Bar Lev decides: Female guards will continue serving in prison security wings

Citing an agreement made in 2005, Bar Lev stated that female IPS guards will continue to guard security prisoners * Public Security Committee convenes to discuss pimping affair

 View of the Israeli Prison Authorities, Gilboa Prison (photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)
View of the Israeli Prison Authorities, Gilboa Prison
(photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev has rejected Defense Minister Benny Gantz's request to implement an immediate ban on the practice of placing female IDF soldiers in the Israeli Prison Services (IPS) to serve as guards for Palestinian security prisoners. 

In a letter published on Wednesday morning, Bar Lev responded to Gantz's request from earlier this week in which he called for an immediate ban on female soldiers guarding Palestinian security prisoners following an additional, sixth testimony from a girl saying that she had been sexually abused by high-security prisoner Muhammed Atallah while serving on the security wing in Gilboa Prison.

In his letter, Gantz demanded that women stop serving in that capacity immediately, pending an in-depth investigation of the allegations.

However, in his response to Gantz, Bar Lev cited a 2005 agreement between the Defense Ministry, the IDF, the IPS, and the Public Security Ministry in which it was decided that the overseeing and guarding of Palestinian security prisoners would be transferred from the IDF to the IPS, and as such, both male and female soldiers in their compulsory service may be transferred from the IDF to the IPS as well. 

 A Foreign Affairs and Security committee meeting held att the Israeli parliament, regarding the sexual abuse claims in Gilboa Prison, August 03, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) A Foreign Affairs and Security committee meeting held att the Israeli parliament, regarding the sexual abuse claims in Gilboa Prison, August 03, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Public Security Committee convenes 

On Wednesday afternoon, the Public Security Committee and the Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Defense convened to discuss the pimping affair, examining what practical measures could be taken by the Knesset with regard to the affair.

When asked why the IPS has only now started to deal with the sexual assault cases with the assistance of the Center for Victims of Sexual Assault, IPS Human Resources head Tami Ezra explained that only in 2018 after the first cases of the pimping affair came to light were procedures changed.

Attending the committee meeting were various MKs including Otzma Yehudit's Itamar Ben Gvir, Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman, and Meretz MK Michal Rozin, among others.

Speaking to the committee, Rozin referred to the Knesset vote held in December of last year, in which a proposal to establish a commission of inquiry into the pimping affair fell 46-41.

"The opposition proposed the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry. We, in the coalition factions, begged in closed rooms for the Public Security Minister and Deputy Minister to let us vote in favor of establishing the committee," said Rozin. "They flatly refused and we had to compromise and abstain from voting."

Labor MK Emilie Moatti stressed that, in her opinion, the power imbalance in the IPS, between the prisoners and the female guards, is problematic from the start. 

"You don't know what it's like to be an 18-year-old girl serving in the prison system with security prisoners threatening her," she said. "You don't know because you will never be an 18-year-old girl...there is no reason for our girls to be serving in these places. The decision from 2005 was a mistake. Girls do not need to spend their service in the Israeli Prison Service."

Also in attendance were Ynet and Yediot Aharonot reporter Liran Levy, who first exposed the affair in 2018 and has been covering it since. Levy stated that the investigation is only focusing on Atallah himself, rather than on the officers who assisted him.

"There was no in-depth investigation here," he said. "The failures of the State Prosecutor's Office scream to the sky."

Petition for State Commission of Inquiry

Also on Wednesday morning, the Council of Women's Organizations in Israel published a petition demanding that a State Commission of Inquiry be established to investigate the pimping affair allegations. 

"New and shocking details in the pimping affair of the female guards and the most serious sexual assault allegations are being revealed day after day," the organization wrote. 

"We, who represent women and their rights in the country - owe it to the soldiers whose world was destroyed. It is our duty to act immediately to restore the trust of the public, and of women in particular, in the institutions of the State."