Palestinian Inmates Began Work on Tunnel in November, and Dug Using Sharpened Pan Handles

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Gilboa prison near the escape site.
Gilboa prison near the escape site.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Israeli investigators have discovered that a prisoner who was due to join the prison break backed out at the last moment, and was apparently replaced by another prisoner who did escape.

The reluctant prisoner is said to have made the decision just hours before prison cells at the facility were locked for the night. The group plotting the escape then approached other inmates to take his place. It appears that the replacement prisoner was Iham Kamamji, who until the eve of the breakout had been living in another cell and, like a prominent member of the group, Zakaria Zubeidi, joined the others in their cell just prior to the breakout.

The probe into the jailbreak at the Gilboa prison last week has revealed that the work on the tunnel under a cell from which six prisoners escaped began in November and December of last year and that roughly 11 prisoners were in on the plot, with six of them breaking out. Since the jailbreak four of the six escaped inmates have been captured.

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The tunnel was dug using pan handles and dishes that the prisoners sharpened on the edges to fashion improvised shovels. The soil was stashed in sewer pipes, trash cans and in hollow shafts in their showers.

The police investigation has also found that although procedure requires that guards check the prison cells every half hour at night to verify that the inmates are in their cells, on the night in question and on several nights before that, the guards simply walked through the corridors and left.

The prisoner who opted out did so because he had been due to be released soon and saw no reason to take the risk of escaping, investigators said.

Kamamji is one of two prisoners who remain at large. He is believed to still be somewhere in Israel rather than the West Bank or elsewhere.

So far, the police have questioned about 30 people in their investigation, including guards, working prisoners and civilians with access to the prison.

Iham Kamamji

Despite the knowledge that the other prisoners had of the plot, word of it never reached the Israel Prison Service intelligence team. Police believe that there were prisoners who did not join in the escape who helped dig the escape tunnel under the prison cell, in part by secretly disposing of the soil that was excavated. The matter is still being investigated.

As of Tuesday morning, it appeared that the police had made no progress in finding Kamamji. The manhunt is currently focused between the towns of Iksal and Afula in the Jezreel Valley of the north. It is possible that Kamamji managed to enter the West Bank, but police say they have found no indications of that, and the working assumption is that he remains in Israel proper.

On the other hand, the other prisoner still at large, Monadal Infiat, is believed to be in the Jenin area of the northern West Bank. Police have evidence that he crossed the separation barrier through a breach used by Palestinians who enter Israel illegally.

Mounted police in search of the two missing prisoners on Monday.Credit: גיל אליהו

In another development in the case, a member of the Gilboa prison staff was questioned on Monday on suspicion of obstruction of justice. Police believe that he urged inmates at the prison to mislead investigators regarding the repeated need for a pump truck that had been brought in to unclog a blocked sewer line. Investigators suspect that the staffer, who was responsible for prison maintenance, needed to repeatedly order the truck over the past six months due to a drain that was being blocked by soil removed from the escape tunnel.

Investigators have been told that inmates had informed the prison employee that the repeated need for the truck was suspicious, but that he had failed to report the tip to his superiors. Following the breakout, the staff person is suspected of telling inmates not to disclose that he had received the tip.

The prison employee has denied the allegations but has been ordered not to report to work for seven days.

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