Hamas vows to free arrested escapees

A woman rests her face on her fist with a poster of a man behind her

The mother of Muhammad Arda, who had been rearrested after escaping Gilboa prison, at her Jenin home in the occupied West Bank on 11 September.

APA images

Israel captured this weekend four of six Palestinians who escaped from one of its most heavily fortified prisons on 6 September.

Israeli authorities arrested Mahmoud Arda, 46, and Yacoub Qadri, 49, in the city of Nazareth in northern Israel on Friday night.

Hours later, Muhammad Arda, 39, and Zakaria Zubeidi, 46, a former commander of al-Aqsa martyrs’ brigades, a militia affiliated with Fatah, were arrested by Israel’s domestic spying and torture agency Shin Bet and the police in Shibli Umm al-Ghanam, a Palestinian town in the north of present-day Israel.

Ayham Kamamji, 35, and Munadel Infiat, 26, remain free.

The jailed Palestinians dug an underground tunnel from the bathroom of their cell in Gilboa prison in northern Israel that emerged just outside the prison walls under a watchtower.

The Israel Prison Service detected the prisoners’ absence only hours after they escaped.

Israel’s military, police and intelligence launched a nationwide manhunt to find the men, whose escape was a major embarrassment and humiliation for Israel and its so-called security apparatus.

A judge at the Nazareth court where the arrested men are being tried denied on Monday a request from a lawyer with the Palestinian Authority’s commission for prisoners to visit the four detainees.

The commission said it was concerned about the “blackout” on the prisoners, warning that Israel may retaliate against them.

This came amid reports that Zubeidi had been taken to Rambam hospital in northern Israel for treatment.

Zubeidi’s lawyer said that guards had hidden him from the cameras during a hearing due to injuries sustained during re-arrest, Israeli news site Ynet reported.

A photo of Zubeidi posted online by the Palestinian Prisoners Club appeared to back this up.

The Israel Prison Service claims Zubaidi was hidden because he had planned “provocations in court,” Ynet added.

The club said that Zubeidi’s hospitalization “is indicative of what they have been subjected to,” holding Israeli authorities “fully responsible for any harm suffered by the four prisoners.”

After the escape, Israeli prison authorities began swiftly enacting a series of punitive, retaliatory and arbitrary measures against Palestinian prisoners in general, including mass forced transfers, interrogations and mass lockdowns of prison areas, among others.

Israel’s prison authorities beat and attacked Palestinian prisoners it moved from Gilboa prison to Shita prison, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club. Around 90 detainees had been transferred.

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council filed an urgent appeal “expressing grave concern regarding the collective punishment of all Palestinian prisoners” with United Nations Special Procedures – independent human rights experts mandated to investigate and act on such abuses.

The news of the recapture was a blow to Palestinians, who had celebrated the escape as a victory against the image of invincibility which Israel portrays.

Nonetheless, morale was raised Saturday when Abu Obeida, spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing the Qassam Brigades, vowed the prisoners would be freed in the next prisoner exchange.

“We promise them and our free prisoners that they will soon be liberated,” Abu Obeida said in an address on Saturday.

“That the jailers will open their doors for them and they will emerge with their heads held high.”

There have been recent talks about a possible prisoner exchange between Israel and Palestinian resistance organization Hamas. It is believed that Hamas holds four Israelis in Gaza, two of them soldiers believed to be dead.

Abu Obeida said the rearrest of the men “does not obscure the reality of their noble pursuit,” adding that their escape “once again demonstrated the fragility of the enemy’s security apparatus.”

Israeli media – which can be censored by the military – reported that residents living in the predominantly Palestinian town of Nazareth had tipped off Israeli authorities about the men’s whereabouts after noticing “two men digging through trash, apparently searching for food,” according to The Times of Israel.

Some Israeli media reports portrayed an image of the escaped men as unwelcome by their Palestinian brethren and having received little help.

Many Palestinians however, oppose this narrative, pointing out that the men were freshly shaven and clad in new clothes when they were captured, and that Palestinian families likely helped them.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.