Mahmoud Al-Arida told the police about an hour after his arrest in Nazareth that he was the architect of the escape from the high-security prison, according to the Times of Israel website.
He explained that “the first goal was to see the family and live in the West Bank under the protection of the Palestinian Authority, and the second was to prove to all the Israeli security services and the Israeli government that they are failures.”
He notes that the fugitives intended to write on the wall of their cell before carrying out the plan, but did not have time to do so.
“I have always had the idea of escaping…I have been planning to escape ever since I was transferred to Gilboa prison. I looked at the ground and realized that I could escape,” the petition said.
The petition revealed to investigators that the digging began on December 14, “with a piece of iron that I took from a small closet that was in the cell a few years ago.”
It took 20 days to dig the tunnel door, and under it was another iron plate, which he removed. His fellow prisoner, Munadel Nafi’at, took over the task of digging 15 cm of concrete.
Excavation work continued for 30 metres, and the main challenge was getting rid of the excess sand.
“First we would empty the sand into the toilet and shower, then we made a small sand room. We made sandbags out of clothes. We dug until we saw sunlight without bars. That’s when we realized we had succeeded.”
The group added another inmate, Zakaria al-Zubaidi, a former leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, to the plan in the hope that his senior position in the Palestinian Authority would help protect them.
The petition says in the investigations that they expedited the implementation of the plan weeks ahead of schedule after bringing a guard to the cell to treat the blockage of the sewage due to sand, which made them believe that they had been exposed.
The group decided to escape later that day, and the first to enter the tunnel was Nafi’at and the last of them was Al-Aridha.
“I waited 15 minutes to make sure no prison guard came close to the cell, and crawled for 10 minutes in complete darkness. I started to see the light and realized I had reached the end of the tunnel. I saw Nafeat outside the hatch calling for me and helping me out,” Al-Arida said.
After getting outside the prison, they mistakenly went to the village of Naura in Israel, where the six entered a local mosque around five in the morning, changed their clothes, arrived and left.
They then decided to divide into three groups.
The escaped prisoner told investigators that bystanders viewed them as illegal workers so they had trouble finding anyone to help them.
“We slept at night in an industrial area near Afula,” he said. “We kept walking towards Nazareth and asked people for food and water. We searched the garbage cans looking for food.”
Near Nazareth, while searching for food in the garbage, Al-Aridha, the oldest of the six detainees after spending 26 years behind bars, and his colleague, Yaqoub Qadri, were arrested after they were noticed by a bystander and called the police.
The following day, the police arrested al-Zubaidi in Jenin refugee camp, along with Muhammad al-Ardah, who had been convicted of life imprisonment for 22 years.
On September 19, the Israeli police announced the arrest of the last two prisoners who escaped from Gilboa Prison in Jenin, after about two weeks of chasing.