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Mahmoud al-Ardah is the emir of Islamic Jihad prisoners in Israeli prisons and the hero of the "Freedom Tunnel" operation. Born in 1975, he was arrested twice, the second time he was sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 years, and tried to escape from prison several times, most recently in September 2021.

He was re-arrested four days after the escape and subjected to a rigorous interrogation in which he admitted full responsibility for planning and carrying out the operation without outside support. He was tried and his years of detention were added to another 4 years.

Birth and upbringing

Mahmoud Abdullah Ali al-Ardah was born on November 1975, <> in the town of Araba, north of Jenin, which is located in the far north of the West Bank in Palestine, to poor parents, and grew up as a fighter from a young age, as described by his mother, Fathia al-Ardeh.

Mahmoud comes from a militant family: his brother Ahmed was arrested for 21 years, his brother Raddad was detained for 19 years, his brother Shaddad spent a few years in prison, and his sister Huda, a freed prisoner living in Gaza, whose mother Fathia says was a shelter and haven for Palestinian resistance fighters during the first intifada.

The model was kind, well-mannered and loving to all, and was keen on reading and research, as described by his family and peers. But growing up under the Israeli occupation of his country charted for him another path that is not similar to the lives of his generation in other stable countries.

Study and scientific training

The period of imprisonment and detention did not deter the rebellious young man from continuing his studies and academic achievement, as Al-Ardah took the high school exams during his imprisonment and passed them successfully, then devoted himself to his university studies, and obtained a bachelor's degree in Islamic education, and his comrades in prison described him as an avid reader, and a knowledgeable intellectual.

Mural by prisoners Mahmoud Al-Ardah and Zakaria Al-Zubaidi (Al-Jazeera)

During his imprisonment, he also completed memorizing the entire Holy Quran, and was persistent in daily worship, and cooperated with his comrades in prison of different party affiliations, and the owner of the pride of panic to meet the needs of his brothers in prison. He was a unitary leader, rising above narrow partisan and factional issues, and the cub prisoners paid special attention despite the age difference.

To all this, he was light-hearted, good ten, cheerful, an experienced athlete, and a constant vigor who sought freedom tirelessly, leaving his eager soul the opportunity to fly in the spaces of freedom.


Al-Ardah was arrested as a young man, as the events of the first Palestinian intifada broke out in his youth in 1987, and he was an active participant in all her diaries, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, erecting barriers and lighting tires, until the Israeli occupation authorities arrested him for the first time in 1991, and sentenced him to 4 years in prison, despite his childhood.

From the right prisoners: Zakaria al-Zubaidi, Muhammad al-Ardah, Mahmoud al-Ardah and Yaqoub Qadri (social media)

He was released in late 1994, after spending 44 months in Israeli prisons, and despite his imprisonment he did not change his resistance route, so he joined the Islamic Jihad movement, through which he carried out several attacks against Israeli occupation soldiers and settlers, one of which resulted in the death of a settler.

He was arrested again in 1996 and brought to trial, sentenced to life imprisonment and another 15 years. During this period, his leadership personality and organizational affiliation crystallized, so Mahmoud al-Ardah became one of the most prominent leaders of the Islamic Jihad prisoners, and was elected a member of the supreme leadership committee of the movement's prisoners, and deputy secretary-general of the body.

The Great Escape

Mahmoud tried to escape twice in 2014 while he was imprisoned in Shata prison, near Gilboa prison, but both attempts were discovered, and al-Ardah was punished with solitary confinement for more than a year later.

As for the "Great Escape" from Gilboa prison in the northern occupied Palestinian territories, it took place on the sixth of September 2021, and was carried out by Mahmoud Al-Ardah with 5 of his companions.

Gilboa prison, from which they escaped, is the most secure facility, and the Israeli police call it "the treasury", because of its highly fortified and human and electronic guards.

The six militants who succeeded in passing the "Freedom Tunnel" were: Mahmoud al-Ardah, his relative Muhammad Qasim al-Ardah, Ayham Nayef Kammaji, Yaqoub Qadri, and Munadil Nefa'at, who are from the Islamic Jihad, in addition to Zakaria al-Zubaidi, a leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigades of the Palestinian Liberation Movement (Fatah).

In the details of this complex process, the resisters, using simple metal tools, dug a hole in the floor of their cell, which led to a cavity under the prison between the concrete pillar of foundations, and completed digging it horizontally to go beyond the thick prison wall, to a dirt road outside the prison fence, next to one of the watchtowers.

It was only after receiving numerous complaints from residents of the vicinity of the prison that there were strangers and suspects in the nearby fields, after which the Israeli police and Border Police launched intensive searches to catch the escaped prisoners.

Mahmoud al-Ardeh, who was re-arrested and his colleague Mahmoud Qadri after 4 days of the arduous journey of freedom, said that they were unable to enter the West Bank because of the presence of unusual security reinforcements at all crossings, and that they were discovered by chance by a police patrol.

Re-arrest and trial

Prisoner Mahmoud al-Ardah was subjected to the most heinous forms of oppression, abuse and torture after his re-arrest on September 10, 2021, and interrogators tortured him psychologically and physically in order to obtain confessions about the escape, and those who planned it or provided logistical support to the heroes of the Freedom Tunnel.

The model's confessions came - according to a number of lawyers - that he is the owner of the idea of the tunnel, and did not receive any support from outside the prison, or even from the inmates of other cells, and added that he and his colleagues are freedom students from prisons of illegal occupation, and that they are proud of what they have done and do not regret, and denied the charges that the court faced him.

The model's statements in the courtroom in Nazareth in April 2022 were shocking and clear, and despite police attempts to silence him in every way, and to distract the media from listening to what he has to say, he succeeded in making his voice heard to the world.

"We wanted to tell the world that this monster is an illusion of dust," he said, adding, "I am proud of what I did because I am a human being, and a person without freedom is not a human being, I am under occupation, and I have the right to be liberated in all ways, and you are occupiers of our land and our sanctities, and it is our right as a people to be free."

Mahmoud Alardeh and Sherine Abu Akleh

The sentencing hearing took place on May 22, 2022, and Mahmoud al-Ardah was sentenced to five new years, in addition to the 5 years he had previously sentenced. The hearing came 99 days after Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by the Israeli army.

In the courtroom, when the model saw the Al Jazeera crew, he asked them to send a eulogy to Shireen's family entitled "Shireen is the text written in front of their false falsehood."

The deceased Shireen Abu Akleh visited the house of the prisoner Al-Ardah after his re-arrest, and presented his mother with a "jar" of honey that she said was a gift to her from Mahmoud, and Mahmoud's mother still keeps honey, which reminds her of her son and the deceased Shireen.

Visitors to Mahmoud al-Arda's home are still keen to offer only honey, a gift to the prisoner's mother, who is deprived of seeing him.

Literature and achievements

Despite his movement between several Zionist prisons, and being subjected to solitary confinement for long periods during his imprisonment, and being deprived of family visits, and preventing the entry of books, papers and pens into his cell repeatedly, he was always reading and studying, keen to educate himself and refine his ideas, and his efforts resulted in a number of intellectual and literary works, namely:

  • The Book of Jurisprudence of Jihad.
  • The Influence of Sheikh Al-Ghazali on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad - Methodology and Thought.
  • The novel "Rawahel".

Source : Al Jazeera + Websites