Shock and pride: Palestinians react to re-arrest of ‘heroes'

© Provided by Al Jazeera Demonstrators take part in a protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

Ramallah, Occupied West Bank –  Residents of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank say they are shocked over the news of Israeli occupation forces rearresting the last two Palestinian detainees who broke out of prison earlier this month.

The two – Ayham Kamamji, 35, and Munadel Infai’at, 26 – were among six Palestinian prisoners who fled Gilboa prison at dawn on September 6.

The men uncovered a point in their cell’s toilet that led to an underground cavity, where they dug a tunnel that opened up a few metres beyond the prison wall.

Following a two-week massive manhunt, an Israeli military raid on Jenin city in the northern West Bank saw Kamamji and Infai’at turn themselves in after Israeli occupation forces surrounded them while they were taking shelter in a residential building.

The other four prisoners – Mahmoud al-Ardah, Mohammad al-Ardah, Yaqoub Qadri, and Zakaria al-Zubaidi – were rearrested in pairs on September 10 and 11 near Nazareth in the north.

Palestinians, who see detainees in Israeli jails as political prisoners in the struggle for liberation, widely celebrated the prison break, and viewed it as a triumph over the occupying state. News of the arrests of the last two prisoners reigned in sentiments of shock and sadness.

Al Jazeera spoke to Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah, most of whom said they expected that the last two – Kamamji and Infai’at – were safe, particularly as two weeks had passed since they broke out.

“I expected that they had left the country,” Basman Barakat, a mini supermarket owner, told Al Jazeera, describing their rearrest as a “naksa” or “setback” in Arabic, in reference to the 1967 Middle East war.

“Everyone is surprised. They needed to have planned better. We don’t know what happened with them,” the 40-year-old continued.

“It would have been better if they had managed to see their families before being re-arrested, but they didn’t – they didn’t get to enjoy the exit they made,” added Barakat.

Similarly, Yusra Abed, 60, said she was deeply upset over the developments, and connected with the prisoners as though they were her children.

“I am in shock – I cried a lot. I expected that they had made it out of the country by now – to Lebanon, to Gaza – anything but being caught,” said Abed.

“I think the Palestinian people should rise up for these prisoners. If a protest is announced for them, I will be the first one there,” she continued, describing the six as “heroes”.

“They are defending Palestine. Why else would they be in prison?”

Vegetable vendor Mohammad Absa, 48, pointed out the rearrest of the last two prisoners, in Jenin, made the news more shocking.

“The first four were in Israeli areas – any Israeli would have informed on them – but that they were arrested in Jenin. Everyone is very upset,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Almost 15 days had passed – we thought they had help and had left the country,” added Absa.

‘Prisoners are our pride’ 

Before breaking out of the prison, four of the six prisoners had been serving life sentences, while two were being held in detention awaiting military trial.

Those sentenced were arrested between 1996 and 2006 and had been convicted of carrying out attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. Five of them are affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, while one is a senior member of the armed wing of Fatah, a group that dominates the Palestinian Authority.

The six prisoners are now being held at the Jalama Detention Center near Haifa, undergoing interrogation and facing trial. Their lawyers said they have been exposed to physical and mental abuse, and in some cases torture, by Israeli interrogators.

Kamamji and Infai’at appeared separately at the Nazareth Magistrate Court on Sunday, which extended their detention by 10 days, according to their lawyers. The other four prisoners also separately appeared before the court on Sunday, which extended their detention for the second time.

Despite the rearrest of the six, Palestinians on the ground say they remain thrilled over what the six prisoners managed to do.

Reem Shehadeh, a 20-year-old university finance student, said it is “beautiful that they managed to get to Jenin” in reference to Kamamji and Infai’at.

“Prisoners are our pride, and what they did makes us proud,” she told Al Jazeera. “When they were rearrested, my family and I were all depressed, but at the end of the day, what they did is proof that liberation is assured, and hopefully they will get out in an exchange deal.”

The Palestinian movement that administers the Gaza Strip, Hamas, has said in recent days that it is working on a prisoner exchange agreement that would place the six prisoners at the top of the list.

Arwa Hamayel, 50, described the prison break as a “miracle”.

“Are they expected to spend their whole lives in prison? They raised our heads high – what they did was brave,” she told Al Jazeera.

Similarly, Absa, the vegetable vendor, said, “Even if they were caught, they did more than what anyone could have imagined.”

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