Prisoner's dilemma: The 'Jenin 6' face the wrath of Israel

A Palestinian boy with covered face holds a spoon as a symbol during the demonstration. Masked Palestinians protest in solidarity with six Palestinians who escaped from the Israeli Gilboa prison on September 6th through a tunnel dug with spoons under the sink [Getty Images]
7 min read
24 September, 2021
Analysis: After their escape from Gilboa Prison, the 'Jenin 6' and the wider community have faced various forms of collective punishment by the Israeli authorities. Is it therefore yet another case of "freedom next time" for the Palestinians?

Since the daring escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Israel’s Gilboa jail in early September their families have lived in constant fear.

The inmates had managed to dig a tunnel under a sink to escape the high-security Israeli jail, reportedly using items such as spoons.

Four days after the prison break, four of the escapees were caught, including Zakaria Zubeidi, the former head of Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, in Jenin.  

"Since the re-arrest of the first four prisoners, relatives say they live lived in fear for their safety, with Israeli police rejecting both requests to visit and inquiries about their health"

The police identified the other three as Yaqoub Qadri, 48, Mahmud Abdullah Ardah, 45, and Mohammad Ardah, 39, who were affiliated with the Islamic Jihad’s military wing.

The two remaining prisoners, 35-year-old Ayham Kamamji and 26-year-old Munadel Infeiat, were rearrested in Jenin over the weekend following a massive Israeli military operation.

The men were hailed as heroes by many Palestinians, with their escape severely embarrassing Israel’s security establishment

‘Praying for his safety’

Since the re-arrest of the first four prisoners, relatives say they live lived in fear for their safety, with Israeli police rejecting both requests to visit and inquiries about their health.

Zubeidi’s family was especially concerned after images on social media showed him with huge swelling on his face following his arrest. Media reports said he suffered a broken jaw and ribs.

Palestinians demonstrate to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in front of building of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza City
The Gilboa Prison escape has rejuvenated belief in the Palestinian spirit, whilst also revealing the level of subjugation that the Israeli authorities have at their disposal [Getty Images] ​

“After his re-arrest, the lawyer couldn't obtain any information about his health, especially after Zakaria was shown being surrounded by the Israeli police hiding his face from the camera, trying to prevent his injuries from being seen," Yehia Zubeidi, Zakaria's brother, told The New Arab. 

"This behaviour in the court raised our suspicions about him being severely beaten. Since then, we have feared his health would get worse due to being beaten and tortured, even if his body seems so strong," he added. 

Zubeidi, 45, a former militant leader of the Fatah movement in Jenin, has played a key role in the Palestinian resistance since he was a teenager

The last time he was detained was in 2019, on charges including shooting attacks on Israeli buses in the occupied West Bank. Other allegations from the Second Intifada were also added to the charges, despite a 2007 amnesty agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that included him.

Voices

At the time of his escape, he had not acknowledged the charges against him and was awaiting trial. 

In 2002, Zubeidi’s mother was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper in Jenin refugee camp during the Second Intifada. Soon after, one of his brothers, Taha, was also killed by soldiers.

His home in the camp has been destroyed twice by Israeli forces.

Following his re-arrest, and reports he had been transferred to hospital after being severely beaten, his family say they passed many nights in fear and trepidation.  

“We had been unable to eat, drink or sleep...for days after we learned about this shocking news," Yehia Zubeidi, his brother, said, adding that the Israeli hospitals mentioned in reports had denied he was there. 

"My son is braver and stronger than you can imagine. However, I cannot stop praying for his safety because I don't know how long his body will endure various kinds of Israeli torture"

Four days after his lawyers' requests to meet Zubeidi were rejected it was confirmed that he suffered a broken jaw and ribs and had been taken to an Israeli hospital. 

His brother said Zakaria had also been deprived of sleep, food, and medical care while being interrogated for hours upon end. 

“We don’t know what fate waits for him. My family and I are scared for him after he dared to break out from the Israel jail,” his brother said. “We always keep praying for his safety.”

Relatives harassed 

Since the recapture of Mahmud Abdullah Ardah, 45, his mother, Fathia Ardah, 74, has been anxiously waiting for any news about her son's condition. Israeli authorities have refused his lawyer’s request to meet with him over the past five days

"My heart ached until death when I heard the news of his arrest. And my tears fell like rain," his mother told The New Arab. "It hurts more because I don't know any information about him."

The spoon has become a poignant symbol for the Palestinian struggle and its inexorable quest for their homeland [Getty Images]
The spoon has become a poignant symbol of the Palestinian struggle and its inexorable quest for a homeland [Getty Images]

"I was hoping he came here, to see him, kiss him, and put him in my arms. I didn't visit him in prison for over seven years," she added. "After his re-arrest, I have been thinking of him every minute and have asked myself if he eats, drinks, or is being deprived," she added.

"My son is braver and stronger than you can imagine. However, I cannot stop praying for his safety because I don't know how long his body will endure various kinds of Israeli torture".

Mahmoud Arda, 46, has spent more than 25 years in Israelis jails and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 for attacks carried out by the Islamic Jihad. 

He was the alleged mastermind of the Gilboa prison break and had been held in solitary confinement in 2014 after an escape tunnel was found in Shata prison in Israel. 

While on the run, Israeli soldiers raided his family’s home and detained his brother Mohammed for questioning. 

"During the interrogation, I was asked if there is someone in the family with Mahmoud's courage and intelligence. You will never find someone like him wherever you go,” he told the police.

Later, they arrested some of his relatives and two of his brothers who had been freed from Israeli jails a few years ago. After a week, one of his brothers and relatives were released, while the detention for the other brother was extended. 

“They broke one of my relative's hands while being interrogated," he said, adding that he fears his arrested brother will be tortured or held in jail for an indefinite period.

"We are prohibited from visiting, and this could last for long months as punishment"

Waiting for his freedom on fire

Among the six escaped prisoners, two of them remained free for two weeks while hiding in Jenin. The news of their re-arrest came as a shock to their families. A few minutes before the recapture, Fouad Kamanji, received a call from his son, Ayham, to hear his father's voice before the return to prison.

"It was 1:45 a.m when Ayham phoned me, and I was happy that I finally heard his voice. I couldn’t hold my tears of happiness at that moment,” he said, adding that his happiness vanished once he learned about his decision to surrender.

“The Israeli soldiers surrounded the house where he and his colleague, Nidal, were hiding. He feared for the lives of the house inhabitants after the house was threatened of bombing,” he clarified.

“I am proud of him and his high morals, but at the same time, I am so sad for him because he couldn’t get his freedom to be able to visit his mother’s grave,” he added.

Perspectives

Ayham Kamanji, 35 years, belongs to the Islamic Jihad Movement and was detained in 2006 for the killing of an 18-year Israeli settler. He attempted to escape from prison with two others in 2014, but their attempt failed.

On the first day after being re-arrested, Ayham was tortured and beaten for 8 hours, causing severe pain in his shoulders, neck, and chest, as he hasn't received any treatments, according to the lawyer Monther Abu Ahmed. 

“I fear for the health of my son, and I hope I can pay a visit to him to reassure on him,” he said, adding, “We are prohibited from visiting, and this could last for long months as a punishment for him.”

The father is hopeful for his son to get his freedom after Hamas promised the six prisoners to be listed in the prisoner exchange deal after their recapture.

“Hamas’ promise lessened my fear and sadness for his recapture. I am waiting for the day when he will be released and be able to walk through streets without any fears, even if exiled,” he said.

“To be free is more important than anything else."

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a Gaza-based writer for WeAreNotNumbers.org