Much worse than Chelm

It is tempting to view the Gilboa jailbreak as a tale from Chelm. But the negligence that allowed six top murderers to escape exposes abysmal political-conceptual dysfunction: The desperate desire to “avoid escalation” and not wanting “to heat things up.”

Published in The Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2021; and Israel Hayom, September 19, 2021. Print-friendly copy

Image from Pixabay

Did you know that in Israel’s maximum-security prisons, where the worst Palestinian terrorist murderers are held for life, the inmates often get to choose their own cell mates and cell blocks? They organize themselves by terrorist faction and terrorist sub-grouping, all the better to keep active in directing the Palestinian struggle against Israel.

Did you know that in Israel’s maximum-security prisons the worst Palestinian terrorist murderers are treated like prosperous mafia bosses, by fellow inmates and prison wardens alike? The Israeli jailers negotiate every item of the prison calendar and prison procedures with them. The terrorists run the jails more than the jailers.

Did you know that Israel allows the worst Palestinian terrorist murderers to be visited daily by a parade of lawyers, NGO leaders, and Palestinian politicians/terrorist sympathizers – many of whom serve as conduits for operational planning outside the jails? The terrorists sit from 8 am to 5 pm in the prison yards, holding court surrounded by several trusted associates/bodyguards.

Did you know that Israeli troops provide military escorts for the dozens of minibuses that daily bring the families of Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank to visit their terrorist men in jail in Israel?

Did you know that Palestinian terrorist prisoners are allowed to hold bank accounts and receive funds from the Palestinian Authority and sympathetic NGOs? Did you know that then they are allowed to order-in personalized menus of meat, fish, and other goodies, especially at holiday times, and cook in their own cells, and then celebrate with group dinners (haflot)?

Some prisoners, the terrorist leaders, have tens of thousands of shekels in their accounts. These funds are used to buy prisoner loyalty or silence. Basically, the terrorists manage quasi-political/military empires from their cell blocks.

Did you know that these murderers have the right to watch dozens of television channels in their cells, and that they purposefully keep the lights and showers running all day and night to waste Israeli resources? And would it surprise you to know that when Israeli officials once tried to limit TV channels and the supply of water, the Israeli Supreme Court stepped-in to ensure unlimited Palestinian prisoner rights?

Did you know that the last Israeli public security minister to try to crackdown on this outrageous situation, Gilad Erdan, was stymied by then-prime minister Netanyahu, then-defense minister Naftali Bennett, and some Israel Prison Service (IPS) and General Security Service (GSS) officials?

Erdan wanted to throw an electronic cyber-blanket over prisons to jam illegal cellphone communications. (The IPS admits that it has failed miserably to prevent the smuggling-in of cellphones.)

But Netanyahu, Bennett, the jailers, and the GSS officials feared severe prison unrest. Israeli leaders preferred to “buy quiet,” to ensure calm accommodation with the terrorists in jail and with their supporters outside the jails (which includes the entire leadership of the Palestinian Authority).

They knew better than to “heat things up” by attempting to roll-back terrorist entitlements. Such “infringement” on prisoner perks could only lead to riots and hunger strikes, and corresponding demonstrations in the West Bank.

Which is exactly what has happened over the past ten days following the Gilboa jailbreak as the IPS belatedly has tried to crackdown on prisoner autonomy. The terrorists burned jail cells in the Ketziot and Rimon prisons, and prisoner leaders issued a press release threatening to attack their jailers in the Gilboa and Shita prisons. (Yes, the terrorists have “representatives” and union-like organizations with professional spokespeople.) Islamic Jihad prisoners have “refused to cooperate” (!) with the prison service commissioner’s decision to transfer terrorists between prison wings and to other jails.

And note: There are supposedly 1,400 Palestinian inmates going today on a hunger strike, too. But no Palestinian hunger striker has died in recent decades. Either they cheat and eat secretly, as Marwan Barghouti was caught doing in 2017, or Israel gives into their demands long before death nears.

IT IS TEMPTING to view the jailbreak as a tale from Chelm (the apocryphal Polish Jewish town that was populated by simpletons). But the clumsiness and/or negligence that allowed six top murderers to escape (which apparently stems from widespread nepotism in the prison service and an ingrained culture of whitewashing) is a surface or tactical problem.

Much worse than “Chelm” is the deep political-conceptual dysfunction exposed by the jailbreak; the discrepant concept of “avoiding escalation” and not wanting “to heat things up.”

The desperate desire to “avoid escalation” explains why Israeli leaders have allowed Palestinian terrorist prisoners to become masters of their own jails.

It explains Israel’s hesitancy to crush the radical Islamic movements that have seized control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and turned it into a warzone for regularly confronting Israel.

It explains the Israel Police’s decades-long failure to crackdown on the gun-and-drug-running Israeli Arab crime families that are the root cause of wildly escalating domestic violence in the Israeli Arab sector and who were largely responsible for the broadscale rioting in mixed Arab-Jewish towns several months ago.

It explains why the police failed to respond rapidly and aggressively to those riots, leading to many casualties and acerbating Arab-Jewish fissures in Israel that will take decades to repair.

It explains why the current and previous Israeli governments have allowed Hamas and Islamic Jihad to fire into Israel a few rockets a week more-or-less-regularly, making life hell for residents of Israel’s south.

It explains why Israel has allowed Hezbollah to stockpile in Lebanon thousands of rockets aimed at Israel. It explains why Israel mainly is on the defensive in Judea and Samaria, instead of taking the offensive.

Why? Because Israel prefers to “avoid escalation” and “not heat things up.”

As former IDF Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen repeatedly has warned, Israel has become too accustomed to the pursuit of day-to-day quiet as a strategic choice. “Israelis do not want to admit that we are in a constant state of war with our enemies. We prefer to indulge in our pleasures as if we are in Scandinavia, and to ignore Israel’s non-stop confrontation with determined enemies committed to Israel’s destruction.”

Hacohen: “Even the leaders of Israel’s defense establishment have surrendered to the overarching desire to simply avoid friction and escalation. They have forgotten that without constant friction, and without striving for friction with the enemy, Israel and the IDF cannot but degenerate operationally and lose their very raison d’être.”

Alas, it indeed seems that Israel prefers the illusion that its enemies can be deterred by defensive strength alone (through platforms like Iron Dome); or by pinprick strikes on (usually empty) enemy training grounds and weapons depots; or by sporadic and slack spot-checks in what are supposed to be maximum-security prison cells where hardened terrorists are neutered, not pampered.

Perhaps the shocking jailbreak will serve as an advisory that Israel’s security doctrine needs refreshing.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

Accessibility Toolbar