Contrary to Dufresne’s incredible escapade, the Israeli prison administration practically opened the cell door and led Fatah terrorist leader Zakaria Zubeidi and his five Islamic Jihad cellmates out of the “high jail” prison. security ”from Gilboa.
From what we were told, the five Islamic Jihad operatives were in the same cell from which several of them attempted to escape in 2014. Zubeidi, from rival Fatah, obtained the permission to move in with them shortly before the escape. . Their route via the cell toilet seven years ago had been concrete, but not the shower area they had walked through this time. From there, they were able to crawl to the main prison walls through a cavity in the floor, and then make their way through a small hole in the earth just outside the walls.
Fortunately, architectural plans for Gilboa’s plan were available online. More usefully, the guard tower just above their escape hole was unstaffed – apparently for budget reasons. The guard in an adjacent tower was sleeping. Awakened by unusual noises, she would have looked around in the dark, saw nothing and fell asleep again.
Eyewitnesses spotted the escapees almost immediately, and a taxi driver quickly called to hand local police a detailed report of suspicious numbers in the area. However, when the cops tried to alert the prison, they allegedly discovered that the prison service had changed their phone numbers and they did not have the new ones. By the time the police arrived at the prison, crucial minutes had passed. Even then, the guards took a little longer to confirm that someone was missing; by the time they did, the fugitives were long gone.
In fictional Shawshank, the stoic protagonist of Tim Robbins, protesting his innocence, was in prison for the murder of his wife and lover. Back in the real world, Zubeidi was locked up because he was a former commander of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa massacre brigades; four of the other five were serving life sentences for murder or attempted murder for the cause of Islamic Jihad, which aims to destroy Israel. These men, it obviously need not be said, are anything but Hollywood heroes.
The six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from Gilboa prison on Monday, September 6, 2021. Clockwise from top left: Yaqoub Qadiri, Mohammed al-Arida, Mahmoud al-Arida , Iham Kamamji, Zakaria Zubeidi and Munadil Nafiyat (Screen capture: Palestinian prisoners’ Media office)
Except for many Palestinians, they clearly are. Their escape was widely celebrated in Gaza, where the Islamist group Hamas reigns and largely tolerates the smaller Islamic Jihad, and in much of the West Bank, where the PA has found itself, as so often, drawn into many conflicting directions – engaged in security cooperation with Israel, fearing a push to its Islamist rivals, and well aware that the “street” reveled in the humiliation of Israel by the fugitives. “It is the right of prisoners to seek freedom, just as it is the right of our people. We must do everything to free the prisoners. I salute them and I hope that these prisons will disappear one day, never to return ”, declared the Prime Minister of the PA Mohammad Shtayyeh the day after the escape.
As of this writing, four of the six have been picked up. Much was done in the first hours and days after another prison service failure escaped – to operate a system designed to scramble calls from cell phones known to be routinely smuggled to security prisoners; apparently, prison leaders were dissuaded from doing so for fear it would cause unrest and worse still among inmates. The assumption was that the fugitives had carefully planned their strategy once outside the prison, coordinating with accomplices outside, possibly including Israeli Arabs, to ensure a smooth and comprehensive escape. – and from there photos of the victory from a safe place beyond Israel’s easy reach, and a huge psychological boost to the forces of terrorism.
In fact, according to what was disclosed during the Shin Bet interrogations of the four, they intended to go to the area of the Jenin refugee camp – the training and dispatch center of the suicide attack. bombings of the Second Intifada and a near-no-go zone for IDF and PA forces – but had no accomplices waiting to help them get there. Seeking help from local Arab residents, they were driven back. Other inhabitants, in fact, aided in their capture by reporting suspicious sightings.
With the last two fugitives still on the run, and possibly arriving in Jenin, the saga is not yet over. It has already caused riots and arson in several prisons, led to days of clashes in the West Bank that spilled over to East Jerusalem, and is likely a central factor in a wave of rocket fire from Gaza. Monday saw a terrorist attack near Jerusalem’s central bus station and reports of a foiled major attack, and Israeli security forces report a new wave of terrorist threats and prepare for a further escalation of violence.
If one or both of the escapees make it to Jenin, the terrorists could still have their image of victory, and the IDF will be extremely careful to venture into the camp in what would be a very complex operation to extract them without killing them and cause a major escalation.
Praising the escapees and bragging about its own abilities, Hamas assured the fugitives and their supporters that even if they were all arrested, it would be able to secure their release in a subsequent prisoner exchange. . This confidence stems in part from the Shalit “exchange” – in which Hamas secured the release of more than 1,000 prisoners from Israeli jails, 280 of whom were serving life sentences, in return for the release of the soldier. IDF Gilad Shalit, who had been captured in his army. base and dragged into Gaza in a cross-border raid in 2006. The deal greatly emboldened and strengthened Hamas, helping it consolidate its grip on Gaza and marginalize the Palestinian Authority.
The capture of Shalit was Israel’s major tactical failure that led to strategic success for the terrorist forces. Hopefully the escape from Gilboa prison, with the grotesque blunders that made it easier, doesn’t turn out to be another such example.
** An earlier version of this editor’s note was sent Monday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as soon as they are released, join the ToI community here.