Clean out the rot of the Israel Prison pimping case - editorial

The systemic problems that have come to light since the September prison break must serve as an impetus to fundamentally improve the system, because what happened cannot be allowed to stand.

 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)

For most people, prisons are foreboding-looking gray structures they pass along a route while driving in a car to their destination.

As they pass the guard towers and high concrete walls, most just hope and pray that neither they nor their loved ones will ever have any dealing with those institutions. Most don’t pay much attention to what happens inside.

All that changed in September with the brazen escape by six Palestinian inmates from the high-security Gilboa Prison. That fiasco highlighted huge problems within the country’s prison system.

Even though the six prisoners were recaptured within weeks, the saga exposed severe rot in the prison system.

Six high-risk security prisoners don’t just tunnel out of a jail overnight. The prison break exposed systemic problems, from the faulty way some prisons were constructed, to an absurd amount of autonomy enjoyed inside by terrorist inmates, to a faulty appointment process that has underqualified people given jobs they don’t deserve, because of political connections.

 Gilboa prison commander, Gondar Deputy Chief 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, November 24, 2021. (credit: FLASH90) Gilboa prison commander, Gondar Deputy Chief 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, November 24, 2021. (credit: FLASH90)

And all that was just the tip of the iceberg.

At a November hearing before a commission of inquiry into the jailbreak, Gilboa Prison warden Freddy Ben-Shitrit said that some women doing their army service in the prison had been “pimped” out to security prisoners in exchange for maintaining calm. He said these incidents took place before he became commander of the prison.

The female guards were sent into the security wing of the prison at the request of inmates, one of whom, convicted Fatah terrorist Muhammad Atallah, proceeded to grope and sexually harass them.

Four female guards have come forward, and one said last week that she was touched and sexually harassed by Atallah, and that her commanders were aware of the harassment but did nothing. Charges have been filed against Atallah, who is serving a life sentence for murder.

Atallah is considered a leader among the security prisoners, and heeding his request appears to be a way some prison authorities sought to ensure “quiet” inside the prison. This is part of a problematic culture that has developed within the prison system whereby security prisoners are granted various “privileges’’ so they do not make trouble and as a way to buy “calm.”

Among these privileges were allowing cellphones into the security wings, letting the prisoners cook for themselves, and housing inmates according to their organizational affiliations: Fatah with Fatah, Hamas with Hamas.

On Tuesday, State Prosecutor Amit Aisman ordered a new investigation into allegations that prison intelligence officer Rani Basha was responsible for sending the women in the security wing to be touched, harassed and objectified by Atallah and others. This announcement led Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry to announce that dismissal procedures would be initiated against Basha.

While welcome, this is something that should have been done three years ago, when the allegations against Basha first came to light. But rather than being taken seriously at the time, the allegations were dismissed because of a “lack of evidence,” even though one of the victims – a woman named Yael interviewed on KAN Bet on Wednesday – said there was abundant evidence and many witnesses to the sexual harassment incidents.

This reveals another disturbing facet of the culture that has taken root inside the prison system: whitewashing wrongdoing. Instead of pursuing the case in 2018, the authorities decided to ignore it, acting only after Ben-Shitrit publicly gave the allegations veracity.

Yael said that she and other women complained verbally and in writing about the matter, but that the affair was swept under the rug by prison authorities, police investigators and even state prosecution.

Prisons are places most people would rather shut out of their minds. But things out of mind are left in the dark, and rot grows in the dark.

Amid a distinct lack of interest by both the political echelon and the public in what goes on behind the country’s prison walls, abundant rot has grown over the years.

We hope the systemic problems that have come to light since the September prison break will serve as an impetus to fundamentally improve the system. Because what happened cannot be allowed to stand, and those responsible must be held accountable.