The Strange Case of Israel’s Mr. X, the Prisoner With No Name

This Yediot story about a prisoner with no name disappeared from the site likely as a result of a secret gag order

When I first started writing about the Anat Kamm case it felt like a cross between Kafka’s The Trial, a carnival Hall of Mirrors, and Chelm.  Now comes a story possibly even stranger.

Earlier today, Yediot Achronot published a story about a Mr. X imprisoned in an Israeli jail.  The man was in solitary confinement.  His jailers did not know who he was, did not share a word with him, no one came to visit him.  No one seemed to know he was there.  They didn’t even know what crime he had committed or how he came to be in the prison.  His prison cell was completely isolated from other prisoners and he couldn’t communicate in any way with them.  He was a complete mystery.  How is this possible in the Only Democracy in the Middle East?

“He is in absolute isolation from the external world,” said a source in the prison service.  “I’m not aware of any other prisoner held in such grave conditions of isolation.  In Unit 15 [where he is held], everything concerning him is secret. There are too many secrets concerning him.  What frightens is that a man can be imprisoned in Israel in 2010 and no one knows anything about him.  The man simply has no name and no identity.  We don’t even know if he has rights accorded to all other prisoners in the prison system.”

The reporter asked the service who the man was and they refused to answer.  The spokesperson would only say that his agency does not provide any information about prisoners for security reasons.  Which would seem to imply that his case is related to national security.  At the popular Israeli news forum, Rotter, some speculate that he may be a spy.

To indicate the severity of the unidentified prisoner’s offenses the cell and unit in which he is currently held was built specifically for Yigal Amir, the assassin of Israel’s prime minister.  Amir was removed to another prison.  But unlike Amir, whose family visited him regularly in this cell, Mr. X sees no one and no one sees him.

Sometime after I read this story I noticed it had disappeared from the Yediot website, which is why I offer a screenshot from Yahoo! cache.  This can mean only one thing, that the Israel censor demanded that the story be yanked.  Which only deepens the mystery.  Clearly, this individual committed (or let’s say, was convicted of committing) some security related offense, and probably a grave one.  But for the prison service not even to know who they’re guarding or even have heard a rumor about his identity seems exceedingly strange.

A commenter named Haggai below reports:

Rumours from a good source say this is a Mosad agent, suspected of espionage, and allowed to see no one but other Mosad agents.

That would sound about right. But can one imprison a Mossad agent without trial and without the world knowing the man is imprisoned? Can he simply disappear off the face of the earth like this?

Yossi Gurvitz speculates (Hebrew)  that what happened was that when the article was presented to the IDF censor, it was approved since it did not pose an imminent danger to national security (the only grounds for imposing such censorship).  But after publication, an intelligence agency (he speculates military intelligence) went to court and secured a gag order prohibiting publication, which explains the article’s removal.  It would, of course, be embarrassing to whichever agency helped put this man behind bars for the public to know what it had done.  Better not only to erase any trace of the man’s name or identity, but the article about him as well.  What a country!

Israel’s supporters like to claim it is the Only Democracy in the Middle East.  But Israel is really a national security state in which the normal rules of democracy can be suspended seemingly at will once the dreaded phrases “terror” or “national security” are invoked.  Mr. X is Exhibit A proving my point.

Thanks to Didi Remez for translating the entire Yediot article into English.