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Gilboa Prison chief during notorious jailbreak fired from position amid feud

Freddy Ben Shitrit, who ran prison when 6 Palestinian terrorists escaped, ousted after refusing to take commands from superior who publicly slammed his conduct

Gilboa Prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit arrives for his testimony at the state commission of inquiry into the incident of the escape of the security prisoners from the Gilboa Prison, in Modiin, July 31, 2022. (Flash90)
Gilboa Prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit arrives for his testimony at the state commission of inquiry into the incident of the escape of the security prisoners from the Gilboa Prison, in Modiin, July 31, 2022. (Flash90)

The head of a prison in northern Israel that was the site of a notorious jailbreak last year, as well as shocking allegations of inmates abusing female guards, has been fired from his position.

A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service said Wednesday that Commissioner Katy Perry had decided to fire Freddy Ben Shitrit as head of the Gilboa Prison due to his “unsuitability to continue serving.”

IPS said that Ben Shitrit — who has been on forced leave since August after he refused to accept the orders of his direct commander — agreed to the dismissal, and that the move was approved by outgoing Public Security Minister Omer Barlev.

Ben Shitrit was placed on forced leave earlier this year after he told Perry that he would not take orders from IPS Northern District Commander Arik Yaakov, who had told a commission of inquiry into the jailbreak that Ben Shitrit “failed at everything.”

In September 2021, six Palestinian terrorists escaped from the prison, and the final two convicts were not recaptured until two weeks later. The prisoners reportedly dug a tunnel for months before the prison break, using plates, panhandles, building debris and part of a metal hanger.

The episode was seen as a major failure and embarrassment to the Israel Prison Service.

The escape exposed a series of lapses at the prison, including a failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, such as unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape outside the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Yaakov told the commission of inquiry in August that Ben Shitrit served as a “rubber stamp” at the prison, without questioning any reports he received.

“He wasn’t aware of what was happening. It couldn’t have happened anywhere else,” Yaakov claimed, arguing that Ben Shitrit “managed to mislead the entire IPS command structure.”

In her own testimony to the commission in January, Perry also blamed Ben Shitrit, without accepting any responsibility herself.

“It is obvious and simple not to put two prisoners who are listed as ‘high risk of escape’ in the same cell for nine months, it is the direct responsibility of the prison commander,” Perry told the commission.

Ben Shitrit, meanwhile, accepted much of the blame for the failure but said that others were also at fault.

“I would like to clarify that I take full responsibility for what takes place in the prison,” he told the commission. “As far as I’m concerned, I gave the right orders. If my subordinates were wrong, as a commander, I feel like I’m responsible.”

Ben Shitrit’s initial testimony in November 2021 made headlines when he claimed that female IDF soldiers doing their military service in the prison as guards were “pimped” to Palestinian inmates.

The alleged incidents took place before Ben Shitrit became the head of the Gilboa Prison. The allegations were first reported in 2018, but strongly denied by IPS and an investigation was closed.

Ben Shitrit’s comments brought the scandal back to the forefront, and since then Palestinian terrorist Mahmoud Atallah was named as the inmate who allegedly assaulted female prison guards, and the accusations are being investigated.

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