Top Israeli Commander Stood by as Guards Cuffed and Beat Palestinian Inmates

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Amnon Yahavi, marked in red, watches as guards gather and beat dozens of Palestinian inmates, in Ketziot Prison in Israel, 2019.
Amnon Yahavi, marked in red, watches as guards gather and beat dozens of Palestinian inmates, in Ketziot Prison in Israel, 2019.Credit: Haaretz

Amnon Yahavi, former deputy commander of Ketziot Prison, commanded and watched by as guards beat bound Palestinian security prisoners in March 2019, video evidence shows.

As Haaretz reported last week, the beatings took place after two guards were stabbed. In response, at least 10 guards beat with batons and kicked some 55 prisoners, who were left handcuffed on the floor for several hours afterwards, even though they weren’t connected with the stabbing or presented any danger. The event, which took place in the prison’s Wing 3 of Ketziot Prison, was captured by security cameras.

Yahavi watches guards beat inmates in Ketziot Prison, 2019.

A new video of the incident shows Yahavi entering and exiting the prison facility twice. In the beginning, when guards first enter Wing 3, he can be seen issuing orders to the operations officer, Deputy Warden Dimitri Wilderman, who supervised the violent operation. The video shows Yahavi watching bound prisoners being dragged across the floor. Yahavi then leaves, but a few minutes later he returns, at which point the video shows about 30 bound prisoners on the floor and not moving. Yahavi is seen talking with Wilderman again. At several moments the prisoners are beaten with batons and kicked as Yahavi watches. He does nothing to stop it.

Three people who know Yahavi identified him in the video, which corresponds with the prisoners' testimony obtained by Haaretz. Yahavi was later promoted and today is commander of the Rimon Prison, which also houses security prisoners.

“I remember Yahavi from the Ketziot incident,” said Moaz Hamidan, who was handcuffed and beaten, suffering injuries to his legs and arms. “Amnon was there before, during and after the incident. He walked between us and saw everything – how ‘Masada’ [the Prison Service special situations unit] broke in and how they beat us. He watched from the side and didn’t try to stop anyone. I didn’t see him throughout the incident because we had to keep our heads down, but we saw him there for sure and he was in charge of the affair and was present. The trauma is with me till today.”

Some prisoners have said they can identify the guards who beat them but they haven’t been called to do so in a lineup. Following the incident, three guards were questioned but the cases against them were closed. In fact, the entire investigation was closed on the grounds that “the offenders are not known.” No senior prison officers were questioned nor were they asked to provide testimony, and the prison’s commander, Avichai Ben-Hamo, has since been promoted, like Yahavi.

The Prison Service stated in response: “This is related to the planned murder of guards at the Ketziot Prison, which miraculously didn’t end in any guard’s death.

“As with any unusual incident, the Prison Service requires from its guards that they act in accordance with orders and procedures, and any exception is subject to an examination and investigation. Immediately with the start of the operational investigation into this incident, it was decided by the authorized Prison Service officials to turn over all the materials to the National Prison Investigation Unit, which investigated the incident, and from there sent them to the State Attorney’s Office, which decided to close the case. The handling of the incident by prison officers will be investigated and operational lessons will be learned from it.”

Haaretz has learned that the Prison Service had received specific warnings about prisoner plans to attack guards that day, but had sent home some of the special forces on standby for such situations, which sources said caused the guards to use force.

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