Israel Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry said on Thursday that she had ordered Gilboa Prison Warden Freddy Ben-Sheetrit to take a leave of absence, following his refusal to comply with direct orders from the northern commander of the Prison Service amid the ongoing investigation into the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Gilboa last year.
Perry stated that she "views the officer's actions with extreme seriousness. They disregard the fundamental guidelines of any security organization, which are founded on a hierarchical command structure, and cannot be ignored."
The dispute reached a boiling point last week when Arik Yaakov, the commander of the northern district, declared that he thought Ben-Sheetrit had falsified prison records regarding the daily operations of the prison he commands.
Following Yaakov's comments made in his testimony to a government commission investigating the escape of the so-called Gilboa six from in September 2021, Ben-Sheetrit informed Perry that he was severing all ties with the district commander because of the allegations he made against him.
Perry responded that he must obey Yaakov’s orders, but Ben-Sheetrit insisted that he would not cooperate with him and refused to budge.
"As an officer, you must understand that I can't go on and serve under [Yaakov]... who has been telling lies and fabrications about me and my subordinates ... in an effort attempt to avoid taking responsibility," Ben-Sheetrit wrote to Perry after she commanded him to continue operating as "bound by his duty."
Following the decision, Ben-Sheetrit's attorneys stated that he is "taking a forced leave with his head held high." They accused Perry of making Ben-Sheetrit, who backs his subordinates, to leave rather than the district commander who lies about them.
They also claimed that Perry acted without granting Ben-Sheetrit the right to a hearing, as required. "The commissioner's decision reflects on her and affirms what is already widely known about her command principles," the attorneys added.
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In November 2021, Ben-Sheetrit alleged that Perry asked Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev to remove him from his post at the Gilboa Prison, in an attempt to deflect pressure on her to resign.
Ben-Sheetrit gave testimony to the government commission investigating the jailbreak for a second time last month and described the faults that were found in the jail and allowed the escape as "a chain of tragic events."
He appeared once more before the committee, which is currently looking into people who were issued warning letters after their prior appearances. Ben-Sheetrit remarked that "people make mistakes" in addition to "deficiencies regarding the infrastructures and a lack of means that have nothing to do with us."
Ben Shetrit stated that he "bears responsibility for what happens in the prison since I took office," but he would not admit that he was at fault for the prisoners' escape.
He claims that "As the prison's commander, I faced many challenges and meager means to address them. As far as I could tell, I gave the right directions. I feel accountable as commander if my commands were in error to some extent." He further stated that the prison guards "work in a very demanding and dangerous profession that is not rewarding enough."