New Prisoner X: "Mossad" Hides Its Dirty Secrets in Ayalon Prison

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Hollywood loves sequels, even ones that bomb. Apparently, so do Israel’s intelligence agencies. The original version, the one starring Ben Zygier, did so “well” at the box office that the they also imprisoned another Prisoner X in the same prison. This individual was, like Zygier, a covert agent who also had betrayed state secrets in some unspecified way. He was also held incommunicado and under an assumed name, just as Zygier was. Though he didn’t commit suicide.
Media reports inside Israel cannot confirm whether the prisoner is still held under these conditions or whether he’s been released. We only know about the new case because it was mentioned in the report prepared by an Israeli judge tasked with investigating the Zygier suicide. Haaretz had to file a legal brief in order to receive permission to report this new story.
News reports haven’t confirmed which agency the prisoner worked for, but there are some hints offered that he may’ve also worked for Mossad, as Zygier did.
Avigdor Feldman, who was the last civilian to see Zygier alive and is one of Israel’s leading lawyers, says he knows something about the new case (Hebrew). Feldman adds that these two prisoners (Zygier and Prisoner X) may be the tip of the iceberg. There may indeed be more of them.
The Israeli attorney indicates that the new Prisoner X was a covert operative working with the highest level of security clearance. He was imprisoned as a result of his betrayal of the secrecy of a Mossad operation:
“We’re speaking of a criminal act which was a serious breach of the walls of security and secrecy of the secret apparatus [Mossad’s covert operations]. Not just endangering the security of the State but the heads of those [Israeli security] organizations who would be fired.
Feldman strangely suggest that the sentence offered to this man would be lessened if he agreed to stay quiet and not reveal what he knows for the rest of his life. It sure sounds like he could embarrass an awful lot of people in Israel’s security establishment. One only wonders what’s involved.
Once again, such draconian treatment of Israeli citizens by the security services reveals the national security state running amok. It treads on the rights of citizens unfettered without any sense of the rule of law, due process or individual rights. Of course, the State must protect itself from those who betray secrets. But in other democracies there are ways to do this under the law. In Israel, when it comes to security offenses, there is no law. Just fiat.
zygier wedding
Maya and Ben Alon (“Zygier”) at their wedding
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On a related subject, Israeli media revealed a hitherto unknown aspect of the Zygier tragedy. His wife Maya had come to visit him on the morning of the day he killed himself. She brought her four-day old baby with her. Zygier became terribly agitated during their almost hour-long conversation. Until now, no one knew (except Zygier’s family and the Israeli security apparatus) why. Now we know that Zygier’s wife told him she was ending her relationship with him.
I am not privy to any of the details. I don’t know why she did this. I don’t know if Zygier had done anything that deserved this response. But it seems to me the ultimate betrayal to cut off your relationship with your spouse, with whom you have two children, when he faces 20 years in prison.
When the prisoner’s mother heard what happened, she immediately called the prison authorities and warned them that she feared he would kill himself with an overdose of medication (he was prescribed anti-depressants). This caused the prison to contact the staff psychiatrist, who spent an hour talking with Zygier. At the conclusion of the conversation, the medical specialist reported there was no danger. How does a psychiatrist treating a patient in solitary confinement, completely cut off from almost all human contact, and whose wife has just told him she will have nothing further to do with him, wave that off?
Zygier’s mother’s warning message was never relayed to those monitoring Zygier in his cell.
What’s further mystifying is that Maya Alon will share a proposed $1.6-million settlement with the State over its negligence in his suicide (Zygier’s parents will also share in the arrangement). Why should she benefit from his death in any way? She essentially caused his death. I suppose it might be reasonable if her children were the beneficiaries rather than her. But that wasn’t mentioned in the media coverage I read
Prisoner X, the Sequel: Israeli Censorship Run Amok
Every man deserves a name. Every man deserves the deeds of his life no matter how good or bad. No man, no state, no security apparatus has the right to steal these things from any man. Except in Israel. There the secret police may take everything from you. They may even do this if you were once one of them. Especially if you were once one of them.
prisoner x cartoon
Israeli security services pull another Prisoner X “rabbit” from their hat (Morad/Yediot)
If you were once one of them and betrayed them you can lose everything. Your name, your deeds, your family, your freedom. This is what happened to the man I call Prisoner X2. He was only discovered thanks to another nameless one, another Prisoner X, who was only given a name after his death, Ben Zygier.
