Gilboa Prison inquiry warns prisons chief, 3 others - warning could lead to later firing

Israel Prisons Service (IPS) Chief and three other top officials that their failures led to the Gilboa Prison breakout warned.

 POLICE OFFICERS and prison guards stand outside the Gilboa jail following the escape by Palestinian security prisoners. (photo credit: FLASH 90)
POLICE OFFICERS and prison guards stand outside the Gilboa jail following the escape by Palestinian security prisoners.
(photo credit: FLASH 90)

The Gilboa Prison Commission on Thursday warned Israel Prisons Service (IPS) Chief Katy Perry and three other top officials that their failures leading to the Gilboa Prison breakout in September 2021 could result in their being fired or other disciplinary action.

The other three officials warned were Deputy IPS Chief and Commander of Security and Operations Moni Biton, IPS Northern District Commander Arik Yaakov and Gilboa Prison Commander Freddy Ben Shitrit.

The commission emphasized that no decision has been made yet about whether to recommend their firing or other disciplinary action, however, since the commission is leaning in the direction of recommending some kind of personal sanction for these four high-ranking officials, they should be given advance notice and an additional opportunity to plead their cases.

Technically, the government and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev would need to agree to any punitive actions. Given the circumstances of the commission’s establishment and that Perry was appointed by the prior government of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, expectations would be that the government will follow the commission’s recommendations.

The commission said it arrived at these interim conclusions after hearing months of testimony. It also said that it will hear additional testimony and perform additional analysis about a variety of issues related to the breakout.

 Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev arrives for his testimony at the government inspection committee for the incident of the escape of the security prisoners from the Gilboa prison, in Modi'in, February 9, 2022. (credit: FLASH90) Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev arrives for his testimony at the government inspection committee for the incident of the escape of the security prisoners from the Gilboa prison, in Modi'in, February 9, 2022. (credit: FLASH90)
 

In February, Bar Lev testified before the commission that the Gilboa Prison breakout showcased the IPS and the state in general at its worst and most incompetent.

“In some ways, Israeli bumbling was revealed at its worst,” including vast “intelligence and operational failures,” he said.

Bar Lev is not expected to face consequences as he had only been in office for a few months when the outbreak took place.

Six prisoners broke out of Gilboa Prison in the North on September 6.

Although they were all eventually caught and indicted in October, the breakout itself and all of the failures of several layers of IPS personnel who could have prevented it were considered a national scandal.

Various IPS officials have been fired. Some expected Perry to be fired as well, but until now she has weathered the storm.

In February, Bar Lev also referenced that in parallel to his testimony to the commission of inquiry, IPS officials had just discovered a write-up of plans for an escape from Ofer Prison by prisoners there during an inspection.

Ofer Prison is right off Route 443, a main artery between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Like former public security minister Gilad Erdan, who also recently testified before the panel, Bar Lev said he was unaware of the history and concerns of potential breakouts until the Gilboa incident had already occurred.

Commission head and former Tel Aviv District Court president Menachem Finkelstein asked Bar Lev about past task forces’ recommendations to end the practice of allowing prisoners to choose their cell area based on different political affiliations, such as Fatah, Hamas and others.

Bar Lev responded that this was a broader issue, implying there were diplomatic implications beyond his purview. He also said that perhaps the entire cabinet should start discussing the recommendation.

Of the six escapees, the most prominent was Zakaria Zubeidi, a Fatah commander who was responsible for multiple terrorist attacks and for killing many Israelis.

Munadil Nafayat, Iham Kahamji, Yaquob Qadiri and brothers Mahmoud and Mohammed al-Arida rounded out the rest of the escapees – all of them being members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and from towns near Jenin.

The escape by the six men exposed a series of failures at the prison, including that the IPS didn’t learn lessons from a previous escape attempt at the prison, as well as several other major issues.

The failures included sleeping guards, unmanned watchtowers due to a shortage of staff, and the sense of boldness security prisoners felt vis-à-vis the guards.

The six escapees and the five defendants who assisted them divided up tasks of digging under a part of the shower floor, while others performed look-out functions or blocked other prisoners from entering the area.

Some escapees also took turns dropping off portions of what had been dug up on a daily basis in areas that would avoid raising suspicion.

Eventually, the tunnel they dug ran for 30 meters (approximately 100 feet).