Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev on Tuesday reached an agreement to reevaluate a years-long arrangement whereby conscripts can be drafted to the Israel Prison Service (IPS), following claims by former soldiers of rape and sexual abuse by Palestinian terror inmates.
The two ministries were to establish a joint team that will examine the positions given to female soldiers in the IPS and submit recommendations by the end of November, a statement said.
On Tuesday, a court allowed the media to publish that the prisoner suspected of raping a former soldier and potentially abusing others is Mahmoud Atallah.
Atallah has been in solitary confinement since 2018, over a scandal in which intelligence officer Rani Basha allegedly “pimped” female guards to him and to other Palestinian inmates, at his request. Last month, Barlev approved firing Basha, who had been on leave since November 2021.
Reports of female soldiers and prison officers being sexually harassed and assaulted in Israeli prisons surfaced several years ago, but then were largely dropped until last year when a probe was reopened following new allegations.
Gantz, as defense minister, oversees the draft of Israeli soldiers, and Barlev oversees the IPS. A 2005 agreement transferred responsibility for Palestinian terror convicts from the army to the IPS. The plan entailed having some soldiers perform their mandatory army service at prison sites. It was initially approved for three years and has been regularly reauthorized ever since.
Gantz has previously threatened not to renew the arrangement allowing soldiers to serve outside of the Israel Defense Forces until the rape allegations are investigated.
But the joint statement said that upcoming drafts of soldiers to the IPS would continue as usual. The pair agreed to prohibit soldiers from entering the cells of security prisoners, and increase the number of routine checks “in order to ensure the safeguarding of conscripts’ personal safety.”
“The personal safety of all the conscripts, in the IPS or any other unit, must be our top priority. The events that allegedly took place within the prison walls are extremely serious, and we must not ignore them,” Gantz said.
“The team that will be established will conduct an in-depth investigation and reexamine the nature of the service, concurrent with immediate actions already being taken on the ground,” he added.
In October, the IDF and Defense Ministry established a team to examine the service conditions of conscripts recruited to units outside the military to ensure they are appropriate. In June it said it found soldiers serving in the IPS were largely happy with their positions and had high motivation for service.
Last month, the Ynet news site reported that Atallah, a Palestinian prisoner convicted of terrorism, was being investigated by police over sexual assault while behind bars.
A former soldier, who goes by the pseudonym Hila, said in bombshell allegations that she had been repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by a Palestinian security prisoner while she served at Gilboa Prison, now revealed to be Atallah.
“The alleged events that we were exposed to are very serious and require all of us to fight with zero tolerance against it and similar serious phenomena, and also to ensure the safety and security of the male and female conscripts in the Prison Service in particular — for this purpose the joint team was established — and in the rest of the security forces,” Barlev said in Tuesday’s statement.
Gilboa Prison chief Freddy Ben Shitrit — who was not in the post when the incidents allegedly took place — has said female soldiers who were guards at the prison had been pressed into serving as eye candy or worse for some inmates, as a means of keeping prisoners from getting out of hand.
Ben Shitrit made the claims during testimony before a commission of inquiry probing last September’s prison break by Palestinian terror convicts, which highlighted a series of shortcomings in the prison’s operations and sparked harsh criticism of the Prison Service.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.