Editorial |

Prison Guards Were 'Pimped Out' to Inmates, and Israel Silences the Victims

Haaretz Editorial
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Gilboa prison near the escape site.
The Gilboa prison in northern Israel, in 2021.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Haaretz Editorial

Last Thursday, a prison guard at Gilboa Prison revealed that she had been raped several years ago by a security prisoner inside the prison – with the knowledge of her commanders. Her case is part of a larger scandal of similar incidents.

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The revelation by the guard, a soldier doing her compulsory military service at the prison, comes three days after the news of an investigation by the police’s Lahav 433 division of a security prisoner suspected of committing severe sexual offenses against female wardens.

The investigation found that at the request of one of the prisoners – Mahmoud Atallah – an intelligence officer allegedly assigned female guards to his prison wing and that Atallah then sexually assaulted them.

Suspicions that a female guard was exploited with the knowledge of her commanders is appalling and shocking. “My commanders, members of my staff … handed me over to that terrorist,” she wrote. Atallah allegedly repeatedly raped her.

Although the incident is several years old, Atallah’s alleged offenses were only cleared for publication after the Ynet news website petitioned the court. A gag order has been imposed on the other details of the investigation.

This is a shocking case, that requires a serious investigation, but when investigations are conducted under gag orders, there is no real possibility of getting to the truth since both the suspect and the commanders can hide behind the confidentiality. The message conveyed is that the law enforcement system is protecting its people.

The conduct of the police and prosecution in this case has already proven to be negligent at best and an attempted cover-up at worst. Although the police investigation was opened in 2018 after a female guard contacted the intelligence officer of the Prison Service’s northern district, when it turned out that there was no documentation of the complaint (which was concealed), the police simply dropped it and only resumed the investigation due to media pressure.

Several months ago, a new case was opened following the testimony of the prison commander, Freddy Ben-Sheetrit, in front of the government commission investigating September’s prison break at Gilboa Prison. In his testimony, Ben-Sheetrit described the case as one of “pimping out of female guards [doing their] compulsory service.”

After that testimony, police received other complaints and reports regarding Atallah’s conduct. It is only the media reporting on the case that produced real results. Additional complainants were filed with the police, and one intelligence officer was actually dismissed – after a delay of four years.

Now, however, by virtue of a court order, the prosecution and police are seeking to repeat their mistakes. The desire to work under a cover of secrecy, away from the media and public, raises suspicions that the bodies conducting the investigation have something to hide.

In the past, retired Justice Dalia Dorner warned that gag orders were being issued too easily. Through its readiness to be a “rubber stamp,” the judiciary is unwillingly becoming a collaborator with the criminals, the corrupt and the worst of administrators.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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