‘I will not be a scapegoat’: Prisons head said to reject calls to resign

Katy Perry insists she won’t take blame for ‘years of neglect’ as she’s reported to seek firing of Gilboa jail chief over one of worst jailbreaks in Israeli history

Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry speaks during a Knesset Public Security Committee meeting on September 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry speaks during a Knesset Public Security Committee meeting on September 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry has reportedly said she will not resign over the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners earlier this month from the high-security Gilboa Prison, placing blame on the head of the facility, other governmental bodies, and “years of neglect.”

Perry, who took office as head of Israel’s 30 prison facilities in January, has faced a wave of scrutiny since the incident, one of the worst jailbreaks in Israeli history.

Perry has resisted calls to resign since the prison break, and insisted she will stay in her position to “serve the State of Israel and its citizens.” So far, she has largely received the backing of government figures and other prison officials. Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said last week that he sees no reason that Perry should not remain in her position while a state commission of inquiry investigates the Gilboa Prison jailbreak.

According to her close associates quoted by the Kan public broadcaster Thursday night, Perry said she was “going to [the state commission of inquiry] with great confidence… I will not be a scapegoat for decades of neglect.”

She reportedly said it was “illogical and unfair” for her to resign.

Channel 12 and 13 carried similar quotes.

According to the sources, Perry places primary blame on Gilboa Prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit, who directly oversaw the litany of blunders that allowed the breakout to occur in the first place.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape by six Palestinian prisoners, outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

At the same time, Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit has reportedly prevented Perry from firing Ben Shitrit and other officers in the wake of the escape, saying that she too needed to wait until the findings of the commission, Channel 12 reported.

Legal sources said Mandeblit feared Perry was trying to influence the commission by putting the focus on these officers.

She also reportedly accused other security bodies of failing to prevent the escape.

“I see the committee as an opportunity to open up the issue of security prisoners. The question of whether there was intelligence responsibility from other bodies, as well, is part of the mandate of the committee,” Kan quoted Perry saying.

In comments to the Knesset Public Security Committee last week, Perry urged against jumping to conclusions about the Gilboa Prison jailbreak before the commission of inquiry ordered by Public Security Minister Omer Barlev could complete its work.

“I recommend letting the committee finish its work and finish its investigation” before making significant decisions, she said.

At the start of the cabinet meeting last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the Gilboa Prison jailbreak should serve as a “wake-up call” to reform corrupt government institutions that had deteriorated under past administrations.

A prison guard is seen in a watchtower at Gilboa prison, in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

“Some state systems have deteriorated in recent years and must go through processes of correction, efficiency, and of striving for excellence,” he said. “It is possible and it is required to operate differently… what has gone wrong can be repaired.”

Bennett implied that under past governments, appointments to top positions were made for political reasons, but that moving forward there must be “clean and quality appointments, made for professional reasons only.”

Since the escape, Perry herself has been accused of making inappropriate appointments and working to favor imprisoned family members.

Recent investigative reports in Yediot Aharonot and Haaretz allege that Perry has acted inappropriately during her tenure in the Prisons Service, including appointing unqualified individuals to top positions and using her role to aid family members. Perry — who was appointed by then Likud public security minister Amir Ohana — reportedly cultivated close ties with Likud officials in hopes of advancing her career.

Perry was quoted by Kan Thursday saying that allegations in the reports come from “a group of officers that left the organization indignant because they did not get what they wanted. All the current staff is now behind me.”

Last week Israel recaptured the final two escapees who spent nearly two weeks on the run.

The six, including five Islamic Jihad members,  escaped from Gilboa Prison in the predawn hours of September 6, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison. They had reportedly begun digging in November, using plates, panhandles, building debris and part of a metal hanger, according to various reports.

Iham Kamamji, one of the six prisoners who escaped out of Israel’s high-security Gilboa prison two weeks ago is seen at Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, September 19, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

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

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