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Israeli Human Rights NGO Demands Accounting of Mr. X

A few days ago I reported about the sad fate of a prisoner in the Ayalon jail, kept in solitary confinement with no contact with anyone outside or inside the prison (except presumably his interrogators).  The story was originally reported by Ynet.  The article was then “disappeared” from the site by gag order.  Besides this element of the story, I also broke subsequent news that a source in the prison service said Mr. X, as he’s being called in the Israeli media, was a “terrorist guilty of involvement in a banned organization.”  It should be added that the Israeli authorities have quite a sweeping and often unjustified notion of what constitutes a “terrorist.”

Israelis I’ve consulted believe the prisoner hasn’t been convicted yet of any crime.  Israeli security laws allow for extended detention of individuals who haven’t been convicted of any crime in certain cases.  It appears the mysterious Mr. X may be such a one.

I’m delighted that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has taken up the cause with a letter to the Israeli justice minister, Yehuda Weinstein, protesting the conditions of this man’s detention and the profound violations of democracy they entail:

Secret arrests and laws are unacceptable in a free democratic society.  They threaten, in a very real sense, the rule of law and damage in a profound way the faith of the public in the justice system.

We don’t know a thing about the circumstances of this matter.  And we don’t intend to deal in speculation…But it’s important to emphasize that from the moment that someone is arrested, and certainly from the moment he is brought to justice, there is no justification for such sweeping secrecy.  It is insupportable that in a democratic country authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear them from public view without the public even knowing such an arrest took place.

The letter continues by noting that a report written by the staff of the prison service and Interior Ministry noted the likelihood of grave and irreparable psychological damage posed to prisoners by placing them in isolation, especially long-term isolation.  As a result of the report, a law was passed whose essential element was the recognition that isolation was to be used as a measure of last resort.

ACRI emphasizes further the critical importance of the principle of openness and transparency in such processes.  Such openness is a fundamental means to guarantee the freedom to publicly criticize the administration of justice.   In light of this, the NGO asks the Minister to inquire urgently into the matter of Mr. X and to remove the veil of secrecy cast over this case to ensure that the prisoner is treated as the law demands.

In Israel, this and couple of shekels may buy you a cup of (formerly) Turkish coffee.  But at least it’s a start.  The road to Shin Bet accountability begins with a single step.  Ironically, it’s extremely doubtful that any mainstream Israeli newspaper will publish word of ACRI’s statement since it involves a case under gag order.  As shown in the Anat Kamm-Uri Blau case, the only way to break a gag order and bring accountability is for the Israeli equivalent of the MSM to grow cajones and do their job, which aren’t wont to do in these circumstance.  In Kamm’s case it took the involvement of  a celebrity U.S. journalist, Judy Miller, which persuaded Ynet to break ranks with the intelligence agencies.  Mr. X won’t have any such luck since he’s “only” an Arab with no such friends in high places.

Despite the fact that neither the Israeli media nor the Shin Bet accords much respect to online media, we will continue to shrey about this and other cases in the hopes that our voice will grow in strength and resonate across borders and in people’s hearts.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Assaf June 17, 2010, 12:46 AM

    unless Paco de Lucia pops by, the MSM growing cajones wouldn’t do anyone much good. Cojones might :)
    On a serious note, thanks for helping keep this story out in the open.

  • Eran June 17, 2010, 12:51 AM

    This story is outrageous, but look, you’re really going overboard with “In Israel, this and couple of shekels may buy you a cup of (formerly) Turkish coffee” and “Mr. X won’t have any such luck since he’s “only” an Arab with no such friends in high places.” Would you give the process instigated by ACRI a chance? I believe that eventually this story will break in Israel, just like the Kam story *and* the Makhoul story (who IIRC is also an arab). The anti democratic currents in Israel are disturbing enough without adding those kind of unfounded predictions, based solely on the assumption that everything is as bad as it can possibly be and will surely just become worse.

    • Richard Silverstein June 17, 2010, 12:41 PM

      The ONLY reason those stories broke in Israel was because they broke here (& other places) first. And why is Makhoul still in prison? And tortured? We couldn’t prevent that because Israeli media haven’t been willing to do their jobs. So no, I’ sorry but I won’t back off or “give the process a chance” (whatever that means). The whole pt is the process doesn’t work in Israel if you’re accused of a security crimes, and esp. if you are Palestinian.

      • Eran June 17, 2010, 10:34 PM

        Please reread what I wrote. I never said that Israeli media “were doing their job”, or that those stories didn’t break in Israel because they broke in the US first. The Israeli media – apart from Haaretz – are constantly betraying their job and the Israeli public. What I’m saying is that assuming that what ACRI did will certainly fail from the first is pointless and doesn’t help, since it may well do some good. That’s what “giving the process a chance” means, btw.
        About Makhoul – I have no idea why he is still in prison, and if he is indeed tortured, I have no idea why. But that doesn’t mean that ACRI writing a letter to the Attorney General demanding information about prisoner X is doomed to failure, does it? I don’t really see a logical connection.

  • yaniv June 17, 2010, 4:16 AM


  • iris June 17, 2010, 5:02 AM

    ACRI is part of the problem not the solution.

    in general, be watchful you don’t become part of the hasbara of israel. try to remain vigilant and alert to the sources of information.
    How do u think we came all the way to hell if those whose job it is to monitor didnt become stale and part of the big show…

    • Richard Silverstein June 17, 2010, 12:27 PM

      In this particular case, ACRI has done the right thing. I recognize that liberal Israeli organizations & political parties like ACRI & Meretz often don’t have the courage of their convictions. They should be criticized in those situations. But when they do the right thing they should be praised.

      • iris June 17, 2010, 3:34 PM

        getting into that would sidetrack, but on the whole its more complex and significant, imho, than simply lack of courage on their part. the question of whether to give credit (and credence) to these bodies is an issue, but probably not within the scope of this blog.

  • Dana June 17, 2010, 7:03 AM

    Richard, you have mentioned that Mr. X is an “Arab” – this is the first I have seen him so referred to. Is this something known, or do you assume that must be the case, based on the allusion to “membership in a banned organization” and the obvious fact that a jewish prisoner is not likely to be treated this way? I tend to think this must be the case -even Anat kamm has “only” suffered house arrest, and not total isolation in prison and Blau was “only” exiled, gag or no gag.

    I made a comment before that chances are Mr. X is not from the “Jewish” segment of israel, partly because total disappearance would be difficult to affect in a tribal society such as Israel. By the same token, it would be difficult to completely “disappear” an Arab Israeli, since their society is also not so successful at silencing any and all. Unless, of course, extreme threats were made against an entire village. Even so, look at the noise that greeted the unjustified recent arrests of arab activists.

    All this makes the case of Mr. X quite curious.

    • Richard Silverstein June 17, 2010, 12:25 PM

      Yes, I PRESUME he is an Israeli Palestinian. But he could be someone who isn’t Israeli at all such as a foreigner.

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