is no bathroom in solitary confinement, one could barely possess space to breathe, let alone the privilege to use a toilet more than the once-every-6-A.M. per day”, Kefah told Al Mayadeen English.
“If you are forced to use the cell as a toilet, then you have to stay awake till the next day until they give you little water to clean the cell by yourself, he continued, adding, “this adds up to the culmination of diseases and health issues that the prisoner is already suffering from in the prison”.
“This is part of a deliberate policy the Israelis use to create a ripple of intended effects on the psyche of the Palestinian prisoner, “he added.
Second type of Solitary confinement
The cell is 250 cm long and 200 cm wide. It has a small window and a toilet. The prisoner’s sentence in this type of solitary confinement is extended every 6 months. The six Israeli prisoners have been in this type of solitary confinement for almost a year now.
It is worth mentioning that there are two cameras in this cell -- one directed toward the prisoners and the other directed toward the toilet. Two prisoners occupy this cell. A prisoner can spend at least 5 years in this type of confinement.
The prisoner is allowed to spend one hour a day outside the cell. He or she is handcuffed and taken to another room with half a meter concrete window.
The prisoners are not allowed to wear their own clothing. They are also deprived of family visits, books, and essential personal hygiene products.
Third type of Solitary confinement
The cell is 300 cm long and 250 cm wide. It has a small window and a toilet. The prisoner’s sentence in this type of solitary confinement is extended for years. The prisoner is allowed to spend only one hour a day outside the cell. Two prisoners occupy this cell.
We have seen many examples of how the Israeli entity has been humiliated time and time again, not only by the Gilboa prison break but even by its own crumbling internal politics. Or did their own crumbling internal dilemmas pave the way for the Gilboa break? One thing is certain, “Israel's” image, no matter how security-tight, will never be the same.