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.