Retired Judge to Head Probe Into Escape of Six Palestinian Prisoners From Israeli Jail

Judge Menachem Finkelstein will lead a three-member panel investigating apparent mishaps that let the six Palestinian security prisoners – since recaptured – flee

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
Judge Menachem Finkelstein, left, at the Central District Couirt in Lod, 2014.
Judge Menachem Finkelstein, left, at the Central District Couirt in Lod, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Retired Judge Menachem Finkelstein will head a government commission of inquiry into the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from a high-security prison in the north this month, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev announced Friday.

Until recently, Finkelstein served as deputy president of the Central District Court and largely heard cases involving serious criminal charges. He is also a former military advocate general.

The panel investigating the escape of the prisoners, all of whom have been captured, will have a long list of failures to examine, including why the six, natives of the Jenin area of the West Bank, had been jailed in the same cell.

Three of them had been deemed a high escape risk. Also at issue is why the prison did not have a patrol vehicle outside the facility to monitor attempted escapes, why the service's intelligence branch did not learn about the jailbreak plans, why the system for blocking cellphone reception was not fully operational, and why the prison's building plans were available on the internet.

The other members on the panel are Prof. Efrat Shoham, who chairs the criminology department at Ashkelon Academic College and has studied the Israel Prison Service for many years, and Arik Barbing, a former division head at the Shin Bet security service who has experience foiling terrorist acts at prisons.

In 2015, Finkelstein harshly criticized prison service chief Katy Perry, who at the time headed the service’s human resources department. Finkelstein was the judge who handled a suit by a prison service dentist who had been passed over as head of the agency’s dental department even though she had been found appropriate for the job.

Finkelstein ruled that Perry and the prison service violated an interim court order and blocked the dentist’s appointment by posting the job for external candidates.

Finkelstein also heard a number of highly publicized cases including the trial of Shimon Cooper, who was convicted of murdering his first and third wives. The judge also heard the trials of members of organized crime groups.

But he acquitted a number of prominent defendants as well, and was highly critical of the police work in these cases. He served as military advocate general from 2000 to 2004 during the second intifada, and is thought to have coordinated the legal oversight of targeted killings of terrorists.

Shoham, meanwhile, served on the committee that examined criminal sentencing and has studied riots and hunger strikes in prison. Barbing headed the Shin Bet's cybertechnology division and the division responsible for Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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