Amir Oren Haaretz article taken down by military censor
Amir Oren Haaretz article taken down by military censor
Prisoner X2 actually preceded Zygier into the maw of the security system. We don’t know what he did wrong, what sentence he received, or how long he’s been in prison–some deductive reasoning allows us to calculate he received a sentence of a minimum of 10 years (and possibly much more). He has already served at least seven years (possibly as long as ten).
Unlike Zygier, Prisoner X2′s wife stood by him. That may be because the couple are older and more mature. An article by Amir Oren (Hebrew) published in Haaretz (and just as quickly ordered taken down by the military censor–but more on that shortly) reveals that his wife is a grandmother. That would make the couple at least in their fifties, whereas Zygier was 34 when he killed himself).
There are very few democracies in the world that disappear their citizens in this fashion. There are very few democracies that would give their secret police such power. But Israel isn’t your average country. It’s a national security state masquerading as a democracy.
The only thing that holds these malevolent forces in check are a handful of courageous journalists, editors and publishers . When even they are checked, the only recourse is a blog like mine. I break gags. I defy the censors. I give prisoners their names. I give them their deeds. It’s the least I can do, since I cannot win them their freedom.
This is what I did for two Gazans kidnapped by the Mossad. Now we know their names are Dirar Abusisi and Wael Abu Rida. Were it not for this blog, the secret police would’ve stolen even that from them.
prisoner x
Translation: Prison conditions for Prisoner X2: complete isolation without seeing other prisoners; separation even from prison guards, who don’t know his name; imprisoned in windowless cell with security cameras; short daily walk in a courtyard surrounded by heavy metal walls.
I do not know Prisoner X2′s name. I do not know his deeds. But I know he deserves them returned to him. He deserves to be known by every Israeli who cares to know, no matter what he’s done.
Only in Israel (and places like North Korea and Iran) can the security apparatus decide citizens may not know such things. The decision may have a substantive reason. It may be a whim. It may protect the nation, but more likely it protects the ego or reputation of someone who could’ve done something to prevent whatever disaster did happen–and didn’t do so.
Security apparatuses are supposed to operate for the good of their country, but often operate for the good of their members. The opacity of Israel’s security forces allows us to suspect the worst, especially when the curtain is momentarily and partially drawn as it was in the Zygier case.
Amir Oren is one of those who drew the curtain, if only for a moment and only very partially. His article told us almost nothing about Prisoner X2. But even that little bit was too much. I’m guessing where Oren went “wrong,” at least as far as the censor is concerned, is that he revealed the code name of the Shabak officer who supervised the investigation into Prisoner X2.
That opens the door to a number of inconvenient factors, as far as the Shabak is concerned. The chief investigator, code-named Abu Sharif, left his position in 2006. Which means Prisoner X2 has been in prison at least seven years. A unit head’s term is usually five years. Which means Prisoner X2 may’ve been in prison as long as 12 years.
The prisoner’s wife told Oren that she hoped he’d get the conventional one-third off his sentence for good behavior. Meaning his original sentence must’ve been at least ten years (and possibly much more). That’s a very serious sentence indicating he was likely charged with espionage or betrayal of state secrets.
Another interesting fact derived from Oren’s article is that while Ben Zygier was imprisoned in Ayalon Prison and Prisoner X2 spent time there as well, his wife drives 90 minutes from her “central Israel” home to visit him. This indicates that he is no longer in Ayalon, which is in central Israel. He’s likely in a prison in Beersheva or the environs (Haifa is possible, but unlikely).
These are the sorts of things the Shabak doesn’t want Israelis to know or speculate about; because pretty soon someone who does know something will feel emboldened to reveal more. Then the cat will out of the bag. And someone may actually feel rochmonis for this man: this ‘traitor’ to the security caste for whom no one may feel anything, let alone remorse.
