Death of Israeli Prisoner ‘X’ Prompts an Investigation
Israel faces a negligence investigation concerning the death of secret prisoner Ben Zygier, referred as prisoner X, a former agent of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, and a dual Australian and Israeli citizen.
Zygier allegedly died in solitary confinement in a “secret prison” within Ayalon jail near Tel Aviv. The death appeared to be a suicide, despite Zygier’s detention in a cell in Unit 15, explicitly designed for suicide prevention. The cell is monitored by 24-hour surveillance and hourly inspection. Following several suicides, cells in Unit 15 were updated with improved suicide prevention measures, and Zygier is the first successful suicide attempt within Unit 15 in two years.
According to Zygier’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, the prisoner allegedly protested his innocence the day before his death. Reports of a secret deal with Zygier’s family for compensation came after this information was released, along with several calls for an investigation into Mossad and the Israeli prison service for negligence.
Though the nature of the “grave charges” against Prisoner X have not been revealed, the New York Times reported a link between Zygier and the 2010 assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a plot which led to strained relations between Australia (along with several other countries) and Israel because of the latter’s use of fake European and Australian passports in the plot. The Times reported that Zygier had offered to exchange information about the plot with Dubai authorities shortly before his arrest.
“The Prisoner X affair is a classic story of Israeli failure. This isn’t about Ben Zygier’s double identity, it’s about how Israel’s most sensitive agencies aren’t functioning,” wrote Haaretz -an Israeli news paper- columnist Amir Oren. “If indeed the reports are correct, the State of Israel still doesn’t control the basics.”
News of the suicide, which occurred in 2010, was only recently released, and sources in Israel have been subject to government censorship regarding the case, much to public disapproval. This is not the first case of censorship in Israel in recent years, a country known for its open and outspoken press. In July 2011, legal restriction of Israeli boycott campaigns also sparked public indignation.
“There has been outrage about the idea that in a democracy like Israel you can still have secret arrests and a secret trial,” said NPR’s Larry Abramson from Jerusalem. “I think the real lasting outrage that’s going on is about the press censorship system that’s going on here, in this day and age, in the Internet era, we really cannot have military press censorship, which is essentially what this is.”
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, PikiWiki Israel 13532 Entrance to Acre Prison