**for the English subtitles, watch the video on Youtube and click on the Closed Caption icon located to the right of the Flag icon.
The Only Democracy in the Middle East™ has yet another event (Hebrew) for which it should be proud tonight. Channel 2 news has exposed a shattering video recorded by Israeli Prison Service personnel of a 2007 riot in Ketziot Prison, which its own staff initiated during a surprise inspection. The operation, which the prison warden admits was done primarily to “raise morale of prison staff,” so frightened the sleeping prisoners–who must’ve thought from the sounds of weapons being fired that they were under attack–that they rioted, igniting fires in their prison units.
At that point, the operation went from being one confined to inspecting a single unit for contraband, to suppressing a major riot in the entire facility. At a key juncture, soldiers are seen outside a row of tents in which prisoners have confined themselves and refused to exit. As a soldier attempts to negotiate in Arabic with a leader of the prisoners, another soldier shoots wilding and blindly directly into the tents housing the prisoners. When the prisoner negotiator returns to speak with his fellow inmates about surrendering, he too is shot and wounded.
Finally, a soldier shoots another round into a tent and wounds a prisoner with a head shot. A soldier is seen commanding the man, clearly incapacitated and under a blanket, to arise and walk. We learn that this prisoner, Mohammed Ashkar, severely wounded, was transferred unconscious to a hospital where he was handcuffed to his bed and died, still manacled to his bedpost. He had not participated in any way in the rioting of the other prisoners. He had been in prison on a several month sentence, which he would’ve completed within a few days. An pointless, unnecessary death.
To this day, no one knows what type of ammunition was used that caused the death and other wounds. Former prisoners show the scars from these wounds on their back to the camera. Even the warden of the prison says he’s “not allowed to know” what weapons caused them.
No one faced any disciplinary action for this botched operation. The prison warden at the time is still warden at Ketziot. A commander in the prison service, questioned by an interviewer, rates the operation a “10,” saying:
Though the operation ended in tragedy, there was no intent that this should be the result. And now such night searches are a routine tool to maintain prison security.
When the interviewer asks whether it is worthwhile initiating such a operation solely to boost morale, the commander again answers evasively:
A prison warden needs to understand that his job is important, that he protects the homeland in the way he performs his role. Any attempt to show conciliation to the other side is received by them as an opportunity to achieve more of their own goals.
The most chilling dialogue occurs at the end of the report as soldiers are filming the prison on fire with shrieks of prisoners echoing in the background along with explosions or shots fired. The videographer and another soldier have the following “colloquy:”
Isn’t this lovely! Film it, film it [soldier laughs loudly]. It’s a real model home believe me.
Yes, yes, you’re right.
Come closer. Let’s get a better shot of the fire so people will see what happened here.
[Another soldier begins singing a song commenting ironically on the riot] “They say they had a good time here before I was born.”
The narrator interjects his own ironic comment at this point, noting that the goal of the operation was achieved in elevating the morale of the staff, as the following dialogue confirms:
A good time, eh? Today is a good day.
This is what I wanted.
Sure, bro. It’s great!
The news report documents that Yaara Kalmanovich of the Public Committee Against Torture was the first to become involved in this case. She discovered that an unconscious dying prisoner had been handcuffed to his bed, which is a clear violation of the man’s civil liberties even as a security prisoner. Smadar Ben Natan (Dirar Abusisi’s former lawyer) became involved when she worked with Ashkar’s family to investigate the cause of his death. She helped mount a court challenge demanding release of the document. No less than the ominously named Minister for Internal Security himself, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, forbade the release of the material on grounds that it endangered the security of the state. The Israeli censor believed just the opposite and never made such a finding. The Beersheva regional court agreed with the minister and frustrated every attempt by the TV channel to release the materials.
It then turned to the Supreme Court and after a time the State prosecutor told the station that the minister had decided to remove the seal on the document and release it to the media. However, Ben Natan’s private case brought on behalf of the victim’s family to release the entire film (not just the excerpts aired) to them is still pending. It seems likely that the State will agree to release to the family only those portions already aired on TV, which in effect means that the victim and his family have rights that are only derived from the Israeli media and have no independent rights of their own as human beings.
The video footage, however, is a powerful piece of evidence for a civil suit by the family against the government. One hopes that they will at least bring a financial reckoning to the State even if there is no moral one.
In case one ever needs proof about why its vital to have an NGO community inside a country to monitor and expose violations of human rights and democratic values, this provides yet another example. It also offers proof of why the Israeli far-right hates people like Kalmanovich and Ben Natan and would just as soon expel them from the country as traitors if they could.
In its review, Haaretz wrote about this report:
Prisons are the repressed subconscious of society. We don’t want to know what happens there and from our perspective–let ’em burn. Even moreso the security prisoners who those same citizens of the state would be just as happy if they could be fed to mad dogs, or lacking that–to a special unit of the Israeli prison service…