Prisoner X, the Sequel: Israeli Censorship Run Amok
Every man has a name given to him by God and by his parents.
…Every man has a name given him by the sea and by his death.
Every man deserves a name. Every man deserves the deeds of his life no matter how good or bad. No man, no state, no security apparatus has the right to steal these things from any man. Except in Israel. There the secret police may take everything from you. They may even do this if you were once one of them. Especially if you were once one of them.
If you were once one of them and betrayed them you can lose everything. Your name, your deeds, your family, your freedom. This is what happened to the man I call Prisoner X2. He was only discovered thanks to another nameless one, another Prisoner X, who was only given a name after his death, Ben Zygier.
Prisoner X2 actually preceded Zygier into the maw of the security system. We don’t know what he did wrong, what sentence he received, or how long he’s been in prison–some deductive reasoning allows us to calculate he received a sentence of a minimum of 10 years (and possibly much more). He has already served at least seven years (possibly as long as ten).
Unlike Zygier, Prisoner X2’s wife stood by him. That may be because the couple are older and more mature. An article by Amir Oren (Hebrew) published in Haaretz (and just as quickly ordered taken down by the military censor–but more on that shortly) reveals that his wife is a grandmother. That would make the couple at least in their fifties, whereas Zygier was 34 when he killed himself).
There are very few democracies in the world that disappear their citizens in this fashion. There are very few democracies that would give their secret police such power. But Israel isn’t your average country. It’s a national security state masquerading as a democracy.
The only thing that holds these malevolent forces in check are a handful of courageous journalists, editors and publishers . When even they are checked, the only recourse is a blog like mine. I break gags. I defy the censors. I give prisoners their names. I give them their deeds. It’s the least I can do, since I cannot win them their freedom.
This is what I did for two Gazans kidnapped by the Mossad. Now we know their names are Dirar Abusisi and Wael Abu Rida. Were it not for this blog, the secret police would’ve stolen even that from them.
I do not know Prisoner X2’s name. I do not know his deeds. But I know he deserves them returned to him. He deserves to be known by every Israeli who cares to know, no matter what he’s done.
Only in Israel (and places like North Korea and Iran) can the security apparatus decide citizens may not know such things. The decision may have a substantive reason. It may be a whim. It may protect the nation, but more likely it protects the ego or reputation of someone who could’ve done something to prevent whatever disaster did happen–and didn’t do so.
Security apparatuses are supposed to operate for the good of their country, but often operate for the good of their members. The opacity of Israel’s security forces allows us to suspect the worst, especially when the curtain is momentarily and partially drawn as it was in the Zygier case.
Amir Oren is one of those who drew the curtain, if only for a moment and only very partially. His article told us almost nothing about Prisoner X2. But even that little bit was too much. I’m guessing where Oren went “wrong,” at least as far as the censor is concerned, is that he revealed the code name of the Shabak officer who supervised the investigation into Prisoner X2.
That opens the door to a number of inconvenient factors, as far as the Shabak is concerned. The chief investigator, code-named Abu Sharif, left his position in 2006. Which means Prisoner X2 has been in prison at least seven years. A unit head’s term is usually five years. Which means Prisoner X2 may’ve been in prison as long as 12 years.
The prisoner’s wife told Oren that she hoped he’d get the conventional one-third off his sentence for good behavior. Meaning his original sentence must’ve been at least ten years (and possibly much more). That’s a very serious sentence indicating he was likely charged with espionage or betrayal of state secrets.
Another interesting fact derived from Oren’s article is that while Ben Zygier was imprisoned in Ayalon Prison and Prisoner X2 spent time there as well, his wife drives 90 minutes from her “central Israel” home to visit him. This indicates that he is no longer in Ayalon, which is in central Israel. He’s likely in a prison in Beersheva or the environs (Haifa is possible, but unlikely).
These are the sorts of things the Shabak doesn’t want Israelis to know or speculate about; because pretty soon someone who does know something will feel emboldened to reveal more. Then the cat will out of the bag. And someone may actually feel rochmonis for this man: this ‘traitor’ to the security caste for whom no one may feel anything, let alone remorse.
