Gilboa Prison pimping affair: Will there actually be a conviction?

There is nothing slam dunk about a case with so many questions, especially when it is unclear if the victim will show up in court.

 GILBOA PRISON, in northern Israel near the West Bank.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
GILBOA PRISON, in northern Israel near the West Bank.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

There are at least three parts to the Gilboa Prison mess.

The escape of six prisoners in September 2021 is the first and primary issue being probed by the state inquiry led by former senior judge Menachem Finkelstein.

Finkelstein’s commission issued an interim report in March that found neglect at all levels of Gilboa Prison. That neglect extended system-wide to include: Israel Prison Service (IPS) head Maj.-Gen. Katy Perry, Deputy IPS Chief and Commander of Security and Operations Moni Biton, IPS Northern District Commander Arik Yaakov and Gilboa Prison Commander Freddy Ben Sheetrit.

The commission warned of possible consequences for the four officials. Translation: Some or all of them might be compelled to resign.

Israel's pimping affair: Has anything changed?

 Gilboa prison commander Freddy Ben Sheetrit 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, July 31, 2022 (credit: FLASH90) Gilboa prison commander Freddy Ben Sheetrit 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, July 31, 2022 (credit: FLASH90)

But since the report, there have been no signs that the four officials are acting differently or have adopted a new strategy that will lead to better results.

Months earlier, in November 2021, Ben Sheetrit testified before the state inquiry that there was a systemic problem of pimping female IPS guards to certain security prisoners. He implied that the top brass of the service were covering that up.

Since then, he has been in conflict with Perry and Yaakov, until last week when Perry put him on involuntary leave.

Perry said she took the action after Ben Sheetrit sent her a letter saying he would no longer take orders from or communicate with Yaakov, because he allegedly slandered him and his officers.

This came after Yaakov told the inquiry that Ben Sheetrit’s officers were falsifying internal IPS documents about how long prisoners were kept in certain cells.

Incidentally, Perry indirectly slammed Yaakov, stating she disagreed with his accusations against Ben Sheetrit’s officers.

The IPS chief said the Gilboa Prison officers had likely just made some negligent errors, and not forged anything.

Yet despite belatedly supporting Ben Sheetrit’s narrative on that issue, she still removed him, saying the chain of command must be followed at all times.

There are other issues still under gag order, but there is an increasing chance that most or all of these top four IPS officials will be sent home.

That might make the findings anticlimactic on the other two issues – which in some ways have leapfrogged the original breakout issue in the headlines.

Can the Israel Prison Service officers involved face charges?

AFTER BEN SHEETRIT’S revelations in December 2021, State Attorney Amit Aisman reopened a criminal probe into the 2015-2017 pimping scandal relating to a Fatah security prisoner allegedly raping or sexually harassing various female prison guards.

Since the entire “Pimping Affair” came to the fore, at least six women have filed complaints, and Gilboa Prison Intelligence Officer Rani Basha, who is accused of arranging the pimping for the Fatah prisoner, has been fired.

In some ways, Basha’s firing might be the other big victory for victims to come out of the various probes.

The reason has to do with both the limitations of criminal law proceedings and some of the factual quirks related to a key victim in the affair.

The Jerusalem Post has learned that top legal officials are concerned it may be difficult to make a criminal case against any of the prison officials tasked with oversight of underlying issues regarding the sexual scandals at Gilboa Prison.

Criminal charges require proving intent for the charges to stick.

The only relevant charge on the books for poor oversight might be some version of public breach of trust, which is vague and extremely difficult to prove in court.

How will the prosecution prove that a prison officer allowed pimping to happen specifically with criminal intent – as opposed to making a misjudgment about how far things would go and about what might be for the overall good of security at the prison?

While it might be true that some prison officers created a hostile environment for reporting prisoner sexual advances or assaults on junior female prison guards, the Post has learned that legal officials are concerned about instances in which the victims chose not to report attacks on them in real time.

There is an example from a Yediot Aharonot report this weekend in which “Hila” (a fictional pseudonym) told her version of being raped four times by a security prisoner.

Hila made some complaints about earlier minor sexual advances and innuendos made by the prisoner. However, she felt ignored, and as a result, did not later inform her supervisors about the far more serious sexual assaults and rape charges.

It’s possible that prison officials could be fired for creating a hostile environment for filing complaints, but making a criminal case could be extraordinarily tough.

The Post has also learned that Hila altered her story numerous times, even after she came forward.

 

IF ASKED why his probe is taking so long, Aisman could say that Hila refused to testify or assist in January and March, other than giving some off-record versions of being attacked, which did not include rape.

Only in June did she finally agree to testify and for the first time mentioned being raped twice. A month later, she increased that to being raped four times.

This would make it a field day for any defense lawyer tracking the four or more versions of Hila’s story.

Of course, Hila can say she was so traumatized from the experience that it took her time and special psychological help to be able to escape her own fears of confronting having been raped.

But there is nothing slam dunk about a case with so many questions, especially when it is unclear whether Hila might show up in court.

The Post has learned that there is a decent chance that some additional minor sexual assault charges will be filed against the Fatah prisoner by Hila and two other women.

The key word here is “additional,” because since 2020, quietly and behind closed doors, there has been a trial going on against the Fatah prisoner for other minor sexual assaults against three other women.

So the original case of three victims might be increased to six victims, even if the rape charges do not make it into the case.

The Fatah prisoner has already been sentenced to life imprisonment, so the concrete impact of the trial might be limited.

All of this complex back and forth may lead to weaker condemnations of the state prosecution for having closed the original case against the prison supervisors.

The prosecution knew there was much to investigate in the original case, however, there were simply too many people involved with too many contradictions to make it possible to land a “legal” punch on any single official.

If the criminal case falls short of public expectations, it will only increase the importance of the government making major changes to policies regarding the status and protection of female prison guards within the IPS.