Police have reopened an investigation on Thursday into a case in which an intelligence officer at Gilboa Prison allegedly placed female prison guards with a Palestinian security prisoner at the latter's request, who sexually assaulted them.
Police are expected to call the prison's commander, Freddy en Shitrit, to testify, after he said on Wednesday that prison wardens "pimped out" female guards doing their mandatory military service in the jail. Ben Shitrit took his post only after the events occurred.
The unit tasked with investigating misconduct in prisons will likely ask Ben Shitrit what he knows about the sexual assaults of female guards, who have yet to testify.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev asked the attorney general on Thursday to reexamine the findings of the initial police investigation into the events, which took place from 2015 through 2017, following statements on Wednesday from Ben Shitrit, who testified to the commission of inquiry investigating the prison break there in September.
Senior officials in the Prison Service said on Wednesday that the first complaint filed by the female prison guard who was sexually assaulted by prisoner Mohammed Atallah "was disappeared by the prison commanders," who blocked an investigation into the matter.
Bar-Lev also requested that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit reexamine the decision of the State Prosecutor's Office to close the case against the Prison Service staff involved in the affair. The minister added that Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that police are looking into Ben Shitrit's testimony.
The prison service sharply criticized Ben Shitrit's statements, and accused him of attempting to redirect the conversation from his own responsibilities when the prison break took place.
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The commission, for its part, said on Thursday that it will not examine the case. In a statement, its members wrote that Ben Shitrit's statements warrant investigation, and that the committee raised the possibility of doing so. But, they clarified, "this matter was investigated in the past," and "is not a matter for our examination." Their letter of appointment gives them the authority to discuss the prison break and the Prison Service's readiness to prevent a similar event from reoccurring.
A number of sources who have seen the evidence in the case said that the guard filed an internal complaint within the prison against Atallah, who acted as the spokesman of the Fatah prisoners' wing, saying that he had assaulted her. The complaint went unacknowledged, the sources said, and was covered up when the Prison Service began to investigate. One senior official in the service said that the commanders concealed the complaint in order to keep the prisoners quiet and to protect the intelligence officer.
The police began their investigation in 2018, after the guard told her story to a Northern District officer in the Prison Service. That investigation ended, the sources said, when no trace of the complaint could be found. Only after Channel 20 requested a response from the Prison Service on the matter did an investigation begin with the unit that probes prison guard misconduct.
The sources said that the intelligence officer admitted during the investigation that he transferred the prison guard to the security prisoners' wing after Atallah gave him her name, but denied pimping her. Senior officials in the service said that the officer never stood trial, and returned to work for the organization when the case against him was closed. Atallah stood trial for the sexual assault of three female guards who escorted him through the prison's wings. According to the indictment filed against him in July 2020, Atallah caressed, groped and made sexual comments directed toward the guards.
One of the guards Atallah assaulted was Yael (a pseudonym). In her complaint, Yael said that in November 2017, Atallah asked Rani Basha, the prison’s intelligence officer at the time, to bring "the pretty guard" with him to his prison wing. Basha said during questioning that he agreed to Atallah’s request, partially due to pressure to obtain intelligence from Fatah prisoners, but said he did not know that the prisoner intended to sexually assault her. Shortly after, Basha asked Yael to move Atallah between the wings, and then, Yael said, the prisoner sexually assaulted her and committed indecent acts against her.
Yael said she reported the incident to her commander, but that it had made her a target of retaliation. She was transferred to another job in the jail doing custodial work, until she had no other choice but to leave the Prison Service. Following Ben Shitrit's testimony to the commission, she told people close to her that she demands justice.
“I demand that the [State Prosecutor’s Office] that closed the cases against the prison commanders and the intelligence officer and rejected the appeal that was filed understand that they made a mistake, and reverse their decision. He hurt me, and I know there were other female guards too,” she said.