Israel Prison Service Begins Rehabilitating Security Prisoners – but Only Jews

The Prison Service decision to rehabilitate members of the Bat Ayin underground marks a shift in policy, but one that applies only to Jewish security prisoners.

The Israel Prison Service's decision last week to approve the early release of a member of the so-called Bat Ayin underground – which attempted to blow up a girls' school in East Jerusalem – and to discuss the case of another inmate from the same group indicates that the Service has begun rehabilitating security prisoners.

In addition, the parole board's discussion of the cases involving Ofer Gamliel and Shlomo Dvir shows that two inmates have received benefits for which security prisoners are usually ineligible: They were allowed to make phone calls from prison and were given furloughs. Despite the Prison Service's decisions, the Shin Bet and State Prosecutor’s Office oppose the release of both men.

The Prison Service actions mark a shift in policy, but one that applies only to Jewish security prisoners. It also goes against the state's response to a petition filed by an Israel Arab security prisoner, who sought to undergo rehabilitation in prison. On January 13, 2013, the State Prosecutor’s Office responded to the petition from Hamza Masri, who is serving a nine-year sentence for security offenses, stating, “The rehabilitation of security prisoners is under system-wide examination,” and asking the court for a three-month extension to respond to the petition. Masri was convicted of having bought a gun from the head of Tanzim in Qalqilyah and selling it in Israel for money or drugs.

The petition came in the wake of Amendment 42 to the prison system rules that states: “A prisoner shall be included in rehabilitation activities according to the date, the scope and the conditions outlined in the amendments and in Prison Service rules.” While the state had asked the court for time to implement the amendment, it had begun rehabilitating Jewish security prisoners – but without saying so.

The rehabilitation process is among the most important things the parole board considers. According to attorney Abeer Baker, who heads the Prisoners’ Rights and Rehabilitation Clinic at the University of Haifa and represents defendants charged with security and criminal offenses, “The rehabilitation process is the heart of the matter. Rehabilitation is an indication that the prisoner has changed and is no longer dangerous.”

Security prisoners have extremely slim chances of proving they have changed, feel remorse and are ready to continue the rehabilitation process on the outside. In a rare case, the parole board recently consented to the early release of a Palestinian security prisoner, Bassem Samir Salman, who had been sentenced to 16.5 years in jail. But the state appealed, claiming that the prisoner did not meet the conditions for parole.

Shin Bet officials said the matter is under the Prison Service’s jurisdiction.
Prison Service officials said, “The general population of security prisoners is held according to the Prison Service’s security directive. Any exception is made in accordance with Paragraph 4B of the directive.”

Paragraph 4B of the Prison Service commissioner’s directive deals with granting leniency to prisoners in terms of contact with the outside world. Exceptions may be made and leniency granted only if the Shin Bet determines that the prisoner has cut off all direct or indirect ties to terror groups.