Gilboa prison pimping affair: A disgraceful scandal - editorial

It is time for serious action: Real steps must be taken to ensure that this abhorrent phenomenon is thoroughly investigated and rooted out.

 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)

The country’s political leaders this week spoke out persuasively against the so-called “Gilboa Prison Pimping Affair,” albeit belatedly.

The sordid saga involves ongoing reports since 2018 that male superior officers forced female guards into situations in which they were vulnerable to sexual assault by Palestinian security prisoners at the facility.

The investigation into the September 2021 escape of six terrorists from the maximum security prison in northern Israel revealed that female soldiers assigned to serve in Gilboa as wardens for their compulsory military service were sexually abused by inmates while their superiors turned a blind eye to “keep the peace.”

The affair resurfaced last week, when a former prison guard – who referred to herself by the pseudonym “Hila” and said her superiors forced her to work as a “sex slave” to a jailed terrorist – launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds for a commission of inquiry. 

“My commanders handed me over to that terrorist... and made sure that I was left alone with him,” Hila said.

 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)

“How did we get to the horrifying situation where the bodies of the women protecting us were made expendable?” asked President Isaac Herzog.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced an inquiry at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, vowing to make sure “this never happens again.”

Lapid paid his first visit to the Israel Prison Service at Ofer Prison on Tuesday, accompanied by Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz, Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Merav Ben-Ari and Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry.

“We will investigate,” Lapid vowed, promising to uncover the truth. “The State of Israel will not stand aside if there is concern that a conscript female guard in the State of Israel was raped or harassed by terrorists.”

Gantz's grand plan

Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote a letter to Bar Lev demanding that he halt the service of female soldiers in facilities holding security prisoners.

“I believe serving in a role that includes dealing with security prisoners daily requires the appropriate training and the issue of whether IDF conscripts should handle this role should be revisited,” Gantz wrote in the letter.

Gantz’s solution does not appear to be the right answer or to address the problem.

As Na’amat head Hagit Peer said, while it might be an appropriate short-term solution, “it is sad that we have come to a point where women have to be removed so they don’t get hurt.” Peer said that verbal condemnations are not sufficient, and an independent commission of inquiry must investigate “suspicions of an outrageous cover-up by senior officials within the system.”

As The Jerusalem Post’s Shira Silkoff wrote Tuesday, “When it comes to the Gilboa Prison Pimping Affair and the variety of comments from politicians and senior officials over the last few days, there is one thing missing: accountability.”

Silkoff pinpointed the case of former Gilboa Prison intelligence officer Rani Basha, whom female prison guards accused of allowing Fatah prisoner Muhammad Atallah to have access to them in exchange for intelligence information.

Noting that the Prison Service finally dismissed Basha last month, Silkoff pointed out that this happened three years after the investigation into the affair, which broke a year earlier in 2018. Not only was Basha not dismissed after the 2019 investigation found that his actions left him “no longer suitable to serve in the IPS,” he was even promoted late last year.

A tree of bad apples

There’s clearly something terribly wrong with the system, and thankfully a court has now lifted a gag order and allowed publication of details of the sexual assault of a former prison guard by a security prisoner.

As Perry, the first woman appointed commissioner of prisons at the start of 2021, acknowledged on Tuesday, this phenomenon requires “a determined, zero-tolerance response as the facts – which are still under a gag order – become clear.”

This is an appalling stain on Israeli society that must be removed. We urge the government to expedite a proper investigation to reveal all the sordid details, take those responsible to task, provide justice for the victims and set up a new system of accountability that will finally put the Gilboa Pimping Affair to rest.

It is time for serious action: Real steps must be taken to ensure that this abhorrent phenomenon is thoroughly investigated and rooted out.