President Shimon Peres singled out 10 officials of the Prisons Service for recognition this year at a Beit Hanassi ceremony on Tuesday.
Their actions include preventing a revenge-stabbing; saving the life of a would-be juvenile suicide; insisting that a drug addict undergo surgery even though a medical team had said it was unnecessary, thereby saving his life; intervening in a prison fight and saving the life of the weaker prisoner; fighting a fire that broke out in a prison; saving the lives of prisoners and staff and treating the injured; getting security prisoners under control and thereby reducing tensions; saving the life of a prisoner who had fainted by recognizing other symptoms that indicated heart failure; and many others.
Peres told the honorees - Sarit Hadad, Victoria Perle, Hirbawe Amir, Adi Sheetrit, Yehuda Jaan, Samir Dahir, Nir Azrad, Yehoshua Pilus, Ilya Turmua and Arye Malua - that they were fulfilling a vital social and national mission, one that was not easy in their daily interaction with criminal elements and with security prisoners.
"All of you have to cope with renewed courage each day," he said.
The Prisons Service maintains some 30 facilities with a diverse population numbering around 25,000, including around 10,000 security prisoners, many of whom are serving life and multiple life sentences.
Regardless of the brutality of the crime or the attitude of the prisoner, the president said, it was incumbent on every guard to treat inmates decently. He admitted, however, that in the aftermath of revelations in recent days of the most atrocious of crimes, he had mixed feelings about how the perpetrators should be treated.
Alluding to Israel's relatively considerate treatment of prisoners, Peres said that he knew of countries in which prisoners were stripped of all rights and subjected to torture, violence and contempt.
"Even democratic countries are not always clean of improper conduct," he said, adding that he was proud that Prisons Service was based on humane values and laws, and that it respected the dignity of all human beings.