Wednesday September 22, 2021

Palestinians hail jailbreak

September 15, 2021

JENIN, Palestinian Territories: Four of the six Palestinians who staged a Hollywood-style escape from an Israeli prison may be back behind bars, but in their home town they are being celebrated as heroes.

When cellphones buzzed last week in Jenin with news of the spectacular jailbreak from a high-security prison, Abu Antoine dreamt his nephew Zakaria Zubeidi might never be caught. "In the hour after the announcement, we were filled with hope," Abu Antoine told AFP. "We said to ourselves: ‘If he hasn’t been arrested yet, maybe he’ll be free forever’."

Zubeidi, 46, was the most prominent of the six who had dug a tunnel underneath a sink and made their way to freedom, embarrassing their captors and sparking a massive manhunt. Jenin in the occupied West Bank is a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Zubeidi is one of the city’s most famous sons.

During the second intifada, or uprising, of 2000-2005 he was the local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction. He has since run afoul of both Israeli and Palestinian authorities and, after agreeing to lay down his arms more than a decade ago, also dabbled in theatre.

He was arrested by Israel in 2019 and was serving time in Gilboa prison, along with the other five escapees, all members of the group Islamic Jihad. The jailbreak marked a high-profile embarrassment for Israel’s vaunted security establishment.

In Palestinian areas, it sparked joy, with supporters handing out sweets in celebration. There was feverish speculation the six may have escaped to neighbouring Jordan or Syria. Jenin’s resistance iconography was also freshened up, with new posters of the fugitives plastered on concrete walls beside the torn and fading images of the "martyrs" of the intifada.