Tinderbox: Why no one dares to challenge Israel's failed security prison policy

There's one thing that prisoners and warders agree on: Israel's security prisons are poorly managed. At the heart of this failure is a long-standing policy with just one goal – keeping the occupied territories quiet, even though the connection between events in prisons and what happens on the ground is no longer what it once was. Moreover, the Israel Prisons Service inadvertently creates prisoner-leaders, turns a blind eye to sexual harassment of female warders, and strengthens the bond between prisoners and terror organizations. It is not the only culprit in this story: the Shin Bet is nixing any reform and, while the politicians have had harsh comments, they opted not to do anything. A Shomrim report.


There's one thing that prisoners and warders agree on: Israel's security prisons are poorly managed. At the heart of this failure is a long-standing policy with just one goal – keeping the occupied territories quiet, even though the connection between events in prisons and what happens on the ground is no longer what it once was. Moreover, the Israel Prisons Service inadvertently creates prisoner-leaders, turns a blind eye to sexual harassment of female warders, and strengthens the bond between prisoners and terror organizations. It is not the only culprit in this story: the Shin Bet is nixing any reform and, while the politicians have had harsh comments, they opted not to do anything. A Shomrim report.


There's one thing that prisoners and warders agree on: Israel's security prisons are poorly managed. At the heart of this failure is a long-standing policy with just one goal – keeping the occupied territories quiet, even though the connection between events in prisons and what happens on the ground is no longer what it once was. Moreover, the Israel Prisons Service inadvertently creates prisoner-leaders, turns a blind eye to sexual harassment of female warders, and strengthens the bond between prisoners and terror organizations. It is not the only culprit in this story: the Shin Bet is nixing any reform and, while the politicians have had harsh comments, they opted not to do anything. A Shomrim report.


Roni Singer

A Palestinian prisoner waits to be released from Ketziot prison, southern Israel, October 1, 2007. Photo: Reuters

February 15, 2022

Summary

For several decades now, Israel's policy when it comes to handling prisons holding security offenders has had just one goal: keeping things quiet inside the jails and in the occupied territories. In the name of quiet, the prison's various wings are segregated according to the inmates' affiliation to Palestinian organizations. Moreover, this policy creates leaders within the prison population, who enjoy a reciprocal relationship with authorities, often at the expense of the correctional officers (and especially, as has recently been reported, female officers).

The authority of the Israel Prisons Service is limited, as is the support it gets from the government. And if that were not enough, the Shin Bet is also sticking its oar in, thwarting essential reform. So, who is really in charge of the security prisoners?

"Don't let them pull the wool over your eyes. The IPS created leaders like Mahmoud Attallah in order to maintain quiet. The IPS just wants to get through the day in one piece. The guards want to get their salaries and get home safely. So, they create leaders like Attallah. I know. I have seen it with my own two eyes. There are people like Attallah in every security prison: leaders who get whatever they want in exchange for information and quiet. Female guards being harassed? Escapes? You might have been surprised, but I wasn't." These infuriating comments were made to Shomrim by A, a former security prisoner recently released after serving a lengthy sentence.

Mahmoud Attallah hit the headlines again last month, as the leader of the security prisoners in the Gilboa Prison, after allegation of pimpings – the accusation in which Attallah demanded that his wing in prison be staffed with young, female guards, whom he allegedly sexually harassed – resurfaced during the investigation into an escape from the same prison. Attallah is the most prominent of these prisoner-leaders, but every security prison – Ramon, Nafha, Ktzi'ot, and Gilboa – has their own Attallah.

Conversations with IPS employees and inmates paint an identical picture: the authorities treat all prisoners like one homogenous grouping (even if they belong to different Palestinian factions), with one or a handful of spokesmen who wield a great deal of power.

"When I was an inmate, I was in all the prisons," says A. "They all have their own Attallah, just with a different name. The warders have a give-and-take relationship with them to help build their power. The media has reported about the female warders who were attacked, but you have no idea how many inmates are harmed by the reciprocal relations between the leaders and the intelligence officers in the Shin Bet."

The escape from Gilboa Prison, the blind eye that authorities allegedly turned to the harassment of female officers, and the recent hunger strike that only ended with the release of Hisham Abu Hawash from administrative detention all highlight the absurd way that the IPS chooses to run Israel's security prisons.

There are plenty of reasons for this behavior – the lack of a coherent policy, the absence of government backing, willfully ignoring incidents and events, and so on. The outcome is the same: repeated failings.

The root of the problem is the perception of the role of the IPS when it comes to security prisoners. Former IPS assistant commissioner Benny Tayar, who was the commander of Damon Prison, puts it like this: "The IPS provides babysitting services for security prisoners. It gets an inmate for one year, ten years, or 20 years – and all it wants is for there to be quiet and for nothing to set the West Bank ablaze. Other players above the IPS – the Shin Bet and the government – also want this quiet. There is an informal dialogue between the people guarding the prisoners and the people guarding the territories on the outside – in other words, the Shin Bet."

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
To read the full story click here.