Appearances can be misleading. Nothing could be truer than this when it comes to Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Orit Adato,  one of the most prominent women in the Israeli milieu. There was no telling that the petite lady with the beautiful soft eyes who was about to lecture to my group at the International Institute of Counter Terrorism, was indeed a powerful woman, one that is considered by many to be the Iron lady of Israel.


Orit Adato is the former Commissioner of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). She is the former Vice President of the International Correction and Prison Association (ICPA). Currently, Ms. Adato is the owner and Managing Director of Adato Consulting Ltd. Her firm specializes in international consultation on issues such as the treatment of terrorists in prisons, coping with the development of terrorist cells, organized crime and gangs, building and shaping intelligence systems in correction organizations and the development of intelligence cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

Prison environment, as Ms. Adato would describe it, is problematic and far from affable.  Management of penal inmates is hard. The supervision of terrorists is even harder. According to her, due to the mixed nature of its inmates, who are physically separated, the Israeli prison system is under constant close surveillance by two entities. In addition to the adherence to International treaties such as the Geneva Convention (which mainly apply to prisoners of war held in Israel), Israeli prisons are also under scrutiny by local entities such as the Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Justice.


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 Being familiar with the importance of Israel’s public image I was particularly interested in learning about the difference in addressing inmate groups in Israeli prisons.



“The main difference between the penal inmates and the terrorists,” according to Ms. Adato, “is with regards to the interactions with the outside world.” Naturally, penal inmates enjoy more freedom. They are also offered educational training and guidance with the eventual goal of reintroducing them into the mainstream Israeli society as productive and contributing citizens.

One should note, however, that until a decade or so ago, terror inmate were, likewise, awarded the opportunity to be educated through the open University. Some, like Samir Kuntar, responsible for one of the most horrific terror attacks in Israeli history, even earned a doctorate while imprisoned in Israel. That privilege was revoked following the seizure of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, by Hamas and denying him any rights including visitations by The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC).

Another difference between the two groups of prisoners pertains to home leaves.  After having completed one fourth of their incarceration period and following risk assessment of a few factors, such as satisfactory results in educational and vocational training, penal inmates are eligible for home-leave. These are initially for eight hours, followed by twelve, twenty-four, forty-eight, and in some cases even seventy-two hours.

Terror inmates, on the other hand, receive no such leaves for obvious reasons. They may never return.


Visitation rights by family members is another area where the two groups differ. Whereas penal inmates can request, pending approval, visitation rights by first or second degree family members. Terror inmates can have visitation rights by first degree family members following their screening and approval by the Shabak (Security Service). Ex-convicts are barred from visiting  either group.

Difference in rights are also in place concerning the use of public telephones. A penal inmate has the right to speak on the public telephone. In case of suspicious activities, their call is monitored. Prior approval of pre-submitted list of telephone numbers is needed. Terror inmates are prohibited from making any telephone calls except for emergency calls upon the death of a first degree family member. Those calls are monitored in Arabic, of course.

Visits to the prisons in Israel by International and local organizations are conducted on a regular basis.  Members of ICRC pay them monthly visits. During those visits, privacy is granted and no prison staff members are present. Representatives of the Israeli Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Public Security, Members of the Knesset and Israeli media, are, likewise, allowed regular visits.

In accordance with Israeli democratic values, pursuit of justice and transparency, each inmate, penal, or terror, has a right to access the court system to have their case and grievances reviewed. It is important to note that less than 1% apply. They all have their cases studied by the court and many are warranted judgement on their behalf.


Least but not last, unbeknownst to many, unlike in other countries, Israeli law prohibits body cavity search. This has presented members of the prison staff with awkward situations lending suspects to having their basic rights compromised. In pursuit of basic human rights, the system is now working on ways to overcome this and other sensitive issues.

As we can see, the Israel Prison Service faces many complex dilemmas that stem from the organization’s desire to bridge between the goal of keeping prisoners in a secure environment and maintaining their dignity as human beings. There is no doubt that Ms. Adato has contributed immensely to upholding this very delicate balance. It takes the mixture of solid iron personality and a heart of gold to achieve it. Ms. Adato has both.


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