The Zygier case continues to develop, sending shockwaves through both the State of Israel and its intelligence services and Australia. There are new reports from both countries that further damage the reputations of the Mossad, Shin Bet and ASIO (Australia’s intelligence agency).
After maintaining a strict silence concerning their loved one’s death, members of Zygier’s family (not clear whether this is his wife in Israel, his parents in Australia, or both) approached the State of Israel demanding compensation for the negligent death of Ben Zygier. This occurred six weeks ago when a judge, who took eighteen months to arrive at this decision, found Zygier had died through the negligence of the intelligence and prison service. The figure bruited about is “millions of shekels.” In the past, Israel has laid out million-dollar settlements to the families of British activists like James Miller and Tom Hurndall, when the British government has put the screws to Israel demanding that it pay damages for what was negligent homicide or worse.
This is an even more egregious case, in which Israel will be under tremendous pressure because of the level of damage it will do to the State’s relations with Israel. I would guess the payment in the Zygier case would be far more than $1-million (4-million shekels).
Maariv, through sources in the prison service, reveals that immediately after Zygier’s alleged suicide in his Ayalon prison cell, intelligence personnel in civilian garb swarmed his cell. They prohibited access to emergency services, the coroner or prison officials to perform their customary duties in such cases:
Magen David Adom was summoned in order to certify his death. As opposed to other similar cases, the police were only called later. Even then [after they arrived] they and the forensics lab personnel were not permitted to enter the cell to examine the scene. Only hours later, after officials from different security and police agencies visited the site, was the forensics team permitted to enter.
Officially, police and Shabak officers refused to acknowledge the incident. The prison service and Shabak agreed only to say that a prisoner had committed suicide in his cell. Personnel within the prison were astonished at this version and agreed that there is more unknown than known regarding the circumstances of his death.
One prison official even says the suicide story beggars belief because there are four video surveillance cameras in the cell. Zygier was imprisoned for eight months in a cell from which he was never allowed out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It had an iron door which permitted no view of the hallway outside so he could not communicate with the outside world. The cell had only two small windows–which permitted some fresh air to enter from the outside–a small refrigerator and hot plate.
The Maariv story concludes with this suggestive and mysterious sentence:
Once his death was established, each of the agencies and individuals [that visited the cell] was handed a table of names that were mentioned in various documents. Each agency indicated the name under which the deceased was known to it.
This indicates a high level of coordination among the various entities that might be blamed for his death. They desperately wanted to be sure to have all their ducks in a row. If this isn’t an incipient cover-up, I don’t know what is.
Another extraordinary aspect of the case is that it took eight days before Israel released the body for repatriation to his family in Australia. One of the most sacred aspects of Judaism demands that a body be buried immediately after death. A delay of eight days is unheard of. All of this indicates a huge level of confusion and perhaps panic among authorities in terms of deciding what to do with Zygier and the narrative of his death.
Further, there are important elements of the Maariv story that lean toward the conclusion that there may’ve been some form of foul play involved in his death. Even prison guards working at Ayalon have trouble accepting the “official” story. It should be mentioned that a large part of the reason this story is known at all is that these same prison personnel were stricken with conscience at the treatment afforded to Zygier. They spoke out after his death and they continue speaking now. Good for them.
Writing in the Australian Age, a reporter reveals that after his arrest Zygier received NO consular assistance from the embassy. Intelligence officers in the Australian embassy in Israel did not tell the acting ambassador at the time. They did tell the permanent ambassador who began her job a month after the arrest. But apparently Zygier was left entirely to his own devices. This is not just an embarrassing lapse, it is catastrophically embarrassing and raises the question whether this incompetence was deliberate. Were officials wanting not to know or do anything for Zygier? And if so, why?
This passage also indicates a huge diplomatic violation by Israel in the opacity with which it dealt with Australian authorities:
One of the country’s top international law experts, the Australian National University’s Don Rothwell, said Israel was in clear breach of international consular access conventions by failing to formally tell Australia – government to government – that it had arrested and jailed Zygier.
But hey, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Israel clearly believes that international law and diplomatic conventions are advisory rather than compulsory as far as its own behavior is concerned. They are useful when they benefit Israel and may be ignored when they are inconvenient. Someone ought to inform Israel that there are consequences when a nation ignores such niceties. I only hope Australia will make Israel pay for its serious violations of these provisions.