Jail officer questioned over ex-soldier’s claim she was raped by inmate: report

A Prison Service intelligence officer was questioned on bail over allegations by a former female soldier that she was repeatedly raped by a security prisoner with the knowledge of her commanding officer, according to a Friday report.

The questioning came as Israel grapples with a wave of violence against women and Prime Minister Yair Lapid has promised to investigate the case at Gilboa prison.

The prison officer, Nisim Finish, was previously an intelligence officer at Gilboa prison and held that position when the soldier who made the rape allegations was serving there.

He was questioned on bail by investigators from the Lahav 433 National Crime Squad on Thursday, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

At least one other prison guard told police that she told Finish about the rapes at the prison. He had been investigated in the past, but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence, according to the report.

The case was reopened about six months ago and Finish was questioned again after new evidence emerged, according to the report. Details of the case remain under gag order.

Police are also considering confronting the former soldier who made the allegation with the security prisoner she accused of raping her, Haaretz reported. This decision would require the approval of prosecutors.

Gilboa prison, February 28, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Investigators want to stage the showdown as they lack evidence in the case and are looking for support for the accuser’s allegations, which could turn into a showdown between the two.

The former soldier, who has not been publicly named, said Thursday in explosive allegations that she was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by a Palestinian security prisoner while serving in Gilboa prison.

Identified under the pseudonym “Hila”, the former soldier says she “became the prisoner, the private sex slave” of a “dangerous terrorist”.

She identified the prisoner in question as the person who had previously been named in the media in connection with reports of female prison guards being “pimps” to prisoners.

Earlier this week, the Ynet news site reported that a Palestinian prisoner convicted of terrorism, Mahmoud Atallah, was under investigation by the police for sexual assault while behind bars.

Atallah has been in solitary confinement since 2018, following a scandal in which an intelligence officer allegedly “pimped” female guards to him and other Palestinian detainees, at his request.

Reports of female IDF soldiers being harassed and sexually assaulted in Israeli prisons surfaced several years ago, but were then largely dropped until last year, when an investigation has been reopened following new evidence. Gilboa prison was also thrust into the spotlight last year when six Palestinian inmates escaped from the maximum-security facility. The investigation into the prison break revealed a series of shortcomings in the functioning of the prison and sparked strong criticism of the prison service.

A prison guard is seen in a watchtower at Gilboa prison in northern Israel on September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

‘Hila’ said she was ‘handed over’ by her commanding officer to a dangerous terrorist ‘so that he could hurt me and sexually abuse me again and again’, and added that other guards had suffered the same spell. She said the army tried to cover up the affair.

The man who raped her, she said, “walked around the prison freely, without handcuffs, and with his dirty hands touched the bodies of female soldiers without consequence. Everyone knew, everyone was silent. Everyone was afraid. Everyone worked for him.

She alleged that “my commanders, my staff, who I thought were supposed to protect me, turned me over to this terrorist. They made sure that I was left alone with him, contrary to clear rules, so that he could hurt me cruelly and sexually abuse me again and again; and not just me, but many babysitters.

She made the allegations in a post on crowdfunding site BeActive, where her lawyer Keren Barak has set up a campaign to support her. Barak told Channel 12 that his client “lives in poverty due to her mental state, which does not allow her to join the workforce.” She said the campaign was set up for this reason, to support her with housing and therapy.

The Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Monday that another former guard at Gilboa Prison complained of a sexual assault at the site.

The guard, also identified by the pseudonym “Ella”, said that one night she was left alone to guard some 120 prisoners in the security section. As she made her rounds, one of the prisoners, who was locked in a cell, pulled down his pants and, while looking her straight in the eye, committed an indecent act. She noted that the prisoner was not Atallah.

Ella said that when she reported the incident to her superiors, she was told to speak instead with another security prisoner who was seen to have control over the others. She did, but said she had remained traumatized since the incident and several months ago filed a complaint with the police.

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee is expected to hear from members of the Israel Prison Service, the Shin Bet and prosecutors in an emergency session on the scandal this week.

On Friday, Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry sworn to inquest the accusations.

Katy Perry, head of the Israel Prisons Service, arrives to testify before a state commission of inquiry into the escape of security prisoners from Gilboa prison in Modi’in on January 13, 2022. (Flash90)

“As a solid organization that knows how to stay firmly on its path, we also know how to investigate, draw conclusions and deal with it as it should be with full responsibility,” she said.

The case was one of several high-profile incidents of violence against women in Israel in recent weeks.

Last week a man reportedly stabbed his daughter to death before committing suicide in an apartment in Beit Shemesh, and in a separate case, a teacher was shot while her 2-year-old daughter played on her lap in the central city of Lod. Her ex-husband had threatened her several times before the shooting.

Lapid spoke on Sunday about those attacks and allegations of statutory rape by professional soccer players, saying the violence was “a stain on the country and it cannot continue.”

“Although all these cases differ from each other, they have a common denominator: terrible violence directed against women. It is our responsibility as a society and our obligation as a government to eradicate this phenomenon,” Lapid said.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (R) and Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 31, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Lapid said he spoke to Perry and Homeland Security Minister Omer Barlev on Saturday about the Gilboa prison allegations.

“The incident, which is under review and which occurred under the previous government, is under gag order, but must – and will – be investigated. . We will ensure that the soldier receives help. We will deal with the accused to the fullest extent permitted by law,” Lapid said.

In a separate statement on Sunday, Barlev said “the incident that happened a few years ago in Gilboa prison” had “shaken the Israeli public.”

“I’ve read the testimonials that are published and I’m just shocked,” Barlev said.

Lapid’s comments came a day after a judge ordered a Lod woman into a protective shelter, Against his will, after shots were fired at her home, following death threats from her ex-husband. The court’s decision drew criticism from an anti-violence lobby group, which said the decision violated women’s rights.

Activists have long complained that not enough is being done to prevent violence against women in Israel, especially in cases known to authorities.

AFP contributed to this report.

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