West Bank Palestinians Surprised as Jailbreakers' Manhunt Ends in Relative Ease

Jenin residents were surprised by the quiet arrest, but fellow prisoner say the fugitives became overly confident and careless

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Israeli security forces during the manhunt for escaped Palestinian prisoners
Israeli security forces during the manhunt for escaped Palestinian prisoners Credit: Rami Shllush
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Residents of Jenin are used to waking up at night to the sound of shooting and explosions when an arrest takes place in their city or in the adjacent refugee camp. But on Sundayת they slept soundly through the night only to be wakened by the surprising news that two prisoners who escaped from Gilboa Prison were arrested in the city – with barely any resistance.

Many in the West Bank were afraid during the past two weeks that they would be forced to bear the consequences of the escape of the prisoners, with Israeli security forces holding extensive searches for them. The same was true in Jenin. Since the escape there has been intensive movement of Israeli security forces on the perimeter of the city and in the surrounding villages.

In recent days residents reported that forces in the city and the refugee camp had been reinforced and that activity in the area had intensified. “During the night, military vehicles entered from several directions, so that it was difficult to understand where they would focus their activity. It was clear there was an incident, but we didn’t know exactly where,” said a relative of Iham Kahamji, one of the prisoners who was recaptured on Sunday.

Kahamji and fellow prisoner Munadil Nafayat hid together in a house in the city during the past few days, according to security service sources. After receiving intelligence about the location of the two men, forces advanced toward the refugee camp and through the main roads leading to the safe house to prevent any interference with the arrest. Police Anti-Terror Unit forces, known as Yamam, surrounded the house, and the prisoners surrendered without confrontation.

Israeli security forces during manhunt for escaped Palestinian prisonersCredit: Gil Eliahu

On Sunday, Iham’s father, Fuad Kahamji, said in an interview with Al-Shams Radio that his son had contacted him at around 2 A.M. Kahamji told his father that he decided to hand himself over in order to prevent an attack against the residents of the house. “I was stunned that he was in Jenin. I thought he was already in Gaza or in Lebanon after two weeks. But it’s his decision and I respect it,” he said.

Many Palestinians came to the prisoners’ homes on Sunday morning to show their support; some raised questions about the prisoners’ actions after the escape. A relative of Kahamji said that one of the questions bothering many in Jenin is why the prisoners did not flee to the refugee camp. Located just a few minutes’ drive from the place where they were hiding, the camp would have been a safer location for them.

The arrest of the prisoners became the news of the day in Gilboa Prison, too. Prisoners within the jail and activists outside came to the conclusion that the clue that led to the arrest came when the fugitives reached out to their families. “That’s the information that was gathered among the prisoners, including the prisoners’ leadership,” said an activist who spoke to inmates in the jail in the past hours. “It’s known that there’s external communication, and they heard from several sources that in the past week the two men, Nafayat in particular, were careless and made several phone calls to immediate family members, including brothers and cousins. It was clear that using electronics would be a way to trap them, and they fell for it. It seems the fact that they were already in the Jenin area and a week to 10 days had passed since they escaped, made them overconfident.”

Protesters supporting the escaped Palestinian prisoners, Nazareth.Credit: Rami Shllush

A high-ranking member of Hamas said on Sunday that “the capture of the two prisoners does not affect the morale and determination of the Palestinians to free the prisoners and turns the prisoners issue into a top-priority strategic matter.”

The Gaza Prisoner’s Association released an initial statement saying that the capture of the six escapees does not negate the importance of their jailbreak. The Islamic Jihad in Jenin has yet to comment on the reports.

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