Israel Prosecutor Reopens Case Against Officers Beating Palestinian Inmates After Haaretz Investigation

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Ketziot Prison in Israel, 2019.
Ketziot Prison in Israel, 2019.

Israel's state prosecutor has requested to reopen an investigation into abuse of inmates in Ketziot Prison allegedly perpetrated by guards, citing an incident that took place in March 2019 following a report by Haaretz. 

According to the Haaretz report, on March 24, 2019 – during what has been dubbed the most violent night in an Israeli jail –  55 Palestinian prisoners in restraints were thrown to the floor in Wing 3 of Ketziot Prison, without any provocation on their part. 

Security cameras footage shows prison officers gathering around the inmates, beating them with batons and kicking the prisoners, who were bent over with their hands cuffed behind their backs. The prisoners were ordered not to move or speak, remaining there for hours.

Dozens of prison officers were in the wing for Hamas members that night, according to a senior Israel Prison Service official. At least 10 officers were filmed beating the prisoners, but only four were questioned by the Israel Police unit that investigates prison personnel before the investigation was closed. The official reason: “unknown offender.”

Tensions peaked between the guards and the security prisoners in light of the authorities’ decision to install a system designed to prevent prisoners from making calls using smuggled cellphones. Earlier that evening, a Hamas militant in the facility stabbed two officers, wounding one of them seriously. After they were taken to a hospital, other guards burst into the wing.

The security camera footage shows several guards punching, kicking and beating prisoners with batons, without any provocation. Later the prisoners were gathered together, placed in restraints and thrown into the yard, among the tents where the prisoners live, and beaten with batons. At the time, the prison service said in a statement to the media, that guards had to restore order after riots erupted in the wake of the stabbings. But the security footage shows no rioting, only horrific violence on the part of the officers. About 15 prisoners were admitted that evening to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva. Two were in serious condition.

Amnon Yahavi, then-deputy commander of Ketziot Prison, commanded and watched by as guards beat bound Palestinian security prisoners, video evidence shows. The prisoners were detained for about half a day – with no possibility of being evacuated and without access to medical care – even though almost all of them were injured.  

Investigators made no effort to identify those involved, which led to the case being closed. The senior officers of the prison – including Yahavi – were not questioned or summoned to testify at all. All the guards involved in the incident have been promoted since then, including Yahavi, who currently serves as commander of Ramon Prison.

"It's better late than never," said Adv. Nadia Daqqa, an attorney for HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, regarding the move to reopen the case. 

"The Justice Ministry did the bare minimum by reopening the investigations regarding the serious incident that took place in Ketziot, but there is still a long way to go before those involved will bear responsibility for the incident." 

Ambulances evacuating officers who were stabbed in Ketziot prison, Israel, 2019.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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