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Sexual abuse claims in Gilboa prison are ‘lie,’ former prison service commander says

Retired northern district prison commander Makbil Tafesh says that alleged sexual assaults ‘didn’t happen,’ despite at least 6 guards coming forward so far

Retired northern district prison commander Makbil Tafesh in a televised interview with Channel 12, August 2, 2022. (Screen Capture)
Retired northern district prison commander Makbil Tafesh in a televised interview with Channel 12, August 2, 2022. (Screen Capture)

The retired commander of the Northern District of the Prison Service Makbil Tafesh said that sexual assault allegations made against Gilboa prisoners, with prison commanders’ complicity, are a “lie,” Channel 12 News reported Tuesday.

Tafesh oversaw Gilboa Prison and other jails throughout Israel’s north in 2016-2019, which coincides with when female guards first came forth with allegations of sexual abuse in 2018. However, Tafesh said that he had never received any complaints of sexual abuse of female prison guards and that any complaints of improper behavior by prisoners were addressed immediately.

At least six women have come forward to allege that female soldiers were “pimped out” to be raped and sexually abused by security prisoners at Gilboa Prison.

Last week, a former IDF soldier identified under the pseudonym Hila said she was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by a Palestinian security prisoner while she served in Gilboa Prison, with the full knowledge of her commander.

“In my assessment, it didn’t happen,” Tafesh said. “I don’t know what the motive is, who perhaps took advantage of these girls for the sake of money or there was… someone resentful, frustrated, [or] hurt by some decision.”

“It’s sensitive, so everyone sympathizes,” he said. “Let them investigate and turn over every stone… But in my assessment, there was never a prison guard pimp.”

Retired prison service officer Noga Sharon, who served as a welfare officer in the Gilboa prison, told Channel 12, “There is no way they didn’t know and they’re denying that something happened with the soldier on their watch.”

The case was investigated in 2018 after the initial allegations but was closed due to a lack of evidence.

Illustrative: Police stand guard outside Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

In total, six female guards came forward and accounted sexual abuse by Mahmoud Atallah, including one who reported being raped and sexually assaulted by him multiple times.

Atallah was a prominent figure among prisoners and kept them quiet, which he allegedly did in exchange for having female guards in his ward and for sexual favors for himself and other Palestinian prisoners.

According to a Channel 12 news report last week, 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, and Atallah has been in solitary confinement since 2018 as a result of the allegations.

Investigations were renewed in late 2021 when Gilboa Prison warden Freddy Ben Shitrit, who was not serving at the prison when the incidents allegedly took place, made bombshell remarks regarding the allegations.

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

In early July, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev approved the dismissal of the intelligence officer at the prison, Rani Basha, citing the “serious violation of his duties as a prison guard” and noting that the decision was made in part “to prevent serious damage to the public’s trust in the [IPS].” Basha is accused of placing female guards in the facility’s security wing at the request of Atallah, which he denies.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday he had ordered the reevaluation of a years-long agreement allowing military conscripts to be drafted to the Israel Prisons Service (IPS). He issued a letter to 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.

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