Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev on Wednesday morning told the government committee investigating the escape of six prisoners from Gilboa Prison, that three days ago an escape plan was discovered in another prison.
“During an annual search at Ofer Prison, a handwritten plan for digging escape tunnels was found in one of the closets,” Barlev said, adding, “I understand that it greatly surprised the Israel Prisons Service.”
According to a security source who spoke to Haaretz, the document was found in a closet belonging to a Hamas prisoner and included a “detailed and meticulous” map of the prison. The source noted that the document was discovered during a surprise search conducted in the security prisons at the initiative of IPS Commissioner Katy Perry, and she reported it to Barlev.
But Barlev said in his testimony on Wednesday: “Until the escape, I did not hear from the prison service about the fear of an escape and I was not presented with escape threats.”
The Gilboa Prison break took place on September 6, 2021, when six terrorist prisoners escaped through a tunnel from the maximum-security prison in northern Israel. By September 19, all 6 escapees had been captured.
Ofer Prison, located between Ramallah and Giv’at Ze’ev outside Jerusalem, used to be an IDF incarceration facility that closed down following the Oslo accords when its inmates had been either released or transferred. It was reopened in 2002 in response to the needs of Operation Defensive Shield, and in 2006 was handed over to the IPS.
“The Israeli happerism (sloppiness) was revealed in full force,” Minister Barlev told the committee at the beginning of his testimony about the Gilboa escape. He continued: “That morning, the IPS commissioner called, and a few hours later I arrived there. From the beginning of the first reviews, a picture emerged that indicated serious deficiencies.”
“You didn’t have to be an expert to understand that there were difficult incidents there,” Barlev explained. “In my first hours there I found out that in 2014 there was an escape attempt, that the whole prison was built on stilts and its blueprints were exposed on the internet. You didn’t have to be the commander of Sayeret Matkal to figure out that the digging didn’t take a few days, and that there was a failure of intelligence. The escape itself, clearly, was an operational failure. In light of the seriousness of the matter, I immediately understood that a committee needed to be established.”
Committee Chairman, retired judge Menachem Finkelstein, referred to Barlev’s statement that he backs Commissioner Perry “in the short term” and asked what he meant by that. The Minister replied: “If I had thought the commissioner should be ousted I would have done it. I thought it was right and proper to appoint a committee and for it to go into depth, so it wouldn’t be right for me to express a different opinion.”
He added his impression that, as far as her treatment of the escape was concerned, Perry was “making the right moves.”