In perhaps the closing chapter of the sad tale of Ben Zygier, the judge tasked by the State to investigate the suicide of the Mossad agent, released (and Hebrew) her hitherto partially censored investigative report (Hebrew) in his case. She found at least six prison officials guilty of severe negligence and dereliction of duty. Yet the State prosecutor determined that despite this, there was “insufficient evidence” to bring charges against anyone. After reading what follows, you will wonder whether the prosecutor has taken leave of his senses; or perhaps the State itself has.
In the course of this report, we discover that Zygier attempted to commit suicide twice earlier during his detention. He also had an anxiety disorder which was being treated by medication. Zygier at the time of his death had stopped taking the medication.
Despite the fact that he was classified as a prisoner at high risk of harming himself, psychiatrists who treated him in prison, even after being told of his suicide attempts, found him in need of no further psychiatric treatment, because he told medical personnel that he had no thoughts of suicide. During another visit with medical personnel, the staff member noticed a cut on his wrist and asked about it. Zygier told him that he did so in order to “calm himself.” This too did not appear to raise alarm bells.
The judge also notes that a key video camera in the detainee’s cell was not transmitting. The technology officer in the prison knew of the problem yet did nothing to correct it. Because of this, the jailers could not see him as he entered the bathroom/shower in order to kill himself.
The officer monitoring the video equipment in Zygier’s cell left his post two minutes before the detainee entered the bathroom where he ultimately killed himself. No one on prison staff bothered to check on his welfare for over an hour, the period when he committed suicide.
The judge found that the negligence of prison staff contributed to Zygier’s death and that had any of them performed their jobs as expected, his attempt might have been thwarted.
Miraculously, the State, after examining this report, found that none of the deficiencies the judge noted were worthy of criminal charges, and no one should be held accountable for the death.
Even I, who’ve grown inured to the brutality and impunity of the Israeli State marvel at the outcome of this investigation. Clearly prison personnel were criminally negligent in this incident. Yet no one will stand trial. No one is guilty.
It could be that threats from the prison officials that they would expose other dark secrets in this scandalous case convinced the State that it was a can of worms not worth opening. What could the prison personnel have done to embarrass the authorities?
For one, no one has sufficiently criticized the performance of the Mossad. Not just in recruiting an unsuitable individual like Zygier, prone not to keep his mouth shut, and apparently suffering mental instability. For example, take a look at this account by Ronen Bergman of an interview with a psychiatrist responsible for vetting Mossad agent candidates. After reading it and his claim it’s almost impossible to detect the character flaws that make for a bad candidate, you might wonder why the Mossad employs him at all.
But an even more critical Mossad failure was the decision to hold Zygier in secrecy, isolated from the rest of the prisoners. In fact, there are only one or two other instances in which an Israeli Jewish citizen has been held in such a fashion. The only one I can think of is Marcus Klingberg.
By holding him incommunicado, by refusing even to inform the prison personnel of who he was, the Mossad in effect laid the groundwork for his eventual suicide. You simply cannot properly care for an individual when you know nothing about him. Putting him in isolation made it all the more likely that an individual already suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts, and social isolation, would resort to the only way out that appears viable to him: suicide.
Because Israel would have had to blame both the Mossad and the Prison Authority for their joint dereliction, the decision was made to blame no one. This is a schandeh. An outrage. A miscarriage of justice. There is only one hope that the case will not end here–if the family determines that justice was not done. They already did this once earlier when the State attempted to close the case for lack of evidence. The family then protested and blamed the prison authorities for his death. That was when the judge was appointed for a fuller examination.
If the family protests again, then they might raise a big enough stink for something further to come of this case. If they don’t, then Ben Zygier will have died in vain.
Here are the events of the fateful day on which Ben Zygier ended his life. On December 15, 2010, Maya Alon, Zygier’s wife came for a late morning visit with his daughter. The report notes that at the end of the 55 minute visit, Zygier was found to be crying and distraught as his wife left the cell. Zygier asked him jailer if he could give his wife a note. The jailer refused, which caused Zygier to tear up the note angrily and fling it away.
