ATbar ICT Spotlight: Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Orit Adato, Associate at ICT, IDC Herzliya

ICT Spotlight: Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Orit Adato, Associate at ICT, IDC Herzliya

22/10/2018 | by ICT Staff  

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Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Orit Adato served as Women’s Corps officer of the 36th Division (Armor Division) in the Golan Heights during Operation Peace for Galilee. Between 1988 and 1990, she served as the head of the women's section in Camp 80 for new recruits and commander training courses.

Later, from 1990-1992, Adato served as the Women's Corps officer of the Nahal Brigade during the period of mass immigration from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. In 1992, she studied at the IDF National Security College as the only woman in her class, and between 1994-1997 she served as commander of the Army 12th Corps training base for women and helped establish a forum for training base commanders.

Between 1997-2000, she was promoted to the rank of Brig. Gen. and became chief officer of the IDF Women’s Corps.  

In 2000, she transferred from the IDF to the Israel Prison Service, was promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen. and served as Commissioner of the Israel Prison Service until 2003, inclusive.

Adato has served as an ICT Associate for many years. In this framework, she has taken and continues to take part in many of the ICT’s events, lectures to diverse audiences, represents the ICT in international conferences, and participates in many think tanks in her areas of expertise.



Adato maintains that the greatest danger anticipated today in prisons around the world is radicalization. Approximately 65% of the jihadist terrorists in Europe have a criminal background and some of them had even been sentenced to prison terms.

The prisoner population is vulnerable in its desire to survive the period of incarceration. Prisoners naturally seek protection and belonging, and therefore search for a connection to various power centers and gangs.  The prisoner “recruiters” know this and, in exchange for helping the prisoner during his incarceration, they expect loyalty and assistance even after he is released.

Until several years ago, Europe did not recognize the phenomenon of religious extremism and conversion to Islam within prison walls and, therefore, there was no professional intelligence system alongside police intelligence in the Prison Service. In contrast, the intelligence in the Israel Prison Service has always been very advanced, and there is frequent cooperation between it and the various intelligence agencies (such as the ISA), the IDF and the police. The wave of terrorist attacks that began in Europe several years ago, and that indicated that many of the terrorists have a criminal background, coupled with the significant development of the Islamic State and the large number of foreign fighters who joined the battle alongside the organization, led to an understanding in Europe as well that prisoners are being recruited to jihad inside the prisons.

This understanding also led the Europeans to develop closer cooperation between the police, the Prison Service and intelligence agencies. They also began to recognize the importance of professional intelligence and the establishment of intelligence bodies within prison organizations as well.

The dangers inherent in de-radicalization attempts in prison

In Israel, there is a complete separation between security prisoners and criminal prisoners, partly due to an understanding of the dangers inherent in radicalization inside prison. In Europe, on the other hand, security prisoners, such as activists in terrorist organizations or individual terrorists, are often placed together with criminal prisoners in an attempt to de-radicalize the prison. According to Adato, there is no evidence that this step leads to the de-radicalization of radical prisoners. On the contrary, this step leads to radicalization among prisoners who were not previously radical and, therefore, it is better not to take this step. However, if security and criminal prisoners are nevertheless placed together in one prison facility, she believes two important steps should be taken: One, weak prisoners vulnerable to radicalization should be placed in a separate wing. Two, the behavior of prisoners defined as radical should be closely tracked and monitored in prison. In addition, there is room to closely monitor the moods and trends among all prisoners, such as through surveillance designed to examine the trend of religious extremism: the number of prisoners taking part in classes by clerics, Friday prayers, special food orders, changes to external appearance, and more. If there is a trend towards an increase in prisoners who turn to activities of a religious nature, this indicates that some prisoners may be trying to influence and recruit activists.

How to cope with radicalization inside Israeli prisons

In Adato’s opinion, a feasible solution to reduce radicalization and indoctrination among security prisoners in Israeli jails is the division of security prisoners into three groups based on their level of danger: beginning with the most dangerous prisoners, to those who committed an act that harms security due to greed and not necessarily due to an ideological/religious motive.

  1. Mega terrorists – “significant” prisoners. These include the planners and dispatchers of suicide terrorists responsible for large-scale attacks, such as those "with blood on their hands" or on the hands of their agents, who maintain their extremist positions and call for continued violence even during their imprisonment. These prisoners need to be incarcerated in a separate detention facility from the rest of the security prisoners, only with those similar to them, while receiving minimal detention conditions according to the binding international conventions and nothing more.
  2. Petty Crimes – such as those who were small time criminals and "converted" to terrorism out of greed more than an ideological motive. Or alternatively, hardworking people who were offered a modest amount of money to carry out any act that is not clearly identified as a security act, but constitutes a link in a chain that leads to terrorist activity. This group may include some individual terrorists, those who acted out of personal reasons of frustration or vulnerability, and not necessarily for nationalistic or religious reasons. The GSS, in Adato’s opinion, can reassess their level of danger while in prison. Those prisoners who are assessed as non-dangerous may be changed to the status of criminal prisoners and transferred to a separate detention facility/separate wing. In this way, it will not be in the interest of the Palestinian Authority to continue to pay a salary to them and their families. They will enjoy more comfortable detention conditions and be less influenced by the radical security prisoners. When they are released, the level of security risk that they pose to the State of Israel will be less in comparison to the level of risk that exists after having been detained in the more extremist wing during their incarceration.
  3. Terrorists who committed an attack out of nationalist ideology, but less severe than the offenses committed by "mega terrorists" or those who are not committed to the purpose to the same extent. These prisoners will see the detention conditions of the “mega terrorists” group as opposed to the detention conditions of the "small fry" group, and they will be able to decide down the road if they want their terrorist activity to resemble that of the “mega terrorists” or the “petty criminals” in this respect. (Of course, here too, solely in terms of the GSS’s assessment of their level of danger and its recommendation regarding them). In this group, it is also possible to include individual terrorists whose activity had a national or religious basis, but without affiliation of any kind.

How to rehabilitate individual terrorists, who are citizens of Israel and East Jerusalem, incarcerated in Israeli prisons

Adato believes that various processes should be considered in relation to individual terrorists who emerged from within the State of Israel (and not from the territories), and who are supposed to return to being citizens (or residents in the case of East Jerusalem) of the State after their release. The intention is to try and implement treatment and rehabilitation processes, especially for young terrorists who carried out their acts for personal rather than ideological/religious reasons, because they return to society and it is preferable that they undergo moderation and treatment processes prior to their release. As in any rehabilitation process, there is also room to integrate the welfare authorities in the community from which they and their families came. Only when the community feels that it is being harmed by the act of that same terrorist and pressures him to change his path can a process of genuine rehabilitation begin. This will also preserve the vital treatment continuum between the time of imprisonment and the period following release, which will increase the chances of rehabilitation and contribute to the security of the State.

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