On Monday, six convicted terrorists escaped from Israel’s Gilboa prison, triggering both public displays of euphoria and outbursts of violence in the West Bank and Gaza. Yaakov Lappin draws some unsettling historical parallels:
In May 1987, six senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) security prisoners escaped from an Israeli prison in the Gaza Strip. In October of that year, a gun battle between Israeli security forces and five of the escaped prisoners erupted in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood district. The cell’s members were killed, and an Israeli Shin Bet member, Victor Arajwan, was also killed in the firefight. The PIJ to this day considers the incident to be a catalyst for the start of the first intifada.
In Monday’s escape, five out of the six prisoners are PIJ terrorists convicted of taking part in deadly attacks on Israelis, while the sixth, Zakaria Zubeidi, is the former commander of the Fatah-aligned al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin. All six are from the West Bank city of Jenin, which lies just across the Green Line from Gilboa prison.
Lappin cites the opinion of David Hacham, who served as an Arab-affairs adviser to seven Israeli defense ministers, and is deeply concerned about the fallout:
“This is a serious failure on the part of the Israeli prison system. But [the failure] projects onto the entire Israeli defense establishment,” said Hacham.
“This is the reoccurring theme in how Palestinians are describing the event,” he continued. “People I speak with in Ramallah are calling it a ‘heroic Palestinian operation,’ which has exposed Israeli security forces [as weak or incompetent]. Three of the terrorists were designated high-risk escape candidates. Zubeidi was a central figure from the second intifada. The group includes two PIJ members who are brothers. All of these were in a single cell.”