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The Gilboa Prison break isn’t the stuff of legends

CM 16/09/2021

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Prison escapes have been the stuff of romance, legend and myth.
Romance followed bank robber John Dillinger, who escaped from an Indiana jail after taking his guards hostage using a fake gun he had carved from wood.
Legend wraps the 1962 escape from Alcatraz, whose heroes braved the San Francisco Bay’s frosty waters in a boat improvised from raincoats, and have never been found to this day.

And myth shrouds the tales of conman turned author Frank Abagnale, whose dubious claims to have escaped a jail by impersonating a policeman, and to have fled his guards through an airplane’s bathroom bowl, fed box office success Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
That was all in America. Here in Israel the prison escape that has unsettled us for the past week involves no romance, legend or myth worthy of cinematic adulation. Instead, ours is a tale of political negligence, administrative dereliction and the Israeli idea of responsibility.
THE FIASCO at the Gilboa Prison was no escape from Alcatraz, and it starred no Abagnale or Dillinger.
The terrorists who escaped the northern jail exposed not their own wisdom but the stupidity of their jailers, who locked them in a room above an underground cavity about which they learned from the prison’s map, which they found on the Internet, in its architects’ website.
Once under the prison’s wall, the escapees benefited from its camera room’s attendance at the time by a lone warden. There was no way in the world he could efficiently monitor six different screens’ footage of what was happening throughout the 12,000-square-meter campus of 600 inmates.
Once past the wall, the escapees changed their brown prison uniforms under two concrete watchtowers whose one sentry was missing while the other – how proverbial – was asleep.
Once the escapees were running through the fields outside the prison, thus demanding that the jail call the police, it turned out that the jail had the wrong phone number. That is how what until that moment was a parody on Israeli governance now became a farce.
Yes, like Dillinger in his time, our six escapees showed courage, and yes, in digging a 22-meter tunnel, they also displayed resilience. However, there was no sophistication in what they did, a fact that became patent when it turned out that once outside they had no partners or plan.
Their assumption that they would be sheltered by Israeli-Arab strangers proved shallow, wishful and oddly reminiscent of some Jews’ generalizations about Israeli-Arabs.
No, we do not yet know at this writing what will happen with the two prisoners still at large, and we have no idea what ending they have in store for this plot. We can, however, already say that, whatever its aftermath, this episode is not about its protagonists’ merits, but about our own drawbacks both politically and mentally.
THE POLITICAL flaw is about how this country was run during the Netanyahu era’s twilight years.
Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry’s suitability for her position, and what she did and didn’t do during the seven months she has been in that office, will be probed by the commission of inquiry that the government will approve next week.
However, two things can be said already now about the circumstances of her appointment, regardless of who she is and how well she performed. The first is that for two whole years prior to her appointment, there was no full-fledged commissioner. Instead, there was an acting commissioner, Asher Vaknin, who obviously did not deal with long-term issues.
Why was there no permanent appointment? For the same reason that, for a comparable period of time, Israel Police had no chief, and for the same reason that for three years there was no new budget, only an interim improvisation. It was all part of the paralysis that Benjamin Netanyahu imposed on the country in the wake of his legal entanglements.
Working for such a protracted period of time under an interim boss, is it any wonder that the Prisons Service became lethargic, negligent and featherbedding? That the agency, which oversees 29 jails and nearly 17,000 inmates, reportedly used 80% of its NIS 3.8 billion for its 9,000 employees’ salaries, benefits and pensions, and only one fifth for performing its missions and upgrading its tools?
The circumstances of Perry’s appointment also have a personal side. When appointed, it now turns out, one of her brothers, a contractor named Ehud Yifrah, was doing time for the attempted bribing of a municipal officer. Another brother had been recently released as a state witness.
Do criminal brothers disqualify a candidate for public office? They don’t. Does it make her appointment strange? It does, in any public office. And in her particular position it is an even bigger problem, because it makes ordinary citizens suspect, if even unfoundedly, that the person in charge of the prisons is on the wrong side of the law. Impression, in this case, matters.
This is what happened circumstantially.
Mentally, Perry’s response to her agency’s blunder – a flat refusal to resign – is part of an Israeli tradition. Israel never had a Lord Peter Carington, the British foreign secretary who resigned because Argentina invaded the Falklands on his watch.
Moshe Dayan didn’t assume responsibility for the Yom Kippur War’s outbreak; Arye Deri, Moshe Katsav and Ehud Olmert never assumed responsibility for the crimes that landed them in jail, and Amir Ohana, referring to his role as public security minister when police vanished while citizens were lynched, stores were looted and synagogues were torched, said at the time: “That I am responsible doesn’t mean I am to blame.”
Ohana, by the way, is the man who appointed Perry.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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