State Secrets and Security Threats: How Israel Will Handle its Newest Prisoner

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks to press at the Jerusalem Supreme Court on December 29, 2015. Photo by Noam Moskowitz/POOL
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks to press at the Israel Supreme Court in Yerushalayim on Tuesday. (Noam Moskowitz/POOL)


When he enters prison in February, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will serve his time in a special section of Maasiyahu Prison reserved for “prisoners under threat.” As a former prime minister Olmert had access to important state secrets, according to prison officials – which means that he needs to be protected from threats that could arise, not just for his own sake, but for the security of all Israelis.

Although there are no known outstanding threats to the health or welfare of Olmert, that area of the prison is also used to hold politically sensitive prisoners, who for various reasons prison officials feel would not mix well with the general population.

In a statement Tuesday, the Prisons Service said that Olmert would join about 20 other prisoners who are held under slightly better conditions than other prisoners. Olmert’s cell, for example, will be 4.5 meters square, compared to about 3 meters square for others. Olmert will have no more than two roommates, while “normal” cells usually hold five or six prisoners. In addition, each cell has its own restroom and shower facilities, as opposed to the general facilities that serve dozens of prisoners in other sections of the prison.

If Olmert does have any roommates, the officials said, they will be vetted for security purposes, to ensure that they have no connection with any individual or organization that could use state secrets in any negative manner.

There are a number of similar prisoners at Maasiyahu, sources in the Prisons Service said – among them former police officers, as well as senior members of the security establishment, whose arrest, conviction and imprisonment have never been publicized. Officials said that the Prisons Service unfortunately had plenty of experience with security-sensitive prisoners, but of course never before with a former prime minister, whose access to state secrets is likely to trump those of any other prisoner Olmert might come into contact with.

In its final word on the case, the High Court ruled Tuesday on an appeal of the six individuals convicted in the Holyland apartment project case, sentencing Olmert to eighteen months in prison. The sentence was a substantial reduction from the six years Olmert had originally been sentenced to serve.

Olmert and several others were convicted of their roles in illegally approving the large Holyland apartment project in the Malchah neighborhood of Yerushalayim. The project required extensive changes to zoning laws, and according to prosecutors, the defendants were involved in various schemes and conspiracies to accept money from contractors and other interested parties to change or bend rules, or to look aside as others did.


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