Public Security Minister Omer Barlev on Thursday said he asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to order an investigation into allegations that female soldiers were “pimped” out to terror inmates in order to keep the prisoners happy.
Barlev said in a statement that Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai had told him that police opened a probe into the allegations, which were re-aired Wednesday by Gilboa Prison Warden Freddy Ben Shitrit during testimony to a commission of inquiry probing a recent prison break.
Barlev called the allegations “shocking and nauseating.”
Female soldiers first alleged in 2018 that they were forced 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.
Since Ben Shitrit — who was not at the prison when the incidents allegedly took place — gave new testimony, calls have grown for the case to be reopened.
But the existing commission of inquiry looking into the escape of six terror convicts from Gilboa Prison said it would not investigate the claims surrounding the female soldiers.
“The panel of inquiry wishes to clarify that this subject… is not open for it to probe,” the head of the panel said in a statement. “We are relying on the relevant authorities to give their opinion on the matter.”
According to the Walla news site, officials from the Public Security Ministry had earlier said the matter was within the commission’s purview.
“The pimping incident was a massive incident,” Ben Shitrit said on Wednesday.
One of the soldiers who said she was sexually assaulted in the incident called for the investigation to be reopened.
The soldier, who was not identified by name, told Walla that she and other guards had been sexually assaulted by a Palestinian terrorist named Muhammad Atallah. The guards claimed the prison’s management knew about the abuse and covered it up until media reports about the affair brought it to light in June 2018 by Channel 20.
Those reports alleged that an intelligence officer in the prison placed female guards in the facility’s security wing at the request of the terrorist.
Channel 12 said three soldiers were involved in the case.
The female soldier who came forward said 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.
In exchange, Atallah, a powerful figure among the prisoner population, kept the facility quiet for the prison staff, according to Channel 13.
“They sent me on assignments I wasn’t supposed to do to be a sexual object in order to get intelligence,” one of the alleged victims told Channel 12. “One of the security prisoners acted however he wanted toward me. Insults, sexual offenses, verbal assaults. Every time I came for a shift I was depressed.”
She said she was used “as an object, as a pretty girl, as a tempting young woman. To just be a sexual object to get information out of them.”
“My commanders didn’t care about what I was feeling or experiencing,” she said.
The intelligence officer acknowledged putting guards with the prisoner after he requested their presence by name, Walla reported.
The officer was suspended, but has since returned to the prison service.
The prison service said Wednesday that the revived allegations were an attempt to deflect from Ben Shitrit’s testimony about the prison’s mismanagement.
The case was “investigated under a previous commissioner and closed by the State Attorney’s Office,” the prison service said in a statement. “If Ben Shitrit has new information in his hands that justifies reopening the investigation, he must immediately pass it on to enforcement authorities.”
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli called the comments by Ben Shitrit “shocking.”
“I’m sure that all the shortcomings and atrocities that occurred in the prison in recent years will be uncovered, and rectified,” she said.
Former Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin said on Thursday that she petitioned several times in 2018 for an external body to be appointed to probe the allegations.
She shared on Twitter a copy of a response she received from then-public security minister Gilad Erdan in which he said he had already appointed a prison official to look into the allegations and that the case had been transferred to the police.
In the letter, Erdan promised to take the allegations seriously and follow up on the matter pending the results of the police probe.
Despite his statement, the case, which received little media attention before Wednesday’s bombshell testimony, was closed for lack of evidence, and there was no known follow-up.