Five fellow inmates helped terrorists escape Israeli prison

Five inmates acted as lookouts while cellmates from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad dug their way out of the sewer system.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Five fellow prisoners helped the six terrorist fugitives from the Gilboa Prison break, according to the now-completed police and Shin Bet interrogation of the recaptured terrorists, Israeli media reported Wednesday.

The five acted as lookouts while five cellmates from Palestinian Islamic Jihad dug their way out of the sewer system running beneath their shower over a period of some nine months. Some of them also helped get rid of the dirt that was excavated.

A day before the escape, prison authorities granted senior Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi‘s request to move into the cell, and he left with the others. The five collaborators did not want to flee, said the report, because they did not have much time left on their sentences, unlike the escapees.

This state of affairs is now likely to change, as the police are planning on charging them with aiding and abetting the mass escape, which may add years to their prison time.

The investigation into the jailbreak is far from being over.

Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev announced Friday the members of the government’s review commission into the escape and the failures of the Israel Prison Services (IPS) to prevent it. The commission will be headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Menachem Finkelstein, a retired judge who served as vice president of the Central District Court. The second member is Prof. Efrat Shoham, who is an expert on the Prison Services, having investigated prison riots and hunger strikes as a member of the Dorner Committee for the Examination of Punishment Policy in Israel. The last panel member is Arik Barbing, who served in the Shin Bet for nearly three decades, headed its cyber division and worked closely with the IPS regarding the prevention of terrorist activities within prison walls.

The commission is empowered to make personal as well as systemic recommendations. One person whose testimony will most likely be requested is IPS head Katy Perry, who came into the position just around the time that the tunnellers began their work. She has reportedly told her friends that she will not be the “sacrificial goat” in this case and has already refused calls for her resignation.

According to a report last week in Haaretz, she asked Bar-Lev to fire the Gilboa Prison commander, Freddy Ben-Sheetrit. Bar-Lev supported the idea, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit nixed it on the grounds that such a move would have to wait until the completion of both the police investigation and the work of the government’s commission.

Ben-Sheetrit was appointed to his position last year by then-acting IPS head Asher Vaknin even though he had no command experience in prisons, let alone a high-security prison like Gilboa. He has also reportedly told confidantes that he does not intend to resign.

Many failures have already been discovered in the working of the prison authorities, besides the basic one that the tunnel and digging tools were not discovered during supposedly stringent cell inspections over the months of work. The just-concluded interrogation also revealed that the excavated dirt from the tunneling was in some cases simply dumped into garbage cans, but this did not arouse the suspicion of the authorities. The fact that the plans of the facility could be found online also seemingly went unnoticed.