Israeli Minister Didn't See Need for Government Inquiry Into Gilboa Jailbreak, Prison Chief Says

The six Palestinian prisoners who escaped Gilboa Prison last year 'outsmarted' guards, prison service chief Katy Perry tells the government inquiry commission that was eventually set up

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Israel Prison Service Chief Katy Perry, in July.
Israel Prison Service Chief Katy Perry, in July.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Israel's public security minister said on the day six Palestinian prisoners escaped from the Gilboa Prison last year that he wasn't "going to investigate" it, Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry said on Sunday, laying the responsibility on her instead.

Speaking before the government inquiry commission probing the prisoners' escape from the high-security prison, Perry said that Public Security Minister Omar Bar-Lev arrived at the prison that day "and told me: 'Commissioner, I'm not going to investigate the escape, it's on you to investigate it,' and that's the way it was, and then he left."

Bar-Lev "didn't think there should be a commission, but then 48 hours later something happened," she added. "I don't know why."

Israel's Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev at a Knesset meeting on the Gilboa Prison break, last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Perry insisted that the Israel Prison Service would not ignore internal problems and ensures staff adherence to protocol.

"The Prison Service has accepted all government policies over the years, such as when the state decided that public phones were to be installed in [prison] security wings contrary to his [former Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan's] position, as well as the position of the Prison Service.

The chairman of the inquiry panel, retired judge Menachem Finkelstein, asked Perry whether she agrees that the prisoners who escaped "were smarter than the guards," to which Perry replied: "It was difficult for me to understand the evidence… yes, in this case, they outsmarted [the guards] over a period of time."

Perry added that she inherited an organization "in deep crisis with chronic manpower, budget, and other problems…" and that "there are great faculty members in the Prison Service, though there are elements of its corporate culture that need to be changed."

This was Perry's third appearance before the commission and her testimony is expected to continue until Tuesday. She initially appeared after being summoned by the commission and appeared a second time on her own initiative.

Perry's testimony this week follows a warning from the commission that she may be found responsible for last year's infamous prison break. In recent weeks, three other witnesses appeared before the commission following warnings that they too could be deemed responsible by the commission's conclusions, including Gilboa Prison director Freddy Ben-Sheetrit; Arik Ya'akov, the northern district commander of the prison service; and Moni Biton, the operations division director of the service, who is also Katy Perry's deputy.

Last week, Perry said that she had ordered 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.

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 the investgating commission, Ben-Sheetrit informed Perry that he was severing all ties with the district commander because of the allegations he made against him.

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