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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/13/21

Israel has every reason to fear this bold Palestinian prison break

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It would be impossible for Palestinians not to revel in six prisoners carrying out a daring escape from one of Israel's most secure and modern jails. Israel may be working overtime to demonise the six men as "terrorists", but for Palestinians, they are among its finest and bravest foot soldiers.

They are prisoners of war, most of whom were serving long sentences after they tried to liberate their homeland by killing Israeli soldiers or settlers - those seen to be implementing and enforcing Israel's decades-old occupation.

All Palestinians can identify with the plight of these men. Imprisonment is a rite of passage for much of the male Palestinian population; estimates are that many hundreds of thousands have passed through Israel's jails over the past five decades.

Many are in jail awaiting trial, as were two of the six escapees. Others are in administrative detention - jailed without trial or even being told what charges are levelled against them. Inmates' rights are serially abused. They are kept in overcrowded cells, have little contact with their families, and are often beaten or tortured.

In the summer, footage emerged - redolent of the abuses committed by the US army at Abu Ghraib in Iraq - of mass beatings of Palestinian inmates at Ketziot prison in Israel's south in 2019. No action was taken even after the video leaked, presumably because this kind of thing - if rarely seen - is entirely routine. It confirms what Palestinian prisoners have long been saying.

And most Palestinian political prisoners are held in jails inside Israel, outside the occupied territories - the six fugitives broke out of Gilboa prison, in northern Israel - in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and Israel's obligations under the laws of war. As a result, family visits are often difficult, if not impossible.

Humiliation for Israel

Every Palestinian will glory in Israel's humiliation. Guards failed to spot the prisoners gradually widening a hole in the drainage system in their cell over many months. The six men moved undetected past a sleeping guard, and they planned a sophisticated getaway - seemingly assisted - that foiled a police manhunt hot on their tail.

But the celebrations in Palestinian communities across the region, and far beyond, relate not just to the jailbreak. Every day the prisoners remain free - and four were still at large on Friday, after two were reportedly caught in Nazareth - is another hammer blow against the occupation. That is not just the way Palestinians see it. It is how Israel's officials and much of the public understand it too.

The six did not just escape from an Israeli maximum-security prison. They jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. They broke out of the small prison that is Gilboa into the much larger prison for Palestinians that is their homeland under occupation.

Every minute the men remain at large, Israel's occupation is defied. Every minute they can't be found, Israel's system of control is defeated. Palestinians are reminded that freedom may ultimately be possible; that the occupation is not invincible.

Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian militant faction to which five of the men belonged, has urged Palestinians not to speak of this as an escape but as an "act of liberation". This is precisely why Israel is determined that, as soon as possible, the men are returned behind visible bars - or maybe killed in a shootout, a fate that often befalls those who defy Israel. The point of its occupation is to crush any hope, any sense that freedom can be attained.

Hierarchy of Confinement

In fact, like Dante's circles of hell, Israel has created a hierarchy of confinement for Palestinians. The more they resist the fate intended for them by Israel - to be dispossessed and erased from their homeland - the more harshly Israel constrains them.

Prison is the ultimate punishment. But as is so often pointed out, Gaza is also a giant detention camp, the largest open-air prison in the world. The coastal strip, run by Hamas, is surrounded by an electronic perimeter fence, and besieged by the army and navy on all sides.

Over in the land-locked West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, formally the Palestinian president but in practice the unelected head of a few cantons in its midst, has won minor privileges for his own population through good behaviour.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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