That’s why a relatively innocuous article got the axe by the military censor seeking to protect someone’s ass. ‘Disappearing’ the article isn’t that dissimilar from disappearing Ben Zygier or Prisoner X2 or any number of other security cases I’ve covered here. It’s all of a piece with the national security state’s standard protocols. If you have the power you can make ideas, newspaper articles, and even people “go away.” It’s that convenient.
But the censor may not have bargained for the fact that I have the cached version of the article and can offer it to you in Hebrew and with the following partial English translation. We’re doing our small part to break the censor’s grip on Israeli media and society:
Even Shadows Have Rules: Between Silence and Subterfuge in the Case of the Additional Prisoner X
Tsilah, a fictional name, isn’t in the habit of going to bed early. Yesterday at a late hour, she was grappling with the question of how to respond to a journalist’s inquiry–to speak or be silent. What to say if she does speak: whether it will help her husband or hurt him. Finally, after taking counsel with whoever she chose to consult, she chose to shut the door. She left things with the words: “I’m unable.” It’s prohibited, and not just for her, even to hint at what her husband did [for a living] and what he did before he did whatever distanced himself from her for years.
The fictional name, this or another, is the heart of the matter. It’s true of the CIA and KGB and all such agencies in the world, internal or external, intelligence or police. Operations which demand penetrating an enemy environment, one that is suspicious of foreigners, involved in creating cover stories and borrowed identities. A Russian becomes an American. Yaakov becomes Mustafa, a Shabak coordinator–his name doesn’t matter–will become Captain It-Doesn’t-Matter-Where. In order to be assimilated smoothly, so that the body will not reject the transplant. It’s not good enough to worry about the costume or makeup of the actor who yesterday was Casablan and tomorrow will be Richard III. They’re forced to give birth anew [to different identities] and master them in every word and detail. Because exposure threatens their freedom and even their lives.
…The surprising turn in the plot is the fall from the heights of an exciting government mission into the deep well of a lonely guarded prison cell. From dangerous to endangered. From hero sailing around the world to an invisible man, whose world is as narrow as that of a cockroach in a jail, with an identity that isn’t even his.
…Tsilah is no mystery woman. The quiet and distance from the headlines suit her as a mother and busy grandmother, with a life in central Israel, who sometimes goes on a 90-minute ride for a family visit with her husband…
The Shabak, which is responsible for security investigations, is the agency which built a case against Tsilah’s husband. Before then, there were years of hard work [on behalf of his agency] and tens, if not hundreds of interrogations. It was the most difficult episode for “Abu Sharif” (another nickname) when he headed the Shabak’s investigations unit, because of the legal restrains that exist when investigating Israelis [as opposed to Palestinians].
…The public debate is critical, even if it doesn’t penetrate the heart of the secret which brought the anonymous prisoner to his cell, and in the case of Zygier, to his death…The security and legal agencies which deal with cases like these believe there are good reasons to disappear certain people. Even if this were ever true, it isn’t necessarily true with the passing of the years.
In the period before Danny Yatom was named to head the Mossad, the names of its chiefs were forbidden for publication. So was the name of the Shabak chief. Carmi Gilon was ‘C.’ and Shabtai Shavit was ‘S.’ The reasoning was that a name leads to a photo and burdens the head of the agency who must command subordinates from near and far. There was something to be said for this, but the responsibility to the public of one’s identity being known is more important.
Tsilah accepts that her husband for now is an anonymous prisoner. But the prisoners aren’t anonymous to their families. Nor are they to a long list of officials of the Justice Ministry, including Manny Mazuz, Yehudah Weinstein, Edna Arbel and Shai Nitzan. Therefore it’s fitting to examine how well they fulfilled their oversight responsibility for the secret cases which came into their care. Did they see–in the cells themselves–the individuals behind the names, whether real or fictional; or did they suffice with reading documents. There is great significance in this precisely because in the past days, as in all such waves of passing interest in such cases, Jerusalem has attempted to soothe the public and assure it that there is someone they can trust, even in dealing with someone who the public did trust, until he broke that trust.