That’s why a relatively innocuous article got the axe by the military censor seeking to protect someone’s ass. ‘Disappearing’ the article isn’t that dissimilar from disappearing Ben Zygier or Prisoner X2 or any number of other security cases I’ve covered here. It’s all of a piece with the national security state’s standard protocols. If you have the power you can make ideas, newspaper articles, and even people “go away.” It’s that convenient.
But the censor may not have bargained for the fact that I have the cached version of the article and can offer it to you in Hebrew and with the following partial English translation. We’re doing our small part to break the censor’s grip on Israeli media and society:
Even Shadows Have Rules: Between Silence and Subterfuge in the Case of the Additional Prisoner X
Tsilah, a fictional name, isn’t in the habit of going to bed early. Yesterday at a late hour, she was grappling with the question of how to respond to a journalist’s inquiry–to speak or be silent. What to say if she does speak: whether it will help her husband or hurt him. Finally, after taking counsel with whoever she chose to consult, she chose to shut the door. She left things with the words: “I’m unable.” It’s prohibited, and not just for her, even to hint at what her husband did [for a living] and what he did before he did whatever distanced himself from her for years.
The fictional name, this or another, is the heart of the matter. It’s true of the CIA and KGB and all such agencies in the world, internal or external, intelligence or police. Operations which demand penetrating an enemy environment, one that is suspicious of foreigners, involved in creating cover stories and borrowed identities. A Russian becomes an American. Yaakov becomes Mustafa, a Shabak coordinator–his name doesn’t matter–will become Captain It-Doesn’t-Matter-Where. In order to be assimilated smoothly, so that the body will not reject the transplant. It’s not good enough to worry about the costume or makeup of the actor who yesterday was Casablan and tomorrow will be Richard III. They’re forced to give birth anew [to different identities] and master them in every word and detail. Because exposure threatens their freedom and even their lives.
…The surprising turn in the plot is the fall from the heights of an exciting government mission into the deep well of a lonely guarded prison cell. From dangerous to endangered. From hero sailing around the world to an invisible man, whose world is as narrow as that of a cockroach in a jail, with an identity that isn’t even his.
…Tsilah is no mystery woman. The quiet and distance from the headlines suit her as a mother and busy grandmother, with a life in central Israel, who sometimes goes on a 90-minute ride for a family visit with her husband…
The Shabak, which is responsible for security investigations, is the agency which built a case against Tsilah’s husband. Before then, there were years of hard work [on behalf of his agency] and tens, if not hundreds of interrogations. It was the most difficult episode for “Abu Sharif” (another nickname) when he headed the Shabak’s investigations unit, because of the legal restrains that exist when investigating Israelis [as opposed to Palestinians].
…The public debate is critical, even if it doesn’t penetrate the heart of the secret which brought the anonymous prisoner to his cell, and in the case of Zygier, to his death…The security and legal agencies which deal with cases like these believe there are good reasons to disappear certain people. Even if this were ever true, it isn’t necessarily true with the passing of the years.
In the period before Danny Yatom was named to head the Mossad, the names of its chiefs were forbidden for publication. So was the name of the Shabak chief. Carmi Gilon was ‘C.’ and Shabtai Shavit was ‘S.’ The reasoning was that a name leads to a photo and burdens the head of the agency who must command subordinates from near and far. There was something to be said for this, but the responsibility to the public of one’s identity being known is more important.
Tsilah accepts that her husband for now is an anonymous prisoner. But the prisoners aren’t anonymous to their families. Nor are they to a long list of officials of the Justice Ministry, including Manny Mazuz, Yehudah Weinstein, Edna Arbel and Shai Nitzan. Therefore it’s fitting to examine how well they fulfilled their oversight responsibility for the secret cases which came into their care. Did they see–in the cells themselves–the individuals behind the names, whether real or fictional; or did they suffice with reading documents. There is great significance in this precisely because in the past days, as in all such waves of passing interest in such cases, Jerusalem has attempted to soothe the public and assure it that there is someone they can trust, even in dealing with someone who the public did trust, until he broke that trust.
by Richard Silverstein on July 9, 2013 · 23 comments
in Mideast Peace
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