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Ex-prison guard alleges sexual assault by security inmate accused of raping soldier

New claims from another guard at Gilboa Prison add to growing scandal over accusations that female wardens were ‘pimped’ to Palestinian prisoners

Screen capture from an August 2, 2022, interview with a former Gilboa Prison guard, 'Shirli,' who alleged that she was sexuallly assaulted by a Palestinian security prisoner. (Channel 12)
Screen capture from an August 2, 2022, interview with a former Gilboa Prison guard, 'Shirli,' who alleged that she was sexuallly assaulted by a Palestinian security prisoner. (Channel 12)

Another former guard at Gilboa Prison has come forward to describe how she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a Palestinian security prisoner during her tenure at the maximum-security facility, with some knowledge from her superiors of the general environment.

The woman spoke to Channel 12 on Tuesday under the pseudonym Shirli and backed up claims from other female guards that daily life at the Gilboa Prison was largely dictated by prisoner Mahmoud Atallah.

Atallah is at the center of a sexual assault scandal at the facility, where reports of female IDF soldiers and guards being sexually harassed and assaulted surfaced again recently, following initial details several years ago.

He has been in solitary confinement since 2018 when reports first came to light that an intelligence officer at the prison allegedly “pimped” female guards to him and to other Palestinian inmates, at his request. Atallah was a prominent figure among prisoners and kept Palestinian inmates quiet, which he allegedly did in exchange for having female guards in his ward and for sexual favors for himself and other Palestinian prisoners.

Female soldiers first alleged in 2018 that they were forced by the intelligence officer into close contact with prisoners as sexual bargaining chips, leading to them being harassed and assaulted, but the case was closed due to a lack of evidence.

At least six female guards have since reported sexual abuse by Atallah, including one who said she was raped and sexually assaulted by him multiple times.

In November, Gilboa Prison warden Freddy Ben Shitrit, who was not serving at the prison when the incidents allegedly took place, made bombshell remarks regarding the allegations. This led IPS chief Katy Perry to initiate proceedings to oust the intelligence officer at the prison, Rani Basha, who had been implicated in the case. State prosecutors also ordered police to reopen the probe into the case.

Earlier this month, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev approved Basha’s dismissal, citing the “serious violation of his duties as a prison guard” and noting that the decision was made in part “to prevent serious damage to the public’s trust in the [IPS].”

In his remarks, Ben Shitrit said female soldiers who were guards at the prison had been pressed into serving as eye candy for some inmates, as a means of keeping prisoners from getting out of hand.

The guard who accused Atallah of rape came forward last week to say she was “handed over” by her commander to a dangerous terrorist “so that he could hurt me and sexually abuse me again and again,” and said that in the prison, he was nicknamed the “commander.”

Shirli told Channel 12 Tuesday that she “identifies” with the guard who said she was raped.

Another female soldier who previously came forward said that she had been ordered to accompany Atallah around the facility, which gave him opportunities to assault her, including by groping her buttocks, while her bosses turned a blind eye.

Describing her service at the prison, Shirli recalled that she quickly came to understand that Atallah controlled activities not just his own wing, but all the others too. She said that for much of her time, she was alone in the wing with the security prisoners.

Over time, Atallah won her trust and repeatedly assured her he would protect her from other prisoners, she described.

Shirli said things took a turn when Palestinian terrorist Amjad Awad arrived at the prison. Awad is convicted of carrying out a 2011 attack in the West Bank settlement of Itamar in which, together with an accomplice, he murdered five members of the Fogel family including an infant.

Palestinian security prisoner Mahmoud Atallah is accused of sexually assaulting and raping female IDF soldiers and guards at Gilboa Prison, in a scandal that alleges the wardens were ‘pimped’ out to Palestinian inmates. (Courtesy)

Shirli said that, over time, she felt that Awad was hostile to her and confided her fears to Atallah who told her that Awad indeed intended to attack her, but that he would protect her.

She said she spoke to her superiors who, she claimed, said they knew of the threat and who assured her the matter was being handled.

Days later, Atallah asked Shirli to speak privately in an area of the prison where there were no cameras, she recounted. There, he grabbed her hands and pressed himself against her, groping her body until she was able to break away, she said.

Shirli said she did not tell anyone of the incident at the time but eventually filed a complaint in January.

Atallah’s attorney told the station that his client denies the accusations.

Keren Barak, an attorney who represents several women who have served at Gilboa Prison over the past decade and claim to have been “pimped” to security prisoners on several occasions, called for a commission of inquiry into the allegations about Gilboa Prison, insisting to Channel 12 that the prison service cannot be trusted to investigate itself.

The Israel Prisons Service said in a statement that the details of all of the guards’ testimonies involved in the affair are being investigated. It stressed it has “zero tolerance towards any kind of harmful sexual behavior.”

Last week, a former IDF soldier identified under the pseudonym Hila said she was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by Atallah while she served in Gilboa Prison, with the full knowledge of her commander.

According to Hila, the prisoner “controlled all the officers and staff, who listened to him and carried out his ‘commands’ without debate.”

On Tuesday, police took further testimony from Hila, arriving at her home in the north part of the country to speak with her, Channel 13 reported.

Hila had already given evidence to police last June, though at the time she complained only of indecent acts that she suffered, the station said.

Illustrative: A police officer keeps watch from an observation tower at the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel on September 6, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Prosecutors are looking to add the charges against Atallah, who has already been indicted for indecent acts and sexual assault against two female guards, the network reported. After two other guards filed complaints in January, prosecutors moved to add their allegations to the indictments.

Meanwhile, the former head of the Gibloa Prison was questioned on Monday by prison investigators about the claims, Kan reported.

According to a Channel 12 news report last week, Atallah had told security officials as early as eight months ago that he had sexual relations with a female soldier at the prison. Despite this, the case was not further investigated at the time, and Atallah has remained in solitary confinement since the allegations against him were first raised.

Atallah claims the sex was consensual, Kan reported citing his attorney.

State Comptroller Matan Engelman on Tuesday called on those who were harmed or who have information to come forward and give the details to the comptroller’s office.

Addressing the former guards who say they were abused, Engleman said “my heart is with you, I understand the terrible trauma that you experienced.”

He vowed to “turn over every stone to find the deficiencies and the unforgivable acts.”

President Isaac Herzog expressed “shock and pain” and urged an “in-depth” investigation into the accusations on Tuesday.

Earlier, Prime Minister Yair Lapid toured Ofer Prison, a facility for security detainees in the West Bank, with the purpose of studying the prison’s security wards and the ways prison guards interact with prisoners, his office said.

“We will investigate, we will get to the truth,” Lapid said during the visit. “The State of Israel won’t stand by amid concerns that a prison guard in her mandatory service in Israel was raped or sexually harassed by terrorists.”

Also Tuesday, the retired commander of the Northern District of the Prison Service Makbil Tafesh said that sexual assault allegations made against Gilboa prisoners, with prison commanders’ complicity, are a “lie,” Channel 12 News reported.

Tafesh oversaw Gilboa Prison and other jails throughout Israel’s north in 2016-2019, which coincides with when female guards first came forth with allegations of sexual abuse.

Tafesh said that he had never received any complaints of sexual abuse of female prison guards and that any complaints of improper behavior by prisoners were addressed immediately.

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