Gilboa prison break: Triumph of the will to freedom
“Where will you be seven years from now?” a Shin Bet investigator asked Al-Arida. He answered, "I will be free."
According to an Israeli occupation prison authorities official, the Gilboa prison was "more secure than the Bank of Israel's safes." This was announced days before it opened in June 2004 during the Second Palestinian Intifada.
The Gilboa Prison, located in the north of occupied Palestine, where six Palestinian prisoners bravely escaped from custody on September 6, 2021, was formerly regarded as "Israel's" most heavily guarded facility. No one could escape that fort, until the successful attempt on the dawn of that day.
The 2021 prison break was not the first one to be carried out by Palestinian prisoners, as 29 escape attempts did also occur during the history of this occupation. Some of these endeavors were successful while others did not have the same fortune. The first escape dates back to July 31, 1958, when 77 prisoners out of 190 succeeded in liberating themselves from the "Shatta" prison, though 11 of them were martyred during the courageous attempt. In 1987, six prisoners managed to cut the bars of the bathroom window in a prison in Gaza, which led them to their anticipated freedom. Also in 1996, an escape operation was conducted through an 11-meter tunnel by the two prisoners Ghassan Mahdawi and Tawfiq Al-Zaben.
British colonialism and the idea of subjugation
The story of the Palestinian struggle against prisons does not start with the Israeli occupation though; British colonialism or the so-called mandate of Palestine had a fair share of inflicting suffering on the Palestinian people along their struggle for freedom.
Palestinians opposed British colonialism and declared Zionist aspirations to annex Palestine, their homeland, and rename it a "Jewish state". They protested in al-Quds, Haifa, Yafa, Safad, and many more of their cities. Following the uprising of the Palestinian people, hundreds were arrested by the British occupation, and 26 of these detainees had been sentenced to death by hanging. While most of the sentences were replaced by life imprisonment, 3 prisoners received the full sentence that was carried out in the Akka prison; their names were Fouad Hijazi, 26, Atta al-Zeer, 35, and Mohammed Khalil Jamjoum, 28.
In Palestine, the popular song "Min Sijin Akka," which translates as "From Akka Prison," is still sung in honor of the 3 Palestinian heroes. The poem's author is unknown; however, some claim that a prisoner by the name of Awad, a revolutionary who was facing death at the hands of the British colonial overlords, wrote it on the walls of the Akka jail.
During the consequent Great Palestinian Revolution of 1936, the main British punitive strategy was collective punishment. Property destruction was the primary method of collective punishment used by the British Army. Sometimes entire villages are destroyed, as was the case with Mi'ar in October 1938.
The British occupation forces carried out punitive operations against cities in addition to villages. In August 1938, about 5,000 men were detained in Nablus for two days in a cage and questioned one by one. The city was searched while they were being held, and after their release, each detainee was given a rubber stamp.
The British occupation imposed the death penalty for the unlawful possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in June 1937, but because many Jewish European settlers had permission to carry firearms and store ammunition, this order was primarily targeted at Palestinian Arabs. 112 people were hanged in the Akka Prison for such accusations.
In one incident narrated by Harry Arrigonie, a policeman working for the British occupation, approximately 20 prisoners were loaded aboard a bus, and those who attempted to flee were shot. The bus's driver was then forced to drive over a potent land mine that had been planted by the soldiers, which destroyed the vehicle and scattered the captives' disfigured bodies throughout the area. The bodies were subsequently forced to be buried in a pit by the other Palestinian villagers.
To sum up, the zionist Jewish Agency, which primary goal was to colonize Palestine and ethnically cleanse it, was effective in conveying "the message that the Zionist movement and the British Empire were standing shoulder to shoulder against a mutual adversary, in a war in which they had common goals."
To avoid mine and shooting operations, it was standard British occupation procedure to force Arab prisoners to travel with military convoys. Soldiers would tie the prisoners to the lorry bonnets or place them on little flatbeds on the front of trains. Any prisoners who attempted to flee would be shot, the army warned the captives. According to Arthur Lane, a Manchester Regiment private, some soldiers would casually drive over the prisoner after abruptly braking at the end of a voyage in the vehicles, killing or injuring him.
Israeli occupation: a 'good' student
The inhumane and monstrous acts of abuse of the British occupation were inherited by the successors of their colonial project and their good student, the Israeli occupation. The philosophy behind the incarceration of the colonized does not stop the mere fact of physically hindering his movement and limiting his freedom; it is an action directed at breaking his spirit, at making him understand that any act of rebellion against the unjust status quo, will only bring a bad outcome.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), a total of 222 Palestinians have been martyred in Israeli prisons since 1967, a year when the first Palestinians were martyred under custody. Nassar Taqatqa, Omar Younis, and Faris Baroud were not just numbers and names, they were humans made with flesh and blood, and full of sentiments and dreams. While The Israeli occupation constantly threatens the reimposition of the death penalty, it is putting it into practice in reality, with escalating extrajudicial executions – particularly against Palestinian youth, in prison or outside of the cells.
With such action, the colonizer utilizes incarceration, besides other tools such as monitoring, intelligence, and killing, to give the impression of being omnipotent and omniscient to the smallest details of the colonized's life, thoughts, hopes, and dreams. On the opposite hand, the act of refusing such fake omnipotence and omniscience is reflected the most not only in the fact of resistance before incarceration, and not only in the actions that preserve the identity and ideas of the imprisoned, but also in the fact of refusing the unjust imprisonment as a whole, thus escaping, or in many cases attempting to escape and snatch one's freedom from the jaws of the colonizer.
The Israelis have shown extreme sensitivity to such attempts, as they tried to portray themselves as invincible and all-knowing to hide their inherent weakness that lies in the solid fact that they are a foreign minority that does belong to this land. In the light of such analysis, descriptions such as “a major security and intelligence failure”, made by the occupation's police apparatus, make more sense, as the successful prison break can acquire a greater meaning and send a message to the other oppressed that resistance is not futile.
The Path To Al-Quds
Mahmoud Al-Arida, the mastermind behind the Operation Freedom Tunnel, upon his recapture, told the Israeli occupation “The first [goal] was to see 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," by proving that the prisoners "managed to dig a tunnel from 'Israel’s' most secure prison."
In another context, Mahmoud Al-Arida said that they called the tunnel they dug The Path To Al-Quds, emphasizing that the success of their breakout "has told the whole world that we are advocates of freedom and the rightful owners in the face of a ruthless oppression, and thus the world should stand by us in order to liberate our land."
The 'liberation philosophy' that we mentioned in the previous section of this article, is present in the words of Al-Arida, one of the heroes who managed to liberate themselves a year earlier. The prisoners not only shatter the colonizer's omnipotence mirage, but they were well aware of the repercussions of their actions and the political meaning behind them. To Mahmoud Al-Arida, freedom tasted like would "figs, prickly pears, and pomegranates from all across Palestine," as he said in a letter to his mother.
“Where will you be seven years from now?” a Shin Bet investigator asked al-Arida according to the occupation police, the 'prisoner' answered, “I will be free after I’m released in a deal with Hamas. I am sure I will be included in a deal and I’ll be free.”
The so-called "unbreakable safe" was shattered not by only the intelligence and spirit of the Palestinian detainees representing the undying resistance will of the colonized, but through the belief that their actions will bear fruits, as sweet as the ones Al-Arida tasted during the days he had freedom in his lungs.