With the pomp and ceremony that the IDF does not do very well but does do mercifully quickly, the army officially transferred responsibility for running Ketziot jail to the Israel Prisons Service on Wednesday.
The facility, which is located close to the Egyptian border in the Negev, is home to 2,200 inmates, many of whom are security prisoners arrested during the current intifada.
The transfer of control is part of a national policy of relieving the army of all its prisons.
"Looking after the prisons is not the job of the IDF," said Israel Prisons Service (IPS) commissioner Lt.-Gen. Yaakov Ganot. "The army understands that it doesn't need to deal in an area that is not its core interest."
Ketziot is the second prison the IDF has transferred to the IPS, having relinquished control of Megiddo Prison in February last year. IPS spokeswoman Orit Stelser said talks are also being held for the IPS to take control of the last remaining IDF jail, which is Ofer prison near Jerusalem.
Stelser said that unlike with Megiddo, the IPS has no plans to make big changes at Ketziot.
"The prison is well organized. We are not going to carry out a revolution like in Megiddo, which was insufferable," she said. "In that prison, everything was demolished and rebuilt."
Ketziot was originally opened in 1988 to absorb Palestinians arrested during the first intifada. It was closed in 1996 following the Oslo accords, but was reopened after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 to help cope with an increase in the number of Palestinians who were arrested.
The jail's notable prisoners include Jamal Huweil of Fatah, who was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in the recent vote. He is serving seven-and a-half years after being arrested in Operation Defensive Shield. There are also several Hamas parliamentarians in Ketziot, most of who are in administrative detention.
Until now, Ketziot was mainly managed by the Military Police.
A hundred soldiers have joined the IPS. These include Col. Avi Lev-Ari, who was the commander of the prison until Tuesday, and his transfer to the IPS ended 25 years of army service. His rank is too low to allow him to remain as the commander of the prison now that it is part of the IPS, so he will become the deputy commander of Ketziot.
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