The Palestinian prisoner at the center of a sex scandal involving female guards at a prison in southern Israel was identified on Monday as Mazen Al-Qadi, a 43-year-old convicted terrorist who was involved in a 2002 shooting and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv that killed three Israelis.
Qadi, from the Ramallah suburb of el-Bireh, is affiliated with Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority. He was convicted of aiding the terrorist who carried out the March 5, 2002 attack at the Seafood Market eatery on Menachem Begin Boulevard in Tel Aviv in which three were killed and 35 were injured.
The terrorist, a member of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was shot and killed by police at the scene. Qadi was one of the drivers in the attack. He was arrested later that month and sentenced to life in prison.
Qadi is now at the center of a prison scandal in which five soldiers serving as prison guards during their mandatory military service are under investigation for allegedly conducting personal and intimate relationships with him at Ramon Prison, near Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev desert.
According to Ynet on Monday, Qadi is considered a “high-status” and “dominant” security prisoner who holds sway with other prisoners at Ramon Prison and other facilities in southern Israel.
The scandal broke on Friday when Ynet first reported that an IDF soldier serving as a prison guard was suspected of having an intimate relationship involving consensual sexual activity with a Palestinian security prisoner.
The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court quickly placed a gag order on many of the details of the case, including the location of the prison, but new details soon emerged, and the number of suspected female guards involved rose to five.
The first suspect in the case was questioned by police on Thursday; she revealed 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.
On Monday evening, the Kan public broadcaster reported that a group of Palestinian security prisoners at Ramon prison, who are serving their time alongside Qadi, issued a letter denying that any intimate physical or sexual contact took place between him and the guard. They claimed that she was the first to initiate contact with Qadi and that the pair corresponded on Facebook.
בלעדי: מכתב הנהגת האסירים הביטחוניים שבו הם שוטחים בפניי את גרסתם לפרשת האסיר מאזן אל-קאדי והסוהרות: https://t.co/YZBy4264NX
— Elior Levy • אליאור לוי (@eliorlevy) October 2, 2023
They further said in the letter that “any contact, whether consensual or non-consensual between a prisoner and [prison] staff is unacceptable to us. It goes against our values, our religion, our tradition, and our customs.”
The prisoners said they believe Qadi engaged in contact with the guard to “recruit” her for alleged smuggling operations at the prison.
According to previously reported details, Qadi allegedly possessed a cellphone inside his prison cell which he used to communicate with several of the female guards and exchange photos, initial findings by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) showed. It was unclear if the phone was provided by one of the guards.
Qadi was transferred from his cell in Ramon Prison to a segregated wing on Friday morning and is set to be questioned about the relationships and for violating known restrictions on security prisoners (such as cellphone possession), the IPS said in a statement.
Channel 12 news also reported Saturday that three IPS officials would be questioned under caution on suspicion that they knew about the affair.
A lawyer for the first guard suspected of having an intimate relationship with Qadi said the prisoner had threatened his client into a non-consensual relationship. 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.”
Meanwhile, prison officials said they have moved to end all postings by female soldiers serving as guards in security prisons during their mandatory military service. According to a joint statement Friday by IPS Commander Katy Perry and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, the move will be implemented soon, 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.
Ben Gvir was said to be planning to submit a proposal to form a governmental commission of inquiry, headed by a judge, to examine IPS 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,” Ben Gvir was quoted by Ynet as saying.
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 IDF 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.