Alon asked to return to the cell to comfort Zygier, which the jailer permitted. When she returned a few moments later Zygier was still crying. It was clear from the interaction that his wife had told him something deeply upsetting to him. This was reported to the jailer’s supervisor, who in turn informed Zygier’s social worker. When the social worker spoke with the guard on duty, he told her Zygier was calm and watching TV. She did nothing further to ensure he would be monitored more intensively.
Two minutes after the guard left the video monitor room, Zygier entered the shower and hung himself. It wasn’t till over an hour later that anyone checked on him. By then, he was dead.
The only detail now that it is important to know is what happened between Zygier and his wife that day. Clearly, it involved the two of them and likely had something to do with their relationship. While I have heard various rumors, my guess is that Maya Alon told him that she wanted a divorce. It’s possible that she had met another man and needed a divorce to remarry. That’s the only information I can think of that would drive him to such despair.
He was a man facing 10-20 years in prison. That he might’ve been able to withstand. But knowing that his wife had deserted him, that might make the upcoming jail sentence impossible to endure. If any of what I’ve conjectured is true, then Zygier’s wife bears a measure of responsibility for this tragedy. Though she’s certainly entitled to conduct her life and make decisions as she sees fit, she should have told the guards that their conversation would likely distress him and that he needed extra supervision to ensure he did not harm himself. She appears not to have done so.
Of course, the prison system knows what they discussed because they monitor everything that happens in the cells. Now, only Maya Alon and the Prison Authority know the truth. Israelis, who deserve to, may never know.
That will mean that the most damaging Israeli intelligence failure of the past decade or so will be swept under the rug. The only time an active Mossad agent ever betrayed his country, and Israeli citizens may never know for sure what happened. They will not hear how this failure unfolded and who was responsible. Those who are guilty of egregious errors of judgment in recruiting him and in the manner he was treated after he was arrested, have gotten off without a scratch. And all in the name of state security. Protect our own because no one else will. If we make mistakes, we’re making them for you, Mr. Israeli Citizen. Therefore you must forgive us. Give us leeway. If not, then all hell will break loose, our enemies will overcome us because of our display of weakness. Stay strong. This too shall pass.
All this is the bleating of the national security state. Whose agents are above the law. They may be incompetent, negligent–but all this is forgiven for the sake of protecting Eretz Yisrael.
Elad R says
So after all your posts who accused the state it is now apparent that Ben Z. committed suicide for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the state.
You should exercise a bit more caution in your coverage and assertions.
Richard Silverstein says
A prisoner commits suicide in State custody and you have the chutzpah to claim the State had nothing to do with it? Of course they did. Who put him there? Who helped destroy his marriage by putting him in prison for a year without trial? Who put him in solitary confinement so he’d have no contact with other prisoners, thus exacerbating his depression? Who made all these idiotic decisions? Your Mossad & Shabak, that’s who.
Besides this fact, the Prison Authority’s dereliction to duty allowed Zygier to kill himself. No, I’m afraid the State’s guilty is all over this one.
We must never forget that at the end of the day all we have is israeli security word that the prisoner “killed himself”. How that occurred we’ll never know but there’s every reason to suspect the accounts provided by a state (and it’s cowed judiciary) on just about every detail. It would have been easy enough to, for example, “spike” his meds; or food. in such a way as to increase his anxiety and distress to the point they become intolerable. Then kindly, look away from the video monitor, for as long as necessary. Neither autopsy “results”, nor prison officials testimony, nor Judiocial whitewash, or newspaper accounts inside israel, or anything else that comes from the state apparatus can be believed. I am not sure I even believe this account of his wife’s visit. Everything always seems to be so conveniently contrived.
BTW, one good reason Ben would be depressed is that the wife, maya, finally confessed the baby is not his (and how could it be if he was arrested in February and the baby born in December?). Zygier probably suspected as much, but up until the time it was born would have not known for sure. Could be an unusually long gestation or whatever, right? when one is in prison, all one has are speculations and wish making. But perhaps in this last visit – no doubt arranged by authorities shortly after Feldman’s visit, she let the beans out – perhaps with the encouragement of the authorities. SI would actually assume that anything maya did was with the approval and/or goading of the state security officials (the israeli Stasi – their Shin bet, Mossad, whatever).
