Five soldiers serving as prison guards during their mandatory military service will be questioned under caution by police this coming week, including three on Sunday, on suspicion of having intimate relationships with a Palestinian security prisoner at Ramon Prison in southern Israel, according to Hebrew media reports Saturday.
One report, by Channel 12 news, added that three Israel Prison Service (IPS) officials would also be questioned under caution on suspicion that they knew about the affair.
The reports said National Security Prisoner Itamar Ben Gvir was planning to bring a proposal to the next cabinet meeting to form a governmental commission of inquiry, headed by a judge, to examine the Israel Prison Service’s conduct in the recently uncovered case as well as a previously revealed case in which convicted terrorists allegedly assaulted and raped female soldiers serving as prison guards at Gilboa Prison in the north, with some prison guards “pimping out” the conscripts to placate inmates.
“There is a systemic failure here, events that the minister cannot accept,” the Ynet news site quoted associates of Ben Gvir as saying.
The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court placed a gag order on many of the details of the current case, which was revealed on Friday, including the identity of the jailed terror convict.
The police investigation was opened after IPS officials received evidence that a female guard was having an intimate relationship involving sexual activity with the male inmate. The probe led to similar suspicions against the four additional servicewomen.
According to Ynet, which first reported the case, over the past year, the guard in question allegedly established ties with the prisoner, a Fatah member convicted of involvement in a terror attack in central Israel that led to the deaths of Israelis.
The prisoner allegedly possessed a phone inside his cell used to keep in touch with several of the female guards and exchange photos, according to initial findings by the IPS. It was unclear from the report if the phone was provided by one of the guards.
Ynet reported that there was a suspicion that a consensual physical interaction occurred between the guard and the prisoner.
The guard was questioned by police on Thursday, where she alleged four others were involved in inappropriate contact with the prisoner. She was released to house arrest on Thursday. The five soldiers are said to be nearing the end of their mandatory service.
The guard’s lawyer says that the prisoner threatened his client into a non-consensual relationship, but an unnamed senior police official told Ynet that evidence suggested otherwise.
Yair Ohayon, a lawyer representing the soldier, accused the police of “putting us in an impossible situation in which they issue a sweeping gag order on details of the investigation, but simultaneously make repeated leaks to the media that are mostly false.” He argued that when more information is published, “the public will know that the prison guard is the victim.”
Shortly after news of the incident broke, Ben Gvir and Israel Prison Service Commander Katy Perry issued a joint statement saying that all female IDF soldiers would “immediately stop” serving as guards in security prisons.
The joint statement added that the move would be implemented in the coming days to allow for a short period for the IPS to prepare for the switch. Stopping the service of female IDF soldiers in security prisons has been repeatedly pushed for, including by Ben Gvir, but has stalled due to a lack of manpower to replace the female soldiers.
The Palestinian inmate in question was transferred from his cell to a segregated wing Friday morning and will be questioned later, IPS said in a statement.
In a statement, Perry said that due to the “grave incident” in question, the IPS would “take all necessary steps and have zero tolerance for instances of [violating] moral values.”
Perry said the IPS has led a massive recruitment drive in recent months and has brought on 1,000 new guards who will replace IDF soldiers.
Ben Gvir said Friday that the “horrifying report” proved the need to dismiss female soldiers from guarding security prisoners.
The minister issued an order in January to begin the process of permanently halting the placement of Israel Defense Forces soldiers as prison guards for incarcerated terror inmates.
The decision came more than five months after then-defense minister Benny Gantz ordered an investigation into the arrangement last August, following the exposure of the “pimping” scandal at Gilboa.
Michael Horovitz contributed to this report.