The escape from Gilboa Prison by six security prisoners appears to have been a wake-up call for Israel Prison Service head Katy Perry. Perry has been busy examining the supervision of prisons, in particular those structurally similar to Gilboa Prison. Likewise, she has been working to separate inmates and have them dispersed across different prisons.
Perry, who spent a majority of her time in the Israel Prison Service in intelligence roles, was surprised not only by the escape but what looks like the negligent conduct of the terrorists from the moment they exited the tunnel until word of their escape was known around three hours later. She has not ruled out the possibility the terrorists broke out earlier than planned, and as a result, no one was waiting for them to help them evade capture. While she is not familiar with the details coming to light in Shin Bet security agency investigations, Perry told close associates: “They apparently planned to embarrass us on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and not the evening prior.”
Perry first received word of the escape some three hours after it took place. When she asked for further information, there were those who initially believed the prison break to have been a stunt.
She told close associates she expected the head of the prison, Freddy Ben-Shitrit, to resign. “There was an oversight. I’m not here to sweep it under the rug. I’m here to do everything so that what needs fixing is fixed in its entirety,” she said in closed talks.
“I don’t believe the prison guards cooperated with the inmates on a personal level, but this is definitely a case of a series of questionable incidents,” she said, referring to the fact that there was no justifiable reason for Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, to have been transferred to the cell from which he made his escape and that those tasked with examining the floor of the prison cell on a weekly basis failed to discover the opening to the tunnel. Add to that the fact that the guard stationed in the control room with views of all the prison’s walls failed to notice what was happening and a soldier with the Military Police fell asleep while on guard duty in the guard tower. The IPS head reportedly intends to examine whether IDF soldiers should be tasked with such critical prison roles.
Fourteen guards and the prison commander have testified to the police thus far. One guard has been questioned under warning on suspicion of severe negligence. Nevertheless, the announcement the government will establish a state commission of inquiry has slowed the police investigation and put the Israel Prisons Service own internal investigation on hold.
Perry admitted security prisoners have in their possession dozens of cellphones smuggled in during visits with family members and their attorneys. She said the IPS wanted to act on this front but had not received the cooperation of the Shin Bet security agency on the matter. “This is a sensitive and complex issue, I will answer it before the committee,” she said.
According to her close associates, Perry has rejected claims of politically motivated appointments at the IPS as “fake news.”
Perry is said to be convinced she is being targeted because she is a woman, saying: “I was appointed to the role because I was found to be deserving of it, but those who called for me to resign did that because I am a woman.” Perry said all those anonymously attacking her were frustrated former IPS officials. “Some of them I know. Red lines were crossed. These are officers who served in the organization and are doing everything to harm me and the organization out of a desire for revenge because they weren’t promoted,” she told close associates. “There is an organization that stands behind the prison guards. It failed. There were failures in the past. I’m not dismissing them, but I promise they will be rectified on my watch.”