Israel Prison Service guards transport Hamas terrorists who perpetrated atrocities on Oct. 7. Credit: Israel Prison Service.
Tal Ariel Yakir (JNS)
Handcuffed and wearing blindfolds, dressed in brown overalls, the prisoners were brought into a side room. One by one they were sat down on a round chair in front of a camera and bright light and photographed against the backdrop of an Israeli flag. They were terrorists from Hamas’s Nukhba special forces unit and had been brought to the prison a month and a half earlier.
“When they arrived, one of them looked at me and started wailing,” Staff Sgt. Maj. Mowafaq Asakla, the commander of an Israel Prison Service (IPS) security team who oversees a prison facility whose location is classified, told Israel Hayom. “He cried, said he was just a construction worker who came to Israel to find work and that he had no money for food for his children. He kept saying, ‘I’m a worker, I’m a worker. I didn’t do anything.’
“He tried to get me to pity him. I didn’t reply and didn’t look in his direction. All that was going through my mind were the terrible videos [of atrocities committed on Oct. 7] that Hamas had uploaded on Telegram.
“The next day I found out who he was when I saw his personal belongings. He was not a worker, he was a murderer who had killed a young [Israeli] woman and her young son in cold blood, who had used a knife while they were alive and then shot them in the head. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“I felt sick. I cannot comprehend where such evil comes from. It’s important to maintain professionalism when dealing with terrorists, but I admit that it’s hard for me to look at him. He disgusts me. On the outside, I’m a poker face, but inside my soul is in turmoil. When I learned of his actions, I couldn’t fall asleep. That night I got on my motorcycle and drove around for hours.”
Asakla, a Druze from northern Israel, and his colleagues are responsible for the imprisonment of dozens of Oct. 7 terrorists. He and his guards are in close contact with bloodthirsty evildoers. Even so, the IPS maintains the minimum conditions required for prisoners. The cells of the terrorists are small, without lighting, and without separation between the toilets and showers. The contact with them is minimal, straight-to-the-point, without small talk.
Nothing to lose
Lt. Col. Shachar Kamisa, who is second-in-command at the prison, explained: “These prisoners have nothing to lose. No one knows what’s going through their minds. They might be planning violence against the guards and maybe even try to escape.
“They know that for the horrific acts that they have committed, they will not just receive one or two years in prison. That is why our vigilance is sky-high at all times. Now they don’t have weapons, but the danger is ever-present.
“These are criminals who had murdered, raped, burned and looted, and their ideology, which is rooted in the destruction of the Jewish people and Israel, did not stop on Oct. 7. In prison, it can even intensify. Our job is to stop any attempted uprising. We will not let them raise their heads. They now understand that they are in Israel, not Gaza.”
The IPS has seven prisons designated for security prisoners alone: Megiddo, Gilboa and Damon in the north, where women and juveniles are also held; Ofer in central Israel; and Ktzi’ot, Nafha and Ramon in the south. Of the 19,200 prisoners, 7,500 are security prisoners who were arrested for various terrorist activities. About 2,300 of them are terrorists who were arrested following Oct. 7.
The Nukhba unit
How many prisoners belong to the Nukhba unit is unknown as the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) refrains from publishing this information. They are considered highly dangerous and are held in a separate wing in the facility and do not come into contact with other security prisoners, including the armed men and the civilians who took part in the ISIS-style attack on the northwestern Negev on Oct. 7.
The Nukhba terrorists arrived at the facility on Nov. 9 after having been investigated by the Shin Bet, the Israel Police and the IDF. Upon their arrival, they were registered and were examined by a medic. Although with cuffs on their hands and feet at all times, they were constantly supervised and escorted by guards.
Some prisoner files include photographs of terrorists kneeling on the floor, with their eyes covered, crying. Gone are the murderers who were equipped with shoulder-fired missiles and Kalashnikov assault rifles.
When escorted to their wing, the prisoners are chained together and led through the corridors bent over and their faces turned towards the ground.
