Gantz says he’ll reevaluate drafting soldiers into Prisons Service amid rape claims

Defense minister demands conscripts not enter terror convict wings until allegations investigated; in June, panel found no issues with draftees serving outside of IDF

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Gilboa Prison, February 28, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)
Gilboa Prison, February 28, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday he had ordered the reevaluation of a years-long agreement allowing conscripts to be drafted to the Israel Prisons Service (IPS), following claims made by a former soldier that she was repeatedly raped by a Palestinian security prisoner.

Gantz issued a letter to Public Security Minister Omer Barlev — who oversees the IPS — demanding conscripted soldiers not be allowed in the same prison wings as Palestinian terror convicts, until the rape allegations are investigated.

Reports of female soldiers 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.

“I believe that service which involves dealing with security prisoners requires adequate and comprehensive training, and an in-depth understanding with the workings of the Prisons Service, and therefore it is necessary to consider whether this role should be performed by conscripts in mandatory service,” Gantz said in the letter on Monday

“Also, it is necessary to examine under what conditions such service can be implemented, and what are the conditions needed to maintain their safety and physical well-being,” Gantz added.

Earlier this week, the Ynet news site reported that a Palestinian prisoner convicted of terrorism, Mahmoud Atallah, was being investigated by police over sexual assault while behind bars.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a Channel 13 News conference in Jerusalem on July 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Atallah has been in solitary confinement since 2018, over a scandal in which an intelligence officer allegedly “pimped” female guards to him and to other Palestinian inmates, at his request.

A former soldier, who has not been named publicly, said Thursday in bombshell allegations that she was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by a Palestinian security prisoner while she served at Gilboa Prison, with reports identifying the man as Atallah.

According to a Channel 12 news report Monday, 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.

Last month, Barlev approved firing the intelligence officer at the prison over claims he “pimped” female guards. Rani Basha had been on leave since November 2021, when Freddy Ben Shitrit, the warden of the prison in northern Israel, made bombshell remarks regarding the allegations.

The decision to reopen the probe into the claims also came after Ben Shitrit — who was not at the prison when the incidents allegedly took place — 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.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev (center) and Israel Prisons Service chief commissioner Katy Perry (left) visit Ketziot prison in southern Israel, on September 9, 2021. (Israel Prisons Service)

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 Prisons Service.

In October, the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry established a special team to examine the service conditions of conscripts recruited to units outside of the military to ensure they are appropriate.

In June, its findings and recommendations were presented to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. It said soldiers conscripted to the IPS were largely happy with their positions and had high motivation for service. Although it also recommended establishing a small unit to be in charge of overseeing those soldiers’ personal matters as they serve outside of the IDF.

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