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Friday, October 15, 2021

Rwanda’s response to COVID-19 brings out the need to prepare and learn from practice

Wash your hands, wear your face mask and practice physical distancing. These COVID-19 safety measures by the World Health Organization (WHO) will probably go down in the World’s history as the most repeated and translated words of the year 2020.  Since December 2019, COVID-19 has imposed itself onto the World forcing everyone to rethink the…
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    My Word: The Gilboa prison escape doesn’t rock

    I don’t like violent movies in general but for two reasons I’m pleased I have seen The Shawshank Redemption. Firstly, it is a compelling and thought-provoking movie based on a Stephen King book and secondly, it would be hard to follow the references in the Israeli media in recent days without having seen the film. For the uninitiated, The Shawshank Redemption stars banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to a double life sentence in Shawshank, a particularly brutal penitentiary. Eventually, he uses his brains to work as a financial adviser to most of the prison guards. Spoiler alert: an amateur geologist with a lot of time on his hands, he patiently digs a tunnel from behind a wall poster in his cell using a small rock hammer. 

    The movie’s name came up repeatedly in coverage of last week’s Gilboa Prison breakout. Unfortunately, although the Gilboa story seems to lend itself to a movie, the more details are released, the more it seems to suit the genre of cinematic farce – except it isn’t funny.

    The list of failings that allowed six Palestinian security prisoners to escape overnight on September 6, the eve of the Jewish New Year, is long and finally being taken seriously – bolting the door after the proverbial horses left the barn. 

    Zakaria Zubeidi, Yakoub Mohammed Qadri, brothers Mahmoud and Mohammed Ardah, and Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kahamji (who remain at large at the time of writing) did not have as much work to do as the Hollywood hero. They removed a metal plate from the floor in the toilet and shower in their cell and were above the hollow passages that run underneath the hastily built facility. A similar method was used in a thwarted escape in nearby Shatta Prison in 2014, after which concrete was meant to have been poured into the possible escape routes. What’s the point of putting a prisoner behind bars, under lock and key, if they can lift a floor tile to find a passage out? And the practice of placing security prisoners in jails very close to their hometown (in this case, Jenin) should also be reviewed. To hell with the convenience of visiting relatives.

    In other reported details, a prison guard was seen sleeping, the watchtowers weren’t all manned, the prison had changed its switchboard number without informing the police –  who had difficulty contacting the facility when concerned citizens reported suspicious characters near the prison in the middle of the night – and the prison staff apparently did not initially realize how many inmates had escaped. 

    Strangely, Zubeidi, a prominent leader in Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and an icon of the Second Intifada, had reportedly only the previous day asked to move to the cell with prisoners from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a request that should have triggered some warning signals preempting the prison escape siren. Oh, and several of the escapees were clearly listed as high-risk and should have been under constant monitoring. Instead, the extent to which the Palestinian security prisoners were allowed to largely conduct their own affairs, in return for keeping the peace within the prison walls, is becoming painfully apparent.

    Zakariya Zubeidi, then-leader of the al-Aqsa martyrs brigades looks on during a demonstration supporting Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank city of Jenin, February 10, 2005 (credit: REUTERS/SAEED DAHLAN)Zakariya Zubeidi, then-leader of the al-Aqsa martyrs brigades looks on during a demonstration supporting Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank city of Jenin, February 10, 2005 (credit: REUTERS/SAEED DAHLAN)

    That four of the six were relatively swiftly apprehended, with the help of Arab-Israelis who did not want them in their neighborhoods, is small consolation. 

    Hamas, PIJ and the Palestinian Authority all portrayed the escapees as heroic fugitives. It was an image that was reflected around the world, a world that still wants to watch movies about bold prison breakouts rather than internalize who the fugitives are. 

    Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as its name clearly states, is not an Arab version of Israel’s Peace Now movement. Zubeidi and his PIJ buddies have blood on their hands, splattered in many heinous terror attacks. Instead of referring to them as “security prisoners,” call them “jailed terrorists.” (The charismatic Zubeidi, who received an amnesty in 2007 after promising to give up terror, was rearrested in 2019 and faces charges of plotting more attacks.)

    The terrorists didn’t escape like white-collar criminals in the film world in the hope of creating a new clean life settling down in a suburb with a spouse and family. There is no sign of remorse for their original acts of brutal terrorism and every sign that that’s a path they intend to continue walking down.

    The Palestinian response to the escape was close to euphoric; the recapture of (most of the) prisoners in contrast caused despondency and threats. 

    In game theory, The Prisoner’s Dilemma involves a situation in which two people, held separately without a means of communication, must each decide what is their best option: keeping quiet or ratting on their partner. In the classic version, if both keep quiet, each gets a brief sentence. But if one betrays the other, that one goes free while the other receives a long sentence. If both betray the other, they both receive a medium sentence. “As a united pair, players do better if they both keep shtum [quiet],” as New Scientist sums it up.

    Israel seems to have its own version of the game, one in which the prisoners receive benefits such as academic studies, cooking their own food to their own taste, televisions and phone access that gives the phrase “cell phones” a new meaning. In return they are meant to keep prisons calm.

    In 2018, then-public security minister Gilad Erdan caused an uproar when he announced a cruel and unusual punishment, threatening to refuse to let Hamas prisoners watch the World Cup while the terrorist organization continues to hold Israelis captive in Gaza.

    The following year, Erdan adopted recommendations of a committee downgrading the rights of “security prisoners,” noting there should be a difference in the treatment of jailed criminals and terrorists: “When security prisoners are involved, one of the main goals of the imprisonment – rehabilitation – does not exist, since these are prisoners imbued with terrorist ideology who do not regret their actions at all.”

    The dust was swiftly shaken off Erdan’s never implemented recommendations for restudy this week, more than two years too late. 

    Throughout the week, following the recapture of some of the terrorists, Hamas or PIJ sporadically launched rockets on Israel, there were rallies of protest, attempted prison riots and several stabbing attacks. Hamas, PIJ and other Palestinian factions called for a Day of Rage – although it’s hard to tell what date isn’t a Day of Rage recently.

    As The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh noted, a PA official warned “Israel is playing with fire” and said “repressive” measures against the prisoners could ignite a new intifada. And this is the crunch. The ramifications and impact of the Gilboa jailbreak are being felt way beyond the confines of the prison’s walls. Just the threat of a prisoner hunger strike is enough to cause agitation on the Palestinian street in PA territories and Gaza. This has to stop. It can’t be that the terrorists continue to call the shots from behind bars. When some prisoners set their cells on fire in protest of their downgraded conditions this week (a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one) it’s likely that the matches used to cook their home-away-from-home food in their cells provided the spark.

    The Palestinians turn their terrorist martyrs into saints and their prisoners into role models. It does not bode well for anyone. 

    The escape comes on the heels of the murder of Border Policeman Barel Hadaria Shmueli by a Palestinian who was able to shoot him point-blank through a crack in the Gaza border fence where he was positioned during a violent rally. It also follows the tension of the May mini-war in Gaza in which Hamas managed to brand their attacks as “protecting al Aqsa” and Jerusalem. 

    The failings that led to the Gilboa breakout point to ineptitude if not criminal stupidity on the part of the Israel Prison Service. The establishment of a commission of inquiry is a positive step but if the findings are not acted upon it will be worth nothing.

    The loss of deterrence is a dangerous aspect of the jailbreak that should not be overlooked. The belated sirens following the Gilboa prison break should serve as an alarm.

    There should be no get-out-of-jail free cards for terrorists. This is the real world, not a movie and not a game. 

    liat@jpost.com

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