Interestingly, blogger Yehuda Bello insists on “knowing” for a fact (Israelis always know things “for a fact”, whenever they claim to “know” something) that Zygier was under house arrest till march 10 – miraculously just about exactly 9 months before the date of birth. That he bases on official court document that he, of all people, had access to, which so recorded. Now why would anyone believe a “court remand document’ mysteriously made available at just the right time to a blogger, is beyond me. And why would the Australian intelligence continue to insist otherwise is just another one of the enduring mysteries in this case.
So most likely, Maya confessed to the true parentage of the new baby and perhaps asked to be released from the marriage, so she could get on with her life. That would be depressing indeed to anyone. Enough to cause suicide though? not so likely. The more likely response would be agitation and anger. Followed by even more interest on Zygier’s part to clear his name.
Face it, Israel could never allow Ben to run around free at any time in the future. All for reasons they know very well, and some of us surmise (hint: it ain’t just some spies caught in Lebanon).The rest was just a question of how to get from point A to point B without the whole thing blowing up in their face. That israel did what it decided – and felt it had – to do (and I say israel, not just Mossad) was one of the things that probably pissed off the Australian agencies, on top of other reasons they had to be irate. Who, BTW are still pissed, even if their wings are, for the moment, smoewhat clipped by the politics and influencial jewish groups in Australia. But they are waiting no doubt for the next opportunity to embarass israel. mark my words, that’s what will happen – I just don’t know when and exactly from which corner.
Elad R says
Based on your last paragraph It’s Meir Dagan who’s the father of the child.
With respect to the rest of your nonsense and unfounded accusations:
The state of Israel could have interrogated Ben Z before he was put in Jail and the kill him with a bullet to his head and ditch him in let’s say Italy and give him a star on the Intelligence memorial wall and be done with the episode, why would the state of Israel like to risk so much put him in Jail and do all that later ? You my dear, r make no sense what so ever.
Elad R, I hate to dignify you with a response, but, oh well, no human deserves to be totally ignored, not even an apologist for criminal activities and a mafi/stasia spokesman.
You seem not to know how an intelligence service operates – not just Mossad, but any. Like any good secretive group, there is a code of honor as well as utility. First they don’t kill their own, willy-nilly. If they started doing that, based on mere suspicion, no one would join, since by definition, the job involves delicate operations sometimes, with very thin lines of ambiguous morality. Second, the most important rul for a spy group where suspicion arose that information was betrayed is to assess the damage, how far it went, who exactly was compromised, etc so that actions can be taken to plug the hole. Third, Zygier was not a nobody – he was member to a jewish establishment scions in Australia with huge influence over that country’s foreign policy. He is not a Palestinian that can be just “disappeared” altogether without worrying about the consequences. He had lots of friends in Israel, he served in the IDF and had army “buddies”. And he was – originally at least – an idealist who came to the state as a fervent zionist (something akin to the “religious fervor” which was cited – originally – Tamerlan’s motive for bombing. Fervor is a big thing, you know).
so Zygier was accorded the respect due to a possibly lapsed spy, and never treated as an actual “traitor”. The secrecy was necessary due to his occupation and the many contacts he made – israel could not let out the fact that he was detained for fear of ‘scaring off’ other potential involved parties, and/or frighten would-be field operators. But as the year of detention was coming to a close, they figured they got all they could out of him and the dangers of him ever being released were greater than any potential repercussions from his demise. Once that conclusion was reached, it was only a question of execution and plausible deniability to keep any political damage to a minimum.
As for the child, you need to look at the timing. If ben was arrested somewhere between late januart and mid-february as ASIO maintains – and was so notified by israeli contacts – and the new baby was born around December 10, what you have is either (i) an unusually long gestation more common to elephants than humans), or (ii) a conception well after Zygier was in prison and forbidden from contact. I do maintain that the bello claim of house arrest first, is a smoke screen, as is the remand document that mysteriously materialized. bello is honest in believing it to be true because the alternative is hard for him to contemplate and he comes from a Mossad-admiring, very zionist/tribal kind of place.
Anyways, I answered you fairly – in the face of your poorly expressed ad-hominems. If you don’t care to engage in a serious discussion, let this be my final response to you on this matter.