A foreign visitor who happened to wander through Gaza City on September 6 would have wondered why residents were celebrating in the streets like it was New Year’s Eve. The answer: Six Palestinians who had been serving life sentences in the northern Israeli prison called Gilboa had dug a tunnel with nothing more than a rusty spoon and escaped to freedom! Aided by helicopters, Israeli police immediately canvassed the area, but it is believed all six prisoners succeeded in reaching the West Bank.
When you live under occupation, with so many aspects of your life controlled by an occupying power, even just bothering your oppressor is a cause for joy. Imagine: Seventy-three years of displacement. Fifteen years of blockade. Four wars (2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021). Do you wonder why we thirst for payback, large or small?
Moments of victory that unite us
When I was a kid, I remember these small victories as times when the streets filled with people shooting rounds of bullets into the sky. As one example, before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to the 1967 Green Line, I visited the beach a few times but had to stop at four Israeli checkpoints to be able to do so. The majority of Gaza residents were deprived of reaching the ocean at all.
I remember the joy we felt once the Israelis were forced to leave and we were restored a piece of our land and freedom. It was one of the best moments of my life, feeling proud to be a Palestinian, proud that we forced Israel to leave so we could live with peace and dignity. All people, including those of different political beliefs, were dancing the Dabka in the streets and shooting in the sky to celebrate Israel’s withdrawal. Despite the fact that the withdrawal was just part of the plan to blockade Gaza and convert it into an open-air prison, that moment of liberation is still one of the best in my life. We have many divisions in Palestinian society, but it is times such as this that unite us.
So when the six prisoners liberated themselves, the people thronging the streets of Gaza literally broke into tears of laughter and people freely handed out sweets to passersby. On social media, the escapade was widely labeled the Gilboa Prison Break, reminiscent of the TV series “Prison Break” (2005-2017). Soon, there were calls for creating a TV series called “Gilboa Prison Break,” which we’re sure would win an Emmy. Others called the escape “The Gilboa Redemption,” after the legendary film, “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994). This exploit also mirrors closely the true story of a tunnel escape out of a Nazi prison camp, made into the film “The Great Escape” (1963).
Joy, if only for a brief moment
“Son, this is hilarious,” an older man remarked to me in a taxi on the way to work. “(The Israelis) are being funded by the U.S. and supported by almost every country around the world as they occupy our lands and take away our rights. Yet still, they fail so spectacularly.”
“But why are you feeling joy?” I responded. “The prisoners most likely will be detained by the Palestinian Authority. Just like many times before, our own forces will act like Israel’s policemen and deliver the prisoners on a golden plate to our oppressor. Don't you think so?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I know they might even die at the hands of the Palestinian Authority. I’m sure they realize that might be their fate better than any of us.”
Still. Even for a brief moment, we taste dignity, independence, self-determination.
And besides… nothing else seems to work, even for a little while. We’ve protested along the border at the Great Return March 2018. We’ve leveraged international law through the International Criminal Court. We’ve taken our case to the United Nations. And we get nowhere. The threat of being labeled “anti-semitic” has a weight no other action can seem to overpower.
We all yearn to escape. The prisoners had the bravery, the audacity, the belief in themselves to DO it. Celebrate!