Is Israel a ‘partatch’ state?

Whether it is the Gilboa Escape, the death of Barel Shmueli or the Meron disaster, Israel keeps messing up. Will an end be put to the partatch? Time will tell.

  Police officers and prison guards at the scene of a prison escape of  six Palestinian prisoners, outside the Gilboa prison, northern Israel, September 6, 2021. Photo by Flash90 (photo credit: FLASH90)
Police officers and prison guards at the scene of a prison escape of six Palestinian prisoners, outside the Gilboa prison, northern Israel, September 6, 2021. Photo by Flash90
(photo credit: FLASH90)
The escape of six Palestinian security prisoners from the Gilboa prison in the small hours of last Monday morning was a typical result of very serious matters being dealt with in a partatch (sloppy and flimsy) manner.
It took Israel’s second personality – the sophisticated, resourceful, attentive Israel – five full days and nights, and heaven knows how many millions of shekels, to catch four of the six in the course of the evening and night between Friday and Saturday.
Thank heavens, so far no one has been killed in this superfluous episode, since no one appears to have been waiting for the six outside the prison walls when they emerged out of their hole just below an unmanned security tower, and none of the four who have been caught to the present was armed.
That is liable to change if the remaining two escaped prisoners have managed to cross into the West Bank, have access to arms, and are surrounded by armed Palestinians committed to defending them. For Israel, the worst scenario will be if the IDF will be forced to enter the hornet’s nest known as the Jenin refugee camp, in order to put its hands on the two.
Once the government commission set up by Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev to investigate the event will report, we shall know how bad the screwup at the Gilboa Prison had been.
We know that the six security prisoners managed to carve and dig their way out of the floor of their cell for at least several months – but were not observed. We know that when they popped out of the ground outside the prison walls, the security tower just above them was unmanned, and a woman guard who was on duty at the time elsewhere fell asleep.
The bodies of the victims of the tragedy at Mount Meron on Lag Ba'omer. (credit: SHAY YERUSHALMI/BEHADREI HAREDIM/REUTERS)The bodies of the victims of the tragedy at Mount Meron on Lag Ba'omer. (credit: SHAY YERUSHALMI/BEHADREI HAREDIM/REUTERS)
We also know that the prison had no intelligence about a plan of prisoners to escape, and the request of the prisoner Zakaria Zubeidi from Fatah, the day before the escape, to join the cell of the five Islamic Jihad inmates, from which the escape was to take place, did not raise any eyebrows, or objections from the prison personnel.
After the escape had taken place, it took several hours until the prison staff acknowledged that six inmates were missing (the initial figure given was three).
It is assumed that someone from among the prison staff must have provided the six with some form of inside assistance. If this proves to be true, we are not dealing only with sloppiness, but with a case of treason. All this in a high-security prison, the main task of which is to ensure that prisoners do not escape, before providing for their basic needs, and doing its best to keep the calm among all the prisoners – especially the security prisoners – in order to avoid riots.
What we do not yet know at this point is whether the situation in the Gilboa Prison is unique, and the result of a specific human constellation in it, or whether it reflects the situation in the whole prison system. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, which is bad enough.
One thing is for sure: what happened is not the fault of the new government, since neither the staff of the prison nor the instructions which it follows were changed since the middle of June, though since it is in power, the government invariably bears responsibility, and will be responsible for mending the situation after the commission of inquiry will issue its report.

WAS THE superfluous death of Border Police St.-Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli at the end of July also the result of partatch?
The bereaved parents of Barel – an impressive and charismatic young man, whose life was cut short prematurely under tragic circumstances – believe that the blame is not merely partatchic conduct, but, rather, systematic negligence, and perhaps even criminal conduct by the new government, even though none of the officers involved, and the open-fire orders, was changed since mid-June, when the new government was formed. The defense minister is the same defense minister, the IDF chief of staff is the same chief of staff, and the open-fire orders are very clear: to avoid war crimes being committed even accidentally, or the hands of both soldiers and officers being light on the trigger – for personal or ideological reasons.
There is little doubt that if the late Shmueli had started shooting in all directions through the slot in the wall behind which he was positioned, he would still be alive today, and there would have been numerous Palestinian youths either dead or wounded on the other side of the wall.
The problem is that, under the circumstances, given that there were apparently no orders to keep the area on the Palestinian side of the wall clear – or if there were, it was not clear how this should be done – and the fact that the Israeli men on the Israeli side of the wall (Shmueli’s commander is reported to have stood a short distance behind him when the incident took place) apparently could not see what was going on just centimeters away from them, the deadly situation was created, in which a Palestinian was able to grab hold of the edge of the barrel of Shmueli’s rifle, and then shoot into the slot with a pistol.
A terrible mishap took place there, and whoever let it happen must certainly pay the price. Mishaps of various levels of severity do occur from time to time. Unfortunately, quite a few of the close to 24,000 Israeli casualties in acts of war were killed due to accidents, faulty planning and negligence. Undoubtedly, the goal should be to avoid, as far as possible, such cases, but one cannot always blame partatch for them – it is not a general rule, and it is certainly an event on a totally different scale from that which occurred in the Gilboa Prison.

THE MOUNT MERON tragedy at the end of April, in which 45 haredi men and boys lost their lives, is undoubtedly an event that occurred as a result of partatchic conduct.
However, unlike the case of the Gilboa Prison, where the Prisons Service was the responsible body, and the case of Shmueli, in which the IDF was the responsible body, in the case of Meron there was no one body responsible for maintaining the compound, planning the Lag Ba’omer festivities, or running them.
The ideal situation would be if the various haredi groups that hold a stake on the mountain would get together, organize the annual Lag Ba’omer event, and take responsibility for safety and security in its course.
But that is apparently a pipe dream, and the only way to deal with the situation is by the state ending, or at least limiting, the haredi autonomy on the mountain, replanning and rebuilding the whole compound, while leaving the historic structures around the graves of the tzaddikim intact, and redistributing sections of the compound to all the relevant haredi groups, according to their centrality and relative size.
Is that the conclusion that the national commission of inquiry, set up at great delay to investigate the events of April 29-30 on Mount Meron, will reach? Will an end be put to the partatch? Time will tell.
The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, soon to be published in English by Routledge.