Happiness reigned in public squares in the Gaza Strip, which saw the distribution of sweets and rejoicing at what people described as “extracting freedom” following the success of six prisoners in escaping a heavily fortified Israeli prison.
While Palestinians in Gaza took to the streets spontaneously, the organization of many gatherings and distribution of sweets came from the Islamic Jihad, to which five of the six prisoners belong. The sixth inmate belongs to Fatah.
A member of Islamic Jihad’s political bureau, Walid Al-Qutati, said the process of escaping from Gilboa was very complicated and required experts to explain how the operation took place. “The operation will constitute an epic and legend in the history of the Palestinian national struggle,” he added.
There were celebrations in the streets, with some banners that read: “The second great escape from the prisons of the Zionist enemy.” Others bore the names of the prisoners who had succeeded in “extracting their freedom.”
The prisoner issue is considered one of the complexes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and official estimates indicate that more than a million Palestinians have been imprisoned since June 1967.
About 5,000 Palestinians are still languishing behind bars under conditions described by Palestinian organizations as “inhumane.”
Observers described the escape of prisoners as “exactly similar to what is happening in the movies,” given that Gilboa was described in Israel as “the safe prison” because of its tight procedures to prevent any escape attempt.
According to the Addameer Foundation for Prisoner Care and Human Rights, Gilboa is in the Beit She’an area of northern Israel. It was established under the supervision of Irish experts and opened in 2004.
Addameer added: “The prison is of a very high security nature, and is described as the most guarded prison, in which Israel holds Palestinian prisoners, accusing them of being responsible for carrying out offensive operations targeting Israelis.”
Military expert and former major general, Wassef Erekat, told Arab News: “The escape operation represents a victory for the Palestinian will. Rather, it is a miracle added to the achievements of the prisoners in the occupation prisons, who are inventing means to penetrate the security system that Israel boasts about.”
Erekat said the success of the six prisoners would encourage other inmates to think more about taking their freedom into their own hands in light of Israeli intransigence in terms of liberating them, whether through political negotiations or as part of an exchange deal.
Writer Ahmed Abu Zuhri did not rule out that Palestinian factions would “surprise the occupation” with similar operations, whether inside or outside prisons.
“The enemy realizes that there are six free time bombs on the loose, and the six prisoners may resort to surprising the enemy with commando operations instead of disappearing, as they realize that Israel will not stop searching for them and liquidating them,” he told Arab News.
Mahdi Abdulhadi, founder and chairman of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, said that Palestinians met each other as martyrs, prisoners, or escapees.
“The resistance reflects a people who want a life with dignity and these six have shown what national resistance is all about,” he told Arab News. “There is widespread happiness and a feeling of the ability of Palestinians to challenge their jailers. This is the time of defeating the culture of fear and depending on self-reliance while Israel is trying to uphold the status quo policy.”
A retired Jordanian Air Force general, Maamoun Abu Nawwar, said the escape completed the action that had begun with the 11-day battle between Israel and the Gaza Strip. “This is an act of resistance by a people who are opposed to injustice,” he told Arab News.
Former Palestinian Cabinet Minister, Ziad Abu Zayyad said the escape of Palestinian war prisoners should remind everyone that as long as there were wars and armed conflict there would be “prisoner fighters” deprived of their freedom.
“Wars and occupation should come to their end. Palestinian prisoners will never be broken until their people achieve their right for peace, security, and freedom in their independent state of Palestine.”
Hazem Ayyad a columnist for Assabeel newspaper, said the success of the six inmates was a “major victory” for the Palestinian resistance and shattered the “supposedly air-tight” Israeli security model.
Ayyad said the escape came at a time when the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah was losing popularity and Hamas was involved in prisoner exchange negotiations. Israeli daily Haaretz said that the escape was a security and intelligence failure.
Adham Manasra, a broadcaster at Raya FM in Ramallah, said a former Gilboa inmate had told the radio show that restrictions were extremely harsh at the prison. “The caller said that escaping from Gilboa is like a miracle.”
The former prisoner had said inmates were checked three times a day and were not even allowed to take a metal spoon to their room.
Manasra told Arab News that people were happy, but that some worried the escape would lead to greater Israeli repression of prisoners and the collective punishment of Palestinians.