UPDATE:Israel has just released (Hebrew and English) its first official statement about its treatment of Ben Zygier. It has acknowledged without specifically naming him that it held a prisoner under a fictitious name and that the prisoner died in custody. The State said that it had notified Zygier’s family of his detention. It said it would investigate the possibility of negligence in his treatment while in prison.
In an effort to address the charge that Zygier received shoddy judicial treatment, the government also revealed that he had lawyers. He was represented by the same firm that represented Ehud Olmert and which often deals in cases with the security apparatus. But they are not attorneys known for taking on human rights cases. The claim by the State that Zygier was afforded all rights due to him as a citizen and that all legal proceedings were proper seems either laughable on its face or an outright lie.
The statement also claims Zygier was held under the auspices of the justice ministry. The minister is Yaakov Neeman, the same individual who spoke from the Knesset rostrum answsering questions of MKs yesterday claiming that he knew nothing of the case and that Zygier was never under his ministry’s jurisdiction. An outright lie. A further odd development in the story is the news that Zygier, who trained as a lawyer, interned in the legal firm of the current justice minister: none other than Mr. Neeman!
An Israeli judge oversaw a supposed investigation into the circumstances of his death, but the findings are secret. Six weeks ago, the file was allegedly sent by the judge to the State prosecutor for investigation of the possibility of negligence involved in the death. This is supposed to satisfy us I suppose.
Besides the three MKs who asking probing questions of Neeman that elicited his lies, another hero of the proceedings was Binyamin Ben Eliezer, acting Speaker, who was asked by the military censor to tell MKs that there was a gag order in place that prohibited discussion of the matter. Ben Eliezer refused to relay the message to the legislators and the debate continued without interruption.
The Prisoner X-Ben Zygier case continues to develop. I will be interviewed by Israeli Channel 10’s Tzinor Layla at 12 midnight Israel time. It will be the first story up in the program. The Social TV video above was recorded about 48 hours ago and reflects what I knew at the time. But it’s still useful as an overview of the entire case.
The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting report that includes material they reported back in 2010 about Zygier’s spying within Australia on behalf of the Mossad. He was accused then by Australia’s intelligence agency of applying multiple times for passports in different names including Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows. This is a sure sign among the world’s intelligence agencies that their nation’s passports are being used for espionage purposes.
This occurred shortly before three passports of Australian-Israeli dual citizens were cloned by the Mossad and used in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabouh. Though there isn’t necessarily any direct connection between Zygier’s activities and the Dubai episode.
The news report also notes that Zygier enrolled at Monash University (where his mother worked) in an MBA program. While there he was allegedly seen socializing on campus with groups of Saudi and Iranian students. This might mean that just as Zygier himself was recruited to the Mossad, he may’ve been recruiting potential agents. Presumably these students would eventually return to their home countries where they might serve useful purposes for Israeli intelligence.
It appears likely that Zygier used his new passports for travel to Iran (and also possibly Lebanon and Syria). I reported that the ships of Israel’s Ofer Brothers were suspected by the U.S. of breaking the international sanctions regime against Iran. The reason they did was, at least in part, to ferry Mossad agents to and from Iran. One of them may possibly have been Zygier. In addition, several of the agents involved in the al-Mabouh assassination left Dubai via ferry to Iran. Israel is known to have an MEK-facilitated spy network inside Iran which helped in the nuclear scientist assassinations and other sabotage efforts. It’s possible an Ofer Brothers ship took those agents back to Israel. Again, this is speculation but based on known facts I’ve reported earlier.
What’s important about this is that these three countries are places in which the Mossad is very active (or wishes to be). In Iran, the Mossad has participated in acts of terror against the regime including the assassination of five nuclear scientists. Israel has also attacked Syria at least twice in the past four years, which required on the ground assistance from either agents or special forces who infiltrated the country in both cases. Israel also assassinated Imad Mugniyeh and a Syrian general in the past few years. Each would’ve required agents covertly operating on Syria territory.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has asked the Israeli government to remove the gag order in this case. It also posed several pressing questions about how it treated Ben Zygier after he was arrested. Among them, it asked on what basis Israel determined that Zygier had committed suicide and whether there was any evidence his death may’ve occured through other means. This is an allusion to rumors that he may’ve been murdered in prison by the authorities. Though I stress that these are rumors and not established facts.
ACRI also asks who was monitoring the prisoner and why they allowed him to kill himself? Which agency and specific personnel were responsible? What, if any actions were taken in the aftermath of his death? Regarding his detention by the Mossad/Shin Bet, what actions did they take to determine how Zygier was able to do the things he did which may’ve endangered Israel. Was there any internal review of the entire incident and what were the results of it?
In the national security state, questions are almost never answered transparently or publicly, but it’s important they be asked to hold officials responsible.
I spoke today with a representative of an Israeli human rights NGO and asked what he knew about any legal process that might’ve happened in Zygier’s case. I’ve heard Channel 10’s chief political correspondent interviewed yesterday, saying there was none. But this human rights officer said he couldn’t comment on the matter. Which is exceedingly interesting. It could mean, if Channel 10’s report is correct, that Zygier received no due process or trial, in which case Israel was had violated its own laws and rights of not just an Israeli citizen, but an Australian citizen. This would involve grave implications for Australia-Israel relations. Or it could mean Zygier received some sort of secret Israeli trial which again would be unprecedented under Israeli law. The only other individual whose treatment parallels this was KGB spy, Marcus Klingberg, who I’ve mentioned in previous posts on this issue.
I just spoke to an Israeli human rights lawyer who believes that Zygier was likely afforded some very basis legal process, but that it is unprecedented for there to be a secret indictment, secret trial, and secret detention. He also believes if that is the case, Zygier had to have an attorney. Given what transpired I believe it’s unlikely an Israeli attorney would want to own up to the fact that his or her representation was so ineffective that his client despaired and killed himself. I also believe it’s unprecedented for there to remain a gag order against discussing a case years after the defendant has died.
Yesterday, 28,000 people visited this site, one of the largest amounts of visitors ever seen here. By noon today, I expect nearly 10,000 visitors. Over 60% came from Israel, starving for information on this case of vital national importance. It’s disturbing they couldn’t turn to their own press for original reporting. The partial Israel gag allows only reporting on this story originating abroad. Imagine you live in Paducah and there’s a corruption scandal involving the city council. But the police chief tells your local paper it can’t report on the story. Instead the only source of information you have will be a newspaper reporting from Toronto or Melbourne. Make sense? That’s Israel for you.
If you read Hebrew, the Israeli news portal Mako interviewed me yesterday. Here’s the report.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.