Israel media review

Prison of the absurd: What the press is saying about jailbreaks and test fakes

Pressure builds in Israel as more stories of the jumbles and fumbles that allowed six inmates to escape proliferate, and in the West Bank, as they remain on the loose

Police officers and prison guards stand at the scene of a prison escape of six Palestinian terrorists outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (Flash90)
Police officers and prison guards stand at the scene of a prison escape of six Palestinian terrorists outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

1. Not quite Alcatraz: With six former Palestinian inmates still on the lam, calls for the heads of those who seemingly left the jail door open are amplifying in volume as the tales of Israel’s Mayberry-esque incarceration program come to light.

  • “‘Tried to catch some sleep,’ guards suspected of turning a blind eye,” reads the top front page headline in Israel Hayom.
  • It gets worse, too. Channel 13 news reports that the snoozing guard in a tower near the escape tunnel exit told her commanders that she heard noises, got up but couldn’t see anything, and went back to sleep.
  • “She’s the only guard who could have seen [what was happening] as the guard tower [directly over the escape hole] had been unmanned for a month already,” notes Haaretz’s Josh Breiner on Twitter.
  • Empty? Why yes, as his newspaper reports, the post had been empty at the orders of the prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit due to a manpower shortage. Ynet reports that a camera was pointed at where the inmates emerged, but nobody was watching, in true Keystone Kop fashion.
  • With Public Security Minister Omer Barlev expected to push for a state commission of inquiry, Breiner reports that such a panel will likely “examine a number of failings that facilitated the prisoners’ escape: The six prisoners were housed in the same cell even though they are all from the Jenin area; three were previously deemed at ‘high-risk for escape’; Gilboa Prison has no patrol vehicle that can be used to monitor for suspects and escape attempts; the Prison Service’s intelligence department had obtained information about prisoners planning to escape; the system that blocks the prisoners’ cellphone reception was not fully activated, and the engineering blueprints for the layout of the prison were published on an architecture firm’s website.”
  • Is there more? You betcher hand-rolled cigarettes there is. Army Radio’s Hadash Shteif tweets that the Israel Prisons Service changed its phone numbers a month ago, but never told the police. So when the cops tried to call the prison following reports of the prison break, they didn’t have the number. “So a cop got in a cruiser and drove to the prison gate to ask the guard for the prison number. A movie.”
  • Maybe the prisons service just isn’t up to the one job it has, guarding prisons, asks Kan’s Moshe Steinmetz: “The current IPS leadership, in which six out of seven wardens were promoted just this year by the new prisons chief Katy Perry, are simply lacking experience on a senior management level. Five of the seven were only sub-wardens for a single year before being promoted.”
  • “It’s not easy to join the chorus placing all the blame only on the IPS and its head,” writes former Gilboa prison chief Eli Gabai in Israel Hayom, before, predictably, doing just that. “But the hard-to-swallow truth is that nobody really wants to peer at the complex, microscopic details that go into running a prison. It’s the country’s overgrown, neglected backyard.”

2. Why the uncaged bird stings: While the pundits are sharpening their toothbrushes, the six escapees are managing to evade a literal army trying to hunt them down, while simultaneously helping fire up tensions in the West Bank.

  • “The damage from [how the escape is] perceived is more dangerous than the escapees themselves,” writes Ronen Bergman in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “The situation is not yet spinning out of control, but serves as a sharp reminder of the powerful resonance the prisoner issue has for Palestinians,” notes ToI’s Aaron Boxerman.
  • Haaretz reports that the escape has brought Palestinians together as never before. It seems the prison was themselves all along.
  • “In a situation assessment following the escape, a security source said that currently all of the Palestinian factions and organizations are united in a rare consensus in their support for the escaped prisoners. There had been no prior uniform support for violent demonstrations in Gaza near the Israeli border fence, in which hundreds of civilians were killed, the source noted, and even President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti’s hunger strike in prison a few years ago didn’t command unity of the kind that has emerged with the prisoners’ escape,” the paper reports.
  • That means even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can’t lend a hand, analysts note.
  • “The PA won’t cooperate with Israel on the escaped prisoners via the security coordination mechanism,” former PA prisoners’ minister Ashraf al-Ajami tells Army Radio.
  • Channel 12’s Ohad Hemo gives a view of the Palestinian street from Jenin, where most of the escapees are from. Support for the six in the city under siege is nearly unanimous. “You have 4,200 Zakarias,” one man on the street tells him, referring to Zakaria Zubeidi, considered the ringleader of the slippery six. “I hope they all come out the same way.”

3. Bad checks: In Israel, people are worried about people coming in, specifically Hasidic worshippers returning from Uman, Ukraine, and perhaps carrying some extra luggage, tag# COVID-19.

  • Walla reports that 50 returning pilgrims were carrying COVID, but faked tests showing they were clean. “Criminal proceedings are expected against them. As well, there is the fear that hundreds more sick yet to return could also be carrying faked papers,” it reports.
  • Unnamed sources tell the Ynet website that some pilgrims who had tested positive managed to exit local quarantine hotels before the mandatory ten days isolation was over and, after traveling to Kyiv, were able to obtain forged virus tests in order to board planes back to Israel.
  • Army Radio reports that the state prosecution said it will begin seeking criminal convictions for sick people who break quarantine. “In the past, they were given only a fine, without a criminal record.”
  • As for those who actually want to find out if they have the virus and not just evade authorities, well good luck. Israel Hayom puts a picture of a line of cars snaking around Ashdod for a drive-thru testing center on its front page.
  • “And nobody moved,” snarks Yedioth above its own front-page picture of a line of cars.
  • Channel 12 reports quotes from an unnamed security source saying that the problem is old-fashioned Israeli prison-style poor management.
  • “We expected there would be more people wanting to get checked,” the source says, “but we never got a budget approved to up the number of Homefront Command checker teams from 130 to 150.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed