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Ashrawi: Gilboa jailbreak shows Palestinian spirit, yearning for freedom

Palestinian politician and activist Hanan Ashrawi speaks in the occupied West Bank, Feb. 3, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The dramatic escape of six Palestinian prisoners from a notorious Israeli jail proves that even high-security detention centers of the regime are “not immune to the Palestinian spirit and yearning to be free”, Hanan Ashrawi says.

The noted Palestinian politician, activist and scholar made these remarks in an exclusive, freewheeling interview with Press TV on Sunday.

Ashrawi, who served as spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the Israeli-Palestinian talks in early 1990s, said “self-liberated prisoners” have captured the imagination of Palestinians and boosted their morale in continuing the struggle for the liberation of occupied territories.

She said all Palestinians “united in defending and supporting” the prisoners and “expressed a sense of solidarity” and the “yearning to be free” of the Israeli occupation.

“There are different types of captivities but all of Palestine is being held captive by Israel,” she said, while hailing the heroic escape of the six Gilboa Prison inmates.

In the wee hours of the morning on Sept. 6, Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and five Islamic Jihad resistance movement members, pulled off a daring jailbreak from the high-security prison after digging a tunnel through their cell’s drainage system.

The incident came as a huge embarrassment to the regime in Tel Aviv, even as it brought cheer to Palestinians who hailed them as heroes in the struggle for Palestinian statehood.

Following a massive manhunt to nab the fleeing prisoners, the last two men who were still at large were arrested by the Israeli regime police on Sunday, ten days after the escape.

‘Excuses’ to cover up embarrassment

Commenting on “excuses” to cover up the embarrassment, Ashrawi said it is “typical” of the Israeli regime to try to “diminish the achievements of Palestinians” resisting the illegal occupation of their land and resources.  

She said the regime disregards the fact that there is “total dedication and commitment to achieve the freedom, to see their families,” while quoting one prisoner saying that “smelling the fresh air of Palestine for five days is equal to lifetime in prison.”

“This is the kind of undefeated spirit of the Palestinian people and (it is) not consistent with the Israeli narrative and misrepresentation of Palestinians,” Ashrawi remarked, adding that the Tel Aviv regime had historically labeled all Palestinians as “terrorists”, but the truth is coming out now.

“Palestinian resistance is ongoing, it has never stopped,” she asserted. “The question is what shape it takes, and what expression does it adopt. It is basically embedded in the Palestinian people’s refusal to surrender.”

Prisoner swap deal

Endorsing the demand made by the Hamas resistance group, Ashrawi said the six prisoners and others like Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat must be part of any future prisoner swap deal between the two sides.

“The six (prisoners) deserve to be free; in fact all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons unlawfully and unjustly deserve to be free,” she said.

Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya announced on Friday that the six Palestinians who escaped from Gilboa Prison would be the priority in any potential prisoner swap with Israel.

Addressing people in Gaza, al-Hayya said the movement is “working hard to liberate all the Palestinian prisoners”, which he said is a “debt that we have sought to pay for a long time."

“Freedom Tunnel Operation is a slap to all those who bet on peace and reconciliation with the Israeli occupation,” he said. “This operation tells the occupation that we are not numbers, but lions preparing for the day of freedom.”

Attempts to malign resistance

Ashrawi, a former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member, rejected the report published in Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar that the Palestinian Authority had agreed to help Israelis catch the runaway prisoners in lieu of improving prison conditions.

“No Palestinian can do that, everybody expressed solidarity with them and those still in the Israeli prisons and they maintain that commitment,” Ashrawi said, pointing to attempts by the Israeli regime to sow seeds of discord among different political groups in Palestine.

“Israel has been trying to distort and malign the Palestinian struggle,” she said, adding that the regime has arrested over a million people since 1967 and killed more than 75,000.

She said the Israeli regime has used “all possible means” including utter lawlessness and violence against a captive population in Palestine.

Cruel treatment of prisoners

Ashrawi also denounced the way the prisoners were treated after being caught, which she said is the “nature of the Israeli occupation and settler colonialism based on pure and unadulterated racism, Islamaphobia, denial of humanity”.

On the condition of Zubeidi, who was reportedly tortured after being detained again, the activist said he has been held for years without trial, as no evidence could be found against him.

“This administrative detention is just horrific. Punishing someone for no reason is part of the Israeli mindset and occupation. The story of Zakaria must be told and must be understood in its context,” she said.

“Liberation is a fundamental right. We all have a right to live with freedom and dignity on our own land, right to exercise the fullness of our humanity. In terms of the struggle, it continues in different shapes and forms,” Ashrawi said.

On the so-called ‘Abraham Accords’, she said it is a “cynical manipulation” of a situation in which the conflict is perpetuated with the “complicity and collusion of some Arab regimes” that were either “blackmailed or bribed into normalizing” with Israeli regime, which she maintained amounts to “normalizing the occupation, injustice and lawlessness.”

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