The testimonies of the four prisoners whom Israel re-arrested, to their lawyers, revealed a lot of information and details about the escape and arrest operations, which were the subject of many questions from observers.
The story of the “Great Escape” still has no conclusion, as Israel continues to search for the two captives, as mercenaries and expediencies.
Yearning for freedom, which was deprived of it for more than a quarter of a century, Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud al-Ardah, accompanied by a number of his fellow detainees, decided to start digging a tunnel, to escape from the most fortified Gilboa Prison (north).
In early December 2020, the prisoners, who belong to the Islamic Jihad movement, all from Jenin governorate, in the northern West Bank, began digging the tunnel.
The prisoners are, along with Mahmoud Al-Ardah, Yaqoub Qadri, Ayham Kamji, Nidal Al-Ardah, and Muhammad Al-Ardah.
Later, and only two days before the execution of the escape, the five were joined by Zakaria al-Zubaidi, the former commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades affiliated with the “Fatah” movement.
According to the prisoners’ testimonies, which they gave to their lawyers, who met them after their re-arrest, work in the tunnel continued for about 10 months, amid great secrecy, despite the difficulty of the task, in light of strict Israeli supervision.
The process seemed complicated from its inception, as it was necessary to start digging a reinforced concrete floor with a thickness of 60 centimeters.
The most complex is how to get rid of the waste, especially the sand, without drawing the attention of the jailers, who have long experience in how to detect tunnel digging operations.
Therefore, the commander of the operation, Mahmoud Al-Ardah, according to his lawyer, Raslan Mahajneh, began to “manufacture drilling tools from the available tools.”
**The first step
The first step was to raise the tiles, from which the tunnel will start from the bottom, in a professional manner, and without causing any damage to it, because they will have to return it, daily, after the excavation is finished, so that the bathroom floor looks natural, when the daily inspection is carried out by the warders.
According to many testimonies given by former prisoners who tried to dig tunnels, this step is the most important, and the escape plan is based on it.
The captives used kitchen utensils such as teapots, frying pans, spoons, pot handles, and some wood in excavations; With simple tools, they managed to dig a great tunnel, which has become a legend, in every sense of the word.
The planning and execution process was not absurd or without planning, as the prisoner Mahmoud states that he relied on accurate numbers and calculations of the tunnel, from its entrance to its exit.
During the ten months of work, the prisoners disposed of tunnel waste into sewage cycles and waste drums, in small batches.
According to Israeli media sources, the length of the tunnel is 35 meters.
** Night of Escape
A week before the grand escape was scheduled, a dangerous development occurred, confounding the captives, and prompting them to make a quick decision, to escape.
This development, one of the wardens remarked, was a little “mud” in the bathroom of the cell, and he became suspicious of it.
And then the prisoners decided to start implementing his plan, before it was discovered.
Forty-eight hours before the time of the escape, the team leader, Mahmoud, a former leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, summoned Zakaria al-Zubaidi to the cell, in order to become one of the members of the team eager for freedom.
Al-Zubaidi was not aware of the excavation process at the time, according to Al-Ardah, which was confirmed by Al-Zubaidi to his lawyer.
** Get out of the dark
At exactly one o’clock in the evening on the 6th of September, the atmosphere seemed calm; Even the guard of the prison tower fell asleep.
But the underground was murmuring, heralding an explosion that threw prisoners fleeing from the darkness, and heading to embrace the light.
The six prisoners raised the tiles that closed the mouth of the tunnel, and within minutes, until the earth swallowed them.
The bar and his five companions crawled into the tunnel to safety, where the second tunnel opening was outside the prison walls.
** New birth
The six Palestinians suddenly found themselves freed from the title of “prisoners”.
They looked at the sky above them, and it was for the first time in many years, without a roof, or wires and a fence.
The land was spacious, and the plain of Marj Ibn Amer was full of fruits.
The six prisoners walked in the plain, on foot, without receiving any outside help, to reach the town of “Al-Naura” (a Palestinian inside Israel).”
They entered her mosque, and it was the point of separation; each two separate.
Accompanying “Mahmoud Al-Ardah and Yaqoub Qadri”, “Zakaria Al-Zubaidi by Muhammad Al-Ardah”, and “Ayham Kammaji, with the Nafeyat fighter”.
Those fleeing deliberately kept as far as possible from Arab towns, for fear of causing harm to any of the residents.
** Israeli shock
When the operation was revealed, several hours after the Palestinians fled, Israel was shocked.
Through the media and social media, there was a heated debate and discussion about what happened, amid a major attack on the “prisons” organization inside Israel, and its failure in its work.
Immediately, it imposed large reinforcements around the city of Jenin, deployed its forces along the border, and pursued the prisoners in Palestinian fields and towns inside Israel, which prevented them from reaching the West Bank.
** 5 days of freedom
The prisoners say in their testimony to the lawyers of the Prisoners’ Affairs Authority, who visited them on Wednesday, that they tasted freedom for the first time in many years.
Mohammed Al-Ardah ate the fruits of patience (the prickly pear) for the first time in 22 years and watched the sky without iron barriers.
For him, “these days are enough for years of imprisonment.”
Al-Zubaidi did not drink water during the entire period of his escape. He ate the fruits of the orchards, such as patience, figs, and others.
For Qadri, the five days of freedom were “the best days of his life, which he spent in the open air of Palestine without restrictions.”
He watched the children in the streets, kissed one of them, slept with the birds and the wolves, and about that he says, “This is the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me.”
Through the radio, he was with the prisoners throughout the flight, they were aware of what was going on around them.
How great was the joy of the fugitive prisoners, when they learned how much the Palestinian people and the Arab world rejoiced at what they accomplished and raised their spirits.
Next to the city of Nazareth, and specifically near the Al-Fakhouri neighborhood, Mahmoud Al-Ardah and his companion Yaqoub Qadri continued to walk forward, in search of refuge, but they did not ask for any help from anyone.
Last Friday evening, while the two prisoners were making their way near Nazareth, an Israeli police patrol came across the site, and they were arrested and arrested.
At dawn on Saturday, Israel announced the arrest of “Mohammed Al-Ardah” and “Zakaria Al-Zubaidi”, near the town of Iksal (north), and they were attacked, as the first sustained bruises, while the second sustained fractures in the jaw and ribs of the rib cage.
The four prisoners were transferred for interrogation to the “Al-Jalama” center near Jenin.
** Chapters of the story do not end
The words that will write the conclusion of the tale of “The Great Escape” are in the possession of “Kammji and Nafeyat”, who are still on the run, and will undoubtedly write other chapters of it.
Until now, the Israeli authorities are still conducting searches for the two prisoners.
Israeli estimates indicate that the two prisoners, or at least one of them, were able to enter the West Bank, and the Jenin area in particular.
Whatever the end, the stories of the prisoners of Palestine will not end, for every prisoner is a “story”, and every story is a cause, pain and a dream, of freedom and escape from darkness.
As long as the prisons remain, and the doors and handcuffs are closed to the prisoners, the story remains without a conclusion.