Blaze devastated our service, says Manchester-raised head of prisons

The Prisons Service is not usually the most prominent of security agencies in Israel.

But it came well and truly into the spotlight after the blaze on Mount Carmel killed 37 of its members, including cadets and instructors on a select officers' course.

"In these tragic circumstances, when such a large group of our officers lost their lives, the public also saw the kind of people who work in our service," says Lieutenant Colonel Ian Dominitz of the Israel Prisons Service (IPS), "people from every walk of life, Jews, Druze, Bedouin. We don't usually get very good press, the service normally comes out in the press when something goes wrong, like violence or corruption, but in this tragedy people saw what quality of officers there are in the service, academically and as human beings."

Lt Col Dominitz is the kind of person you would not normally expect to meet in the IPS. Born in Manchester 52 years ago, he made aliyah to Israel in 1980, studied law at the Hebrew University and joined the service some 20 years ago.

Like his colleagues, he feels "devastated" at the loss of so many friends and co-workers at one go but he feels that it is now important to stress the mission of his organisation.

"Not all Israelis realise that we have both a security role and also a social mission, trying to rehabilitate the prisoners and prepare them for a new life as law-abiding citizens. As part of our professional code, we deal with whoever is before us in the same way, a criminal felon or a Palestinian security prisoner. And that is what is particularly poignant about this tragedy; they were on their way to save hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from the fire."

Lt Col Dominitz is in charge of the IPS's international relations, its professional connections with prison and correctional services around the world and co-ordination of transfer of prisoners from country to country. He has been involved in high-profile prisoner exchanges between Israel and its enemies and the trial of suspected Nazi war criminal Ivan Demjanjuk.

One of the officers killed worked in his department, Topaz Even-Chen, a press officer. "She wasn't only intelligent and charming," he says of Topaz, "you could see from her self-assurance that she was going places. For us this has been a death in the family."

    Last updated: 3:40pm, January 5 2011