[Pnews] Prickly pears and a radio: How the Palestinian escapees survived on the run
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 15 18:56:46 EDT 2021
pears and a radio: How the Palestinian escapees survived on the run
By Mustafa Abu Sneineh - September 15, 2021
Their escape from an Israeli
<https://www.middleeasteye.net/countries/israel> maximum-security prison
made headlines around the world and elated millions of Palestinians
Now, three of the four escapees who have been recaptured have detailed the
trials and tribulations they faced on the run: thirst, hunger, and the joy
'I toured occupied Palestine of 1948, and I was looking for my freedom and
to meet my mother'
*- Mohammad al-Ardah, escapee*
For Mohammad al-Ardah, 39, freedom tasted of prickly pear. The escapee from
Jenin told his lawyer that he managed to eat the fruit for the first time
in almost 20 years after fleeing northern Israel's Gilboa prison through a
tunnel on 6 September.
Ardah had been in prison since 2002, sentenced to life on charges of
belonging to Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades' military wing and of
involvement in the killing of Israeli soldiers. It was the opportunity to
see his mother
again that drove him to dig out of Gilboa and flee.
"I toured occupied Palestine of 1948, and I was looking for my freedom and
to meet my mother," Ardah told his lawyer Khaled Mahajna.
Arrested 'by chance'
Ardah was seized on Saturday along with Zakaria Zubeidi while hiding in
Nazareth, a northern city with an overwhelmingly Palestinian population.
He told his lawyer that he has faced harsh and abusive conditions in the
al-Jalameh detention centre near Haifa, where he is now being held, and
that he was beaten during his arrest.
[image: Mahmoud al-Ardah, a Palestinian prisoner who directed and oversaw
the plan to dig a tunnel and jailbreak from Gilboa, is seen sitting in an
Israeli court in Nazareth, 11 September 2021 (AFP)]
Mahmoud al-Ardah, a Palestinian prisoner who directed and oversaw the plan
to dig a tunnel and jailbreak from Gilboa, is seen sitting in an Israeli
court in Nazareth, 11 September 2021 (AFP)
Despite being seized at the weekend, the four captives were only allowed to
speak privately with their lawyers on Tuesday, with their representatives
then able to relay details of their dramatic escape for the first time.
Mahajna said Ardah was severely beaten by Israeli police, who threatened
him with death and struck his head on the ground. He has only slept 10
hours in the past four days, was deprived of food, and was held in a small
cell and constantly watched, the lawyer said.
Mothers of rearrested Palestinian prisoners anxiously await answers on
Read More »
Ardah said he and Zubeidi had not drunk a drop of water since they
tunnelled their way out of Gilboa prison. They felt exhausted and could not
carry on walking, and described their discovery as "by chance" when Israeli
forces appeared near their hideout.
Zubeidi, 46, is also from Jenin and is a former commander of Fatah's armed
wing, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. He told his lawyer Avigdor Feldman that
police beat him so badly that he broke his cheek and some of his ribs, and
remains in pain.
Zubeidi told Feldman that he was not one of the escape plan plotters, and
that the scheme was devised by the other five cellmates, who all belonged
to Islamic Jihad.
He said he only became aware of the plan last minute after being
transferred to the cell the day before the escape. Once he saw the tunnel,
he decided to flee as well.
Over six days, Zubeidi and Ardah plucked fruit from trees to survive,
gorging on prickly pears and figs when they could.
Speculation has been rife in the days since the six inmates emerged from
their tunnel, with Israelis and Palestinians alike wondering if they stayed
together, where they were hiding and whether or not they had crossed from
Israel into the occupied West Bank or a neighbouring country.
One of them, Mahmoud Ardah, told his lawyer Raslan Mahajneh that the
prisoners parted ways when they reached a mosque in the Palestinian village
Mahmoud Ardah said he had a radio on which he followed news of their escape.
No one else in the prison was involved in the plan, he said, adding that he
himself directed and oversaw the prison break. They began digging the
tunnel from their cell in December, he said.
[image: Protesters lift a placard depicting the six Palestinian prisoners,
as they demonstrate to support them in the northern Israeli city of
Nazareth, on 11 September (AFP)]
Protesters lift a placard depicting the six Palestinian prisoners, as they
demonstrate to support them in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, on 11
September 2021 (AFP)
Mahmoud Ardah and Yacoub al-Qadri were arrested on Friday in Nazareth.
He said they both attempted to cross into the West Bank, which is 4km south
of Gilboa prison, but the heavy Israeli military presence in the area
made them change their plan.
The three prisoners said they agreed to avoid entering Palestinian villages
in Israel as much as possible, in an attempt to stop Israeli authorities
from imposing collective punishment on their residents.
Mahmoud Ardah also said they were arrested by chance, and denied reports in
Israeli media that a Palestinian citizen of Israel had tipped off the
The escape has inspired Palestinians in Israel, the occupied territories
and beyond. On Saturday, news spread that those who had been recaptured
would appear in a Nazareth court, with Palestinians flocking to the
building to show their support that evening.
"I reassure my mother about my health, and my spirits are high, and I
salute my sister in Gaza. We were very touched when we saw the crowds in
front of Nazareth's court. I salute the people of Nazareth, they raised my
spirits," Ardah said, according to his lawyer.
Two of the escapees - Ayham Nayef Kamanji and Munadil Yaqoub Nfeiat
- remain at large.
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