Opinion |

The Great Prison Escape Exposed the Palestinians’ Indifference

Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin
Israeli police examining the exit of the tunnel through which six Palestinians escaped from Gilboa Prison this month.
Israeli police examining the exit of the tunnel through which six Palestinians escaped from Gilboa Prison this month. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / AP
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

Now that all six escapees from Gilboa Prison have been captured, almost without a struggle, bloodshed, an escalation or any other threat that the pundits promised or at least warned about, we can say the main thing to learn from the incident and the reactions is the lack of public interest. This is the case not only among Jewish Israelis but even more importantly among the Palestinians, on both sides of the fence.

Indifference, a lack of interest, passivity and no clear expression of emotion either way prevail, with no major awakening or uproar likely. Even significant demonstrations of support or mass prayer for the fugitives didn’t happen, never mind any security escalation or broad mobilization.

The dramatic event of the escape, of the exposure of the nakedness of the Israeli regime – which the media repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to inflate until it returned to manipulatively reporting on the vaccinations – has vividly demonstrated the Palestinian mindset both in Israel and the West Bank. I mean the mindset not regarding Israel but rather the big Palestinian story of which the significance of the escape and the escapees is a direct derivative.

It’s important to note this indifference and contemplate it with open eyes, listen to it and ask questions about it. Equally, it’s important to note the big gap between the dramatic analyses and predictions that filled the newspapers and studios on the one hand and reality on the other. It’s doubtful a good “experiment” from this event could have thoroughly examined Palestinian society's relationship to the great national narrative and those who represent it. The result: indifference.

Some have already used Marxist class theory to explain the lack of aid for the escapees from Arab Israelis, even before the last two fugitives were caught in nearly absolute quiet in Jenin. But I think that Marx, because of the times and context in which he developed his theory, failed to observe that classes, that is, the strata of “social biology,” shape the individual’s relation to reality only when there is no strong and relevant story or narrative that captures consciousness and blurs this “biology.” Therefore it “fails” even though it was right.

That is, above all, the Palestinian indifference toward the prisoners’ escape illustrates the disintegration of the big story, the national story that animated Palestinian society for so many years. This story, it seems, is no longer really moving the Palestinian collective, it’s not forcing it into action. The deep distrust of the old order is also present here, “the end of the age of politics.”

It’s possible, of course, to object to this conclusion, to dismiss it, but what the great escape has exposed must not be ignored. This indifference is the resounding conclusion, the result of the experiment that contradicts the old paradigm that Palestinian society is still perceived through, and not for the first time.

And it’s possible to provide many explanations – ad hoc – for the gap between the predictions and experience of recent decades and what’s happening now. But as American philosopher Thomas Kuhn wrote in his 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” the attempt to force theory on reality only so as not to acknowledge its disintegration is the biggest possible mistake by those who aim to observe reality properly. Recognition of this gap and many other gaps that are being revealed between the perceptions of the past and events in the present is critical, both on the Israeli-Palestinian plane and in general.

This especially applies to those who recognize the great injustices in the occupation and the need to end it. Only acknowledgment of the irrelevance of the old paradigm – here and in general – will make it possible to forge relevant solutions. The alternative: continued wallowing in the mire.

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