Palestinians warn of uprising if Israel seeks to kill ‘beloved’ escapees

Graphic - Palestinian political prisoners (Mondoweiss)

Mondoweiss Editors 

Mondoweiss  /  September 9, 2021

The dramatic escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Gilboa prison is now in its fourth day, and the story is resonating around the world. Palestinians and their supporters celebrate the escape, while Israeli authorities and media express humiliation and rage.

The dramatic escape of six prisoners from Gilboa prison in Israel is now in its fourth day with none of the prisoners captured, and the story is resonating around the world. Palestinians and their supporters celebrate an escape to rival those in Hollywood pictures. While Israeli authorities and media express humiliation and rage.

Over 100 Palestinians were injured as Israeli authorities attacked protests in the West Bank Wednesday in solidarity with the escapees, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Israelis describe the escapees as “terrorists,” and an anchor on i24 News said today that the escape has caused fear because they are “dangerous people on the run.” Alon Eviatar, a former intelligence officer, told the channel that Israel has two choices, to capture the escaped prisoners or kill them.

While Samer Sinijlawi, chair of the Jerusalem Development Fund, warned on i24 News that if any prisoner is assassinated, it would be a “serious mistake” on Israel’s part and quickly escalate, possibly resulting in an intifada, or uprising.

“No Palestinian and Israeli will agree on anything that relates to prisoners, we will always disagree… These people are heroes in front of every single Palestinian, regardless… This is something that brings all Palestinians together… 100 percent of Palestinians are in support of the prisoners,” Sinijlawi explained. “They have beaten the system, they have freed themselves from a very tough and complicated security arrangement… They are becoming beloved by everyone…. These people will be embraced, they will be helped everywhere they go within Palestinian society.”

There have been spontaneous demonstrations to celebrate the escape, with many holding spoons, which the escapees are said to have used to dig their escape hole. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have reportedly planned a Day of Rage in support of the escapees tomorrow.

The reverence for the men’s actions transcends all political, ideological, and generational differences in Palestinian society, Sinijlawi said on i24 News. Even Palestinian security officials will refuse to pass information on the men to Israeli authorities, because most of those officials were themselves once prisoners of Israel.

A third intifada will erupt if a hair on the head of one prisoner is touched, a Fatah official warned Israel, according to this report.

The support for the men is reflected in posts on social media, including this one from We Are Not Numbers, the Gaza writers group:

“After the great escape of the six #Palestinian prisoners from Gilboa prison, the people in #Gaza held many demonstrations to celebrate this great incident, stand in solidarity with prisoners, and demand their rights. Such a great incident is a victory to them!”

There are reports that Israel has arrested family members of some of the prisoners, and other reports that Israel is denying food and water to some prisoners in Gilboa prison in the wake of the incident. While i24 News said that embarrassed Israeli authorities are investigating prison staff because some are suspected of negligence or even cooperation with the escapees. It has been reported that the guard posted to a tower overlooking the hole from which the escapees fled the prison was either absent or asleep at the time.

There are 4650 Palestinians in Israeli prisons right now, per the human rights group Addameer. That includes over 500 detainees who have not been charged with a crime and over 200 child prisoners.

Five of the escapees were said to belong to the Islamic Jihad organization. “Four of the six had been convicted of terror offenses and were serving at least two life sentences, the [Israeli prison] service said,” per The New York Times.

Al-Haq notes the injustice of the life prison terms the men were serving.

The most famous of the escapees is Zakaria Zubeidi, a leader of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade during the Second Intifada and also a member of the Jenin Freedom Theatre. Zubeidi is well known to westerners, due to his childhood involvement in the Arna Mer-Khamis’s children’s theater troupe in Jenin and his friendship with the late Juliano Mer-Khamis, Arna’s son; and his friendship with Tali Fahima, an Israel activist who has supported Palestinian resistance.

Zubeidi’s life has been marked by the brutality of Israeli occupation. His mother and brother were killed by Israeli forces, and his face was scarred by a bomb-blast. He was imprisoned in the early 2000s and subsequently pardoned by Israeli authorities; but the pardon was revoked.

Yousef Munayyer points out the role of occupier as imprisoner:

“Very little coverage of escape of Palestinian prisoners from an Israeli prison mentions their being held there is a war crime in itself. The occupying power may not hold prisoners outside of the recognized occupied territory. Media is complicity in Israel’s erasure of Intl Law.”

While on i24 Samer Sinlijawi pointed out that when Israelis kill Palestinians, they are rarely punished.

In Haaretz today, Gideon Levy saluted the escapees as freedom fighters, not terrorists. Levy singled out Zubeidi.

“[H]is story is a classic tale of a victim and a hero. “I never lived like a human being,” he told me once … His father died when he was young; he was a teenager when his mother was shot and killed by IDF forces in the window of her home, and a few weeks later his brother was killed and his house was demolished by the army. Of all of his friends in the Jenin refugee camp who were immortalized in the wonderful 2004 documentary “Arna’s Children,” only he is still alive. In 2004 he told me, “I am dead. I know that I am dead,” but luck, or something else, was on his side.

Like Marwan Barghouti and other Palestinian heroes, he wanted peace with Israel, but under conditions of justice and honor for his people, and he too felt that the only option left to him was that of violent resistance. I have never seen him without a gun.

I think about Zakaria now and I hope that he will escape to freedom, just as I hope that Barghouti will one day be set free.”

Mondoweiss Editors