Israeli Prisoner in Critical Condition After Attack by Cellmate

Prison Service inquiry finds that jail commander and guards were negligent in putting the two together despite known risk

The Russian Compound prison facility in Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

A 69-year-old Israeli Jewish man is in critical condition after he was physically assaulted by his Arab cellmate in Jerusalem, although the guards knew the attacker was potentially dangerous.

A commission of inquiry of the Israel Prison Service found the commander of the jail in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem and the guards were negligent when they placed the two together. However, as of now, a month and a half after the attack, no action has been taken against any of the officials involved in the incident and they have all remained in their posts.

The victim’s family says he was attacked only because he was a Jew, and the incident was never investigated properly. Law enforcement officials told Haaretz that this was an “unprecedented failure” and the Prison Service is trying to keep the matter quiet.

The alleged attacker, Hussein Abu Ta’ah, a 25-year-old Arab resident of the Beit Hanina neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, was arrested in July on suspicion of attacking a passerby and two police officers in Jerusalem. He is trained in martial arts and was considered to be highly dangerous, and was also diagnosed with mental health issues.

Abu Ta’ah was placed in a cell with an older prisoner, who was suspected of sex crimes. During the night, Abu Ta’ah attacked his cellmate while he was sleeping and tried to strangle him. He was stopped only when the guards intervened.

The victim is in very serious condition and was sedated and on a respirator for three weeks. Only in the past few days has the threat to his life passed, and he was transferred for rehabilitation and is still suffering from skull fractures and brain damage, among other injuries.

The victim’s family said Prison Service officials promised the man’s lawyer and daughter that he would not be placed with Arabs in the same cell, but the Prison Service denied the claim. “It is clear to us that if he had not been a Jew with a beard and tzitzit he would not have been attacked,” said a relative.

Abu Ta’ah was indicted for the assault and a hearing was held in the case on Monday. He was found fit to stand trial, but he is expected to undergo an additional psychiatric examination, as his lawyer requested. 

The Prison Service said a senior officer was appointed to investigate the incident. “The conclusions were provided to the supervisory authority and are in the stages of final examination. At the end of the process system-wide and personal conclusions will be reached, as required.”