Israeli Prison Chief Blames Warden for Palestinians' Jailbreak

Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry tells commission of inquiry that commander should not have allowed two prisoners deemed escape risks to be cellmates

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Israel Prison Services chief Katy Perry, Wednesday.
Israel Prison Services chief Katy Perry, Wednesday.Credit: Moti Milrod
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The head of the Israel Prison Service pinned the blame for the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Gilboa Prison on the jail's commander, testifying Wednesday that the warden permitted two prisoners who were deemed escape risks to be cellmates.

During Wednesday's hearing of the government commission of inquiry into September's escape, the commissioner, Katy Perry, said that the decision to house Mahmoud Aradeh and Yakub Kadari in the same cell ran counter to Prison Service procedure, but she acknowledged that the policy wasn’t “a written order.” In response to questioning by the chairman of the commission of inquiry, retired Judge Menachem Finkelstein, she called the practice “a red [warning] light in a prison and it’s not done. Direct responsibility is that of the prison commander.”

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In earlier testimony before the committee, Gilboa Prison commander Freddy Ben-Shitrit accused Perry of blaming him for the escape even before the matter was investigated. Blaming him, Ben-Shitrit said, was an effort on Perry’s part to shift the blame following pressure on Perry to resign. Ben-Shitrit’s associates blamed Perry for the escape, claiming that the Prison Service hadn’t provided Gilboa Prison with the necessary security arrangements to prevent escapes.

Members of the government commission of inquiry at Gilboa Prison last month.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The six prisoners, who were all later recaptured, included convicted terrorists. The prisoners dug a tunnel under a floor to make their escape from the facility in northern Israel. The tunnel was dug using pan handles and dishes that the prisoners sharpened on the edges to fashion into improvised shovels. The soil was stashed in sewer pipes, trash cans and in hollow shafts in their showers.

Following the escape, Perry asked Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev to fire Ben-Shitrit, but Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit intervened, saying that such a move could not be carried out before the investigative panel finished its work.

Katy Perry testifying on Wednesday.Credit: Moti Milrod

In questioning Perry, Judge Finkelstein said he had read the minutes of meetings with prison commanders and found no mention by Perry of any concern regarding prison escapes. In response, Perry said she has been speaking about the issue in various settings. “It could be that I didn’t express myself as you have, but it’s very, very basic,” she said.

Perry, who became Prison Service commissioner a year ago, said intelligence gathering in the prisons had eroded in recent years. She said this was something she noted after assuming her current position. When asked, she also agreed with a statement by Public Security Ministry director-general Tomer Lotan, who said the Prison Service was still “in the Middle Ages.” It was true, she explained, when it comes to technology, for example, but she said the prison service is looking towards the future.

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