The six Palestinian prisoners, heroes of the Freedom Tunnel — Mahmoud al-Ardah, Mohammed al-Ardah, Yaqoub Qadri, Ayham Kamamji, Munadil Nafa’at and Zakaria Zubaidi — were sentenced by an occupation court in Nazareth to an additional five years in prison for their escape from the high-security Gilboa prison in September 2021. They liberated themselves from the prison by digging a tunnel with the use of small materials on hand over a long period of time. Through their daring escape, they inspired Palestinians and people around the world with their ingenuity and willingness to sacrifice for freedom, and exposed the myth of the impenetrable Israeli occupation security systems. The symbol of the metal spoon — one of the implements used to dig the tunnel — has become a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness, creativity and unbreakable will to freedom.
After they were seized again by occupation forces, the six have been subjected to torture, physical abuse and solitary confinement, which was confronted by mass protests of the prisoners’ movement as a whole. All six were today ordered to 5 additional years of imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 NIS ($1488 USD), in addition to an 8-month additional suspended sentence for a period of three years.
This comes in addition to the imposition of four-year sentences on Mohammed Abu Bakr, Iyad Jaradat, Ali Abu Bakr, Mahmoud Shreim and Qusai Marei for assisting their fellow Palestinian prisoners.
In response to the sentences, Yaqoub Qadri affirmed: “We do not care what the sentence is. The important thing is that we made the impossible possible; we were able to break through the Israeli security services and dealt a blow. We were able to achieve something that was unthinkable for Israel and its security mechanisms.”
Even the judge in the court essentially affirmed Qadri’s comments that the sentence is a form of revenge for exposing the fragility of colonial domination in Palestine, noting that their self-liberation, “paralyzed the nation for days” and caused large financial expenditures, imposing additional costs on the occupation.
The sentence came only a week after occupation forces killed Daoud al-Zubaidi, Zakaria Zubaidi’s brother, a former Palestinian prisoner and a longtime struggler of the Palestinian resistance in Jenin. Occupation forces have repeatedly invaded Jenin refugee camp in an attempt to suppress the growing resistance movement there; it was in one such raid where the occupation military assassinated beloved Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh.
The Palestinian resistance has affirmed that the six Freedom Tunnel heroes are a priority in any prisoner exchange agreement with the occupation, as symbols of freedom to the Palestinian people.
The six heroes of the Freedom Tunnel are:
- Mahmoud Abdullah al-Ardah, 46 years old and born in 1975 in Arraba, Jenin, has been imprisoned since 21 September 1996. A struggler in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, he is already sentenced to 99 years in occupation prisons. He has been involved in multiple attempts to liberate himself and his fellow Palestinian prisoners from colonial imprisonment.
- Mohammed Qasem al-Ardah, 39 years old, from Arraba, Jenin, who has been imprisoned since 14 May 2002. A struggler with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, he is already sentenced to 3 life sentences and 20 years in occupation prisons.
- Ayham Fouad Kamamji, 35 years old, from Kufr Dan, Jenin, and a struggler in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement has been detained in the occupation prisons since 2006 and sentenced to two life sentences.
- Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri, 49 years old, from Bir al-Basha, Jenin, a struggler in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, is sentenced to life imprisonment and 35 years.
- Munadil Yaqoub Nafa’at, 26 years old, from Ya’bad, Jenin, has been detained since 2019 and has not yet been sentenced by the occupation military courts.
- Zakaria Mohammed Zubaidi, 46, from Jenin refugee camp, has been detained since 2019 and has not been sentenced by the occupation military courts. He was previously a senior leader in Fateh’s resistance organization in Jenin, seized again in 2019 in another attempt to suppress the Palestinian resistance in Jenin.
In their messages through lawyers, statements, and shouted greetings from occupation courts suppressed by armed guards, all six have repeatedly affirmed their commitment to the path of resistance and liberation for Palestine and the region, refusing to back down from their clear positions despite the risk to themselves.
The rearrest and additional sentencing of the six self-liberated prisoners has only further intensified the light of liberation that they represent for humanity or to lessen the blow they have dealt to the mirage of Israeli invincibility and security control. They reflect the unbreakable Palestinian will to live, struggle and thrive in the most seemingly impossible circumstances.
The Freedom Tunnel and the six heroes of the self-liberation operation represent the irrepressible hope of freedom and commitment to liberation that no amount of militarized repression and Zionist colonization has suppressed, for over 74 years. The actions of this “Freedom Brigade” are not only a symbol of hope for Palestinians but also for everyone in the world who seeks justice and freedom.
Building on the experiences of Palestinian prisoners who liberated themselves in the past, they exposed the crumbling edifices of the Israeli occupation and forced them to waste tens of millions of dollars in their massive manhunt. Their bravery and commitment to freedom is celebrated throughout Palestine, from the river to the sea, and everywhere around the world. Spoons – symbols of the rusty kitchen tools they used to dig their way to liberation – have come to represent the irrepressible drive to freedom. Their capture by the Israeli occupation does nothing to dim the light of their heroism and the inspiration they provide for the future of the liberation struggle.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network emphasizes and amplifies the call of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement to stand with the Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people today to demand justice and liberation for Palestine, from the river to the sea.