In the center of the wing designated for these terrorists, there is a concrete plaza. The floor was painted light blue but has faded over time, and above there is a metal ceiling without any way to see the sky. Around, shaped like the letter H, are the prisoners’ cells, all of which have iron doors, also painted blue, and Israeli flags hanging on the outside. Opposite is the guards’ control center, with safety glass and computers and screens showing the cells and recording every action.
Their cells are also smaller than usual, each with five to eight inmates. There are no lockers or pictures inside, only iron bunk beds with a floor toilet, sink and shower at the entrance. The toilet is surrounded by a low white wall that provides privacy only if bent down.
The light is never on in these cells; there are no windows; the terrorists remain in almost complete darkness and are unable to distinguish between day and night. The weak and minimal light enters through an opening with a dense mesh, which also allows for the passage of air. Oxygen reaches the rooms through vents installed above the doors.
The terrorists have a minimal daily routine. They have their handcuffs on most of the time and only leave their cell for a medical examination. Three times a day, morning, noon and evening, they are counted. The door can only be opened by an officer in the presence of two guards and a security team nearby. Asakla heads one such security team.
Each guard is equipped with a protective vest, neck guard, helmet with goggles, walkie-talkie, pepper spray, and baton that sticks into the back of the vest. Guards also have hand-held body shields in case of a riot. During the headcount, the terrorists stay inside the cell and the guards are not allowed to cross the threshold.
The cell door opens only for a few seconds a day. As for the food, the guards insert it in an opening in the door, which is then closed immediately. The food that the Nukhba terrorists receive is simple. Throughout the day, there are no mattresses in the cells. They are brought in in the evening and removed again in the morning.
Israeli music plays in the wing every day. According to the IPS, it is meant to uplift the morale of the guards, but one can imagine that it also upsets the prisoners, especially hearing the Israeli national anthem played repeatedly.
From the moment it became known that Nukhba terrorists were going to arrive, IPS Commissioner Katy Perry ordered special training for those guarding these dangerous men. They learned about the importance of separating emotions and showing composure and took Krav Maga lessons. The guards also went through psychological evaluations to make sure they were mentally ready to oversee a group of terrorists who had brutally murdered women, children and the elderly.
Kamisa said, “We made sure the guards wouldn’t panic. The psychologist was impressed by the team at the facility and noted that the guards are committed to their jobs and are highly motivated. Their feeling, and that of everyone here, is that we are part of the fighting. We did not fight invading terrorists but we are the ones who are now keeping them from repeating their despicable acts. For all of us here, this is not a job but a mission.”
Q: Do they ever try to speak to you or the guards who speak Arabic?
Asakla: “Not really. Once I heard one of them curse Hamas and [its leader in Gaza Yahya] Sinwar, and I’m sure it was a show for us. To gain our pity, they say that Sinwar brought them to this situation. It won’t help them. They can’t hide the evil in their eyes. Without the handcuffs, they would be trying to kill us too.”
Another guard overseeing Oct. 7 terrorists, who are not members of the Nukhba unit, is Sgt. 1st Class Zohar Elazari, who recently completed her military service.
“From the very beginning I was told that the work with the Oct. 7 prisoners cannot be conducted based on emotions, even though everyone is emotionally charged,” she said. “I don’t exchange a word with the terrorists, not even during the distribution of food. I feel sick at work, and it doesn’t matter if they are from Nukhba or not. The terrorists from Gaza infiltrated the country to destroy us Israelis.
“It feels like I’ve aged a decade in the past two months since finishing my military service. I’ve stopped watching footage of Oct. 7 or watching the news, because there is a limit to how much evil you can absorb. Only at home do I go back to being mom and dad’s little girl, and I make sure to talk to them about everything, just not about the terrorists.”
Q: Do your friends ever ask about your work?
Elazari: “Everyone asks me how I can look at the faces of these murderers, but that is my job. We are part of the war. We have always guarded security prisoners, but now it is more significant. We are a buffer between them and the citizens of the country.
“Some of us kill terrorists in Gaza and some protect the citizens from the terrorists. This is my contribution to the war. Our work is dangerous because hundreds of murderous terrorists are around us every day, and it is only thanks to our toughness and professionalism that they keep quiet.”
Originally published by Israel Hayom.