Former minister Shlomo Benizri to be cell mate in religious wing of Ramle jail.By Ophir Bar-Zohar, Yanir Yagna, Yaniv Kubovich and Revital Blumenfeld
Former President Moshe Katsav will enter Ma'asiyahu prison in Ramle on Wednesday to begin serving a seven-year jail term for two counts of rape and other sexual offenses. Katsav must report to the jail by 10 A.M. on Wednesday.
Katsav will enter Ma'asiyahu through the front entrance after the prison service rejected all requests that he be allowed to arrive less conspicuously. The Israel Police which are responsible for security on his arrival, already erected barriers on Tuesday at the site to keep away curiosity-seekers.
| Former President Moshe Katsav |
|Photo by: Alon Ron|
After processing formalities are completed, he will be placed in the wing of the facility for religious prisoners.
Initially he will be held in a cell for inmates who are thought to be at risk of suicide. It is under the closer surveillance of his guards and is equipped with two security cameras. The doors to his lavatory and shower are translucent so they don't obstruct the view of the ex-president.
The prison service decided to allow him to initially share a cell with convicted former government minister Shlomo Benizri. The service also agreed to Benizri's request that the closed circuit cameras not be in use during daytime hours. The cameras may be turned on when Benizri leaves the cell, however. In addition if prison authorities are concerned that Katsav may do harm to himself, Benizri would be returned to his prior cell and Katsav would be subject to constant surveillance.
The head of the prison service ordered one extra guard to be added to the staff of the wing where Katsav will be held, but he will not be with Katsav all the time to protect him. Although the religious wing is considered relatively prisoner-friendly, the former president will be required to abide by strict rules. He will get up at 4:45 A.M. for prayers and later in the day will engage in religious study. At 10 P.M. he will be back in his cell, which will be locked for the night. There is no television in his wing.
Katsav spent his last day of freedom Tuesday at his home in Kiryat Malakhi with family and friends. In a break with his usual routine, on Tuesday Katsav did not go to pray at a synagogue near his home, but instead prayed at home with family and friends in an effort to avoid press photographers.
He believes in his innocence and is very angry, said one of his friends on Tuesday. "He has already absorbed the fact that he is going to prison. It's a disgrace to the State of Israel that the former president is going to jail," the friend said. The atmosphere at home is very difficult, said another friend Haim Barda, who visited Katsav on Tuesday from nearby Ashkelon. Barda said Katsav's wife, Gila, and other family members are doing what they can to keep up the spirits of the former president. Friends who visited the household said Gila Katsav and the former president's mother have been crying constantly and he has tried to assure them that he would withstand the ordeal of years in jail.
The Ministerial Committee on Ceremonies and Symbols, which had been due to consider a proposal on Tuesday that would strip Katsav of his ceremonial privileges, was deferred due to a request by Katsav for a rehearing on his appeal by an expanded panel of Supreme Court justices. If the ceremonial privileges are ultimately revoked then Katsav would not have a state funeral or be buried in the section of the Mt. Herzl cemetery that is reserved for national leaders. He has already been stripped of financial perks accorded former presidents. He will continue to receive a pension, however.
Friends said there was no risk that the former president would do harm to himself in prison, but he is adamant about his innocence and would not admit to the charges of which he was convicted even if it resulted in a lighter sentence. Katsav gave an interview to the New York Times on Tuesday, telling the newspaper that he has not made special preparations in advance of his incarceration on Wednesday at Ma'asiyahu prison.
In a related development on Tuesday, members of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee considered a request by Shas MK Nissim Zeev that the former president serve his jail under house arrest in Kiryat Malakhi. The MKs did not reach a formal decision on the matter, in part due to earlier representations by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch that he would not permit such a step. The committee, however, has no authority to make such a decision.
Zeev was relying on a legal provision allowing the justice minister to permit a prisoner to serve a jail term outside of prison and was based in part on the fact that Katsav had been exposed to state secrets and also because he would be in prison with inmates whose requests for a presidential pardon he rejected.
For Katsav's victims and for women's organizations that have lent them support, the prospect of the former president going to jail is still not a happy occasion. Michal Rosen, who is the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, said: "From our standpoint, the case is over. The justice system has expressed itself. The two levels of the court system have found him to be a serial rapist and have placed their full faith in the [accounts of the] victims...."
Daniel Sror, who was a lawyer for one of Katsav' victims, who was only identified as A. from the Tourism Ministry, said although his client had a sense that justice has been served, it is not a time for celebration. "There is nothing happy about this sorry case," he said on Tuesday.