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The Great Escape—The Palestinian Struggle Too—Comes To Nothing


The great escape, the daring jailbreak of the six Palestinian prisoners—terrorists, freedom fighters, call them what you will—from the Gilboa Prison in Israel some three weeks ago generated shock and awe throughout the Holy Land, and created plenty of news around the world. For me, however, it hit close to home. Literally. I grew up in kibbutz Hephzibah, under Mount Gilboa, wherein biblical times King Saul and his son Jonathan fought the Philistines, and where David said his famous lament upon their death.

The now Gilboa Prison was then Shata Prison. A nondescript white building with a fence, a remnant from the British Mandate, not even ten minutes’ drive from my kibbutz. Driving or walking to the kibbutz, you had to turn right when you passed it, smack in the middle of all the kibbutzim and their agricultural fields. My cousin, who still lives in the kibbutz, reminded me that there were jailbreaks from there before. And of course all the pictures, such as the one above, reminded me so vividly of Mount Gilboa and the Jezreel Valley, the valley of my youth.

I won’t bother you with the names of the escapees and the details of their jailbreak. You probably read, heard, and watched plenty about it. Or you can find it on any online news site. But what seemed at first, to me at least, as a hot material for a screenplay and a film, even a Netflix TV series, came to nothing at the end. How can you write about this daring escape when in short two weeks the escapees were captured? And without a fight. Hungry and cold like street rats. Four of them in Israel proper—with the help, can you believe it, of Arab Israelis who called the police and army—and the last two in the West Bank city of Jenin, on the other side of Mount Gilboa, some 45 minutes’ drive from the prison.

What a letdown. What a story without a payout. A plot without a climax. I mean, when they successfully escaped, my imagination had run wild. A dark car was waiting for them in the fields. During the night they were whisked off to Jenin, and from there to other West Bank towns and villages, where they will lay low for a while, hidden and taking care of by Palestinian fighters and regular citizens. Maybe they’ll be able to cross to Jordan (BTY: all the above scenarios were speculated about in the Israeli papers). Maybe in months to come, or even years, they will stage a spectacular terrorist attack, a daring operation somewhere. And if caught—as the Israeli Army had indeed prepared for—it would be in a bloody fight. Death or victory!

Nada. It all came to nothing. Just like the Palestinian struggle as a whole. I mean how—bloody hell how?!—you go into such a daring jailbreak operation without any planning ahead of time as to what you’ll do once you are out? What’s the big deal of escaping if you don’t utilize it? What, for a few days running and hiding, hungry and wet; there were reports that they were seen searching for food in trash bins. What were they thinking? Were they, at all, thinking?

This brings me to the larger picture. But before that, this: Anyone who is used to reading my articles through the year, even the last one, is well aware of my sympathy for the Palestinian cause and struggle. My long-held belief in the two-state solution (declared dead here, though, some 8 years ago) is well known, and so is my realization that greater Israel, including the West Bank and the Palestinian-controlled areas, is now a one-state reality on the way to becoming an Apartheid state. And so, while the Palestinian people can feel good about all kinds of achievements since the Nakba of 48 and the war of 67, the two most important demands and wishes on their minds and in their hearts—the right of return and the creation of an independent state—are nowhere close to becoming a reality than they were when they had started their arms struggle.

In other words, if you don’t plan ahead of time—just as the jail-breakers didn’t—why go about pursuing your goals? Just to let off steam? Likewise, why go into two bloody Intifadas, killing scores of innocent bystanders, and suffering many casualties of your own, if you don’t have an ultimate goal at hand? If peace negotiations follow, as it happened in Camp David between Arafat and Barak, why not going in knowing what you are willing to give and compromise about? Just as the case was with Abbas and Netanyahu in the John Kerry’s led peace negotiations. For goodness sake, why go into all this madness of fighting, death, house demolitions, checkpoints and roadblocks, without planning how to achieve the ultimate goal?

Now please, don’t get me wrong here. There is plenty of blame to go around, especially to be leveled squarely against Israel, its leaders and people. As a matter of fact, this blog is mostly dedicated to their faults, misleading policies, and false goals throughout the years following the Six-Day war, which had brought us to the doorstep of an Apartheid Jewish state. Can you even fathom it? I know American Jews cannot, or prefer to look the other way, as they’ve done in the past when it came to Israel’s misdeeds. But today, here and now, it’s all about the Palestinian people. It’s high time for them—unfortunately, it might be too late already—to start planning, and believing, in an achievable outcome.

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