An era ended Tuesday afternoon when responsibility for the Ofer Security Prison was transferred from the IDF to the Prisons Service. The facility was the IDF's last, and the IDF no longer is responsible for jailing security prisoners.
Since its inception in 1988, the prison had been operated under the auspices of the Military Police and the Central Command. The ceremony was the final step in a process begun in 2005, when the IDF and Prisons Service finalized negotiations to hand over the three IDF-run security prisons - Megiddo, Ketziot and Ofer - to the service. Megiddo, near Afula, was handed over in 2005 and Ketziot, in the Negev, earlier this year.
At the ceremony, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter emphasized the professionalism that had underscored the entire transition process. "The transition was wise, informed and even statesmanlike," he said, adding that the cooperation was an example of putting aside inter-organizational rivalries to achieve a common goal. "I don't remember a process in recent years that was carried out in such a respectful way."
Soldiers working at Ofer were offered the opportunity to transfer to the Prisons Service. The incoming warden, Avi Lev-Ari, formerly the assistant warden at Ketziot, is a recent transfer from the IDF, and the outgoing warden, Lt.-Col. Asher Vaknin, has also announced that he will join the Prisons Service.
Two-hundred-and-ninety Prisons Service staffers were sent to courses to prepare them for the special concerns involved with guarding security prisoners, including courses in security and intelligence and working with terrorists.
Dichter told the gathered officials, including Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky and Prisons Service head Ya'acov Ganor, that he hoped the professionalism of the staff would ensure that prison standards conformed to both Israeli and international conventions.
Ofer Prison is now the only Prisons Service jail over the Green Line: It is on the outskirts of Ramallah. It was opened hastily in 1988 due to the need for additional jails following the beginning of the first intifada. It holds hundreds of security prisoners who were arrested during IDF operations in the West Bank. Following the Oslo Accords, hundreds of prisoners and detainees were released, and the prison was closed in 1995, only to be reopened in 2002.
Some 85% of the prisoners are under administrative detention or are being held pending trial. Approximately half are affiliated with Fatah, and the rest belong to other groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The Prisons Service is now responsible for more than 10,000 security prisoners and detainees, over 70% of whom "have blood on their hands." The number has skyrocketed since the beginning of the second intifada - in 2000, the service was responsible for approximately 800 security prisoners and detainees.
The decision to centralize prison management under one body was based on a principle of specialization and streamlining within security organizations. Dichter has already announced that police detention facilities will also be transferred to service authority.