30 thoughts on “Prisoner X, the Sequel: Israeli Censorship Run Amok – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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The imprisoned person may not have broken anyone’s trust: he may simply know that the public’s trust has been broken by someone vastly more powerful than he is.
Were he actually a traitor, he would almost certainly receive, if not a public trial, at least a trial which the public knew was happening, even if the evidence was largely heard in camera. Because the nation’s rulers would want to make public his disgrace and ruin. The complete secrecy suggests that the disgrace is theirs, and the ruin the nation’s.
By an odd coincidence, this is in the headlines while Fleet Street is remarking on the fact that the British Board of Film Classification has received its first ever complaint about “The Railway Children”, forty-four years after it was released. It’s a story about the family of a man falsely accused of selling state secrets.
Repeat after me: ani kaki metumtam.
You are the only kaki I can see here and you smell really bad – Israeli’s will forever break human rights laws without any care about the ‘others’.
[comment deleted. Hey, I know you think you’re snark actually is wit, but I don’t. So if you want to be funny, go elsewhere. If you want to engage in substantive discussion or debate, then do it w/o the stupidity.]
Does the Shabak make use of “black humor” in their choice of code-names. I would guess [Bassam] Abu Sharif chief investigator was chosen because prisoner X2 was kept hidden due to a breach of trust involved with a (successful) assassination. In this time frame and combination, a first line of thought would be the assassination of Yasser Arafat in 2004. As is known, Arafat’s cause of death is under investigation for possible polonium-210 poisoning by several labs.
Thank you once again for highlighting the dark prison system in Israëli democratic society.
For some reason you (Richard Silverstein) admit that you know nothing about what Prisoner X2 did yet you would like to “win him his freedom”?!… I would say that this illogical stance betrays your true agenda…
As for equating Israel and places like North Korea and Iran, one thing that you don’t mention is that in Israel the government is democratic and the laws are enacted by a democratically elected legislature… Another thing that you neglect to mention is that in Israel even the incarceration (and the terms thereof) of Prisoner X2 was subjected to review by the independent judiciary… The sort of nicety that is not upheld in tyrannical regimes like North Korea and Iran…
These omissions as well as your illogical position expressed above show quite clearly that you have an agenda and that agenda isn’t Israel friendly…
“yet you would like to “win him his freedom”?!”
Richard says he cannot win X2 his freedom; whether or not he would like to do so does not follow from this.
“in Israel even the incarceration (and the terms thereof) of Prisoner X2 was subjected to review by the independent judiciary”
Just how independent is the judiciary in such instances?
The security apparatus has a decisive say on which lawyers and judges can be involved in such matters. Need I say that this detail has an expectable influence on the willingness of the said lawyers and judges to confront the security apparatus when they consider such confrontation necessary?
Your comment is filled with distortion. I never said that I wanted to win this particular man’s freedom. In fact I said I can’t win anyone’s freedom. But if I could win anyone’s freedom it would be those like Abu Rida & Abusisi whose kidnappings clearly violated international law. If Prisoner X2’s trial or detention violated democratic norms then he deserves a new free & fair trial. Your claim that he had one is preposterous, as he was tried entirely in secret, the very definition of “justice” in a police state.
Richard, the link to the Google cache (?) of the Hebrew text of Amir Oren’s article is not working.
Still, there is an interesting detail in the English text:
“the surprising turn in the plot is the fall from the heights of an exciting government mission into the deep well of a lonely guarded prison cell… From hero sailing around the world to an invisible man”
It would be unusual for an Israeli journalist, especially a critically-minded one such as Amir Oren, to refer to the cloak-and-dagger operations abroad (think Al-Mabhouh) as “an exciting government mission.” It seems more like X2 was employed by the government of Israel in some sort of weapons/security technologies/military training trade, and sold some stuff to clients he wasn’t supposed to sell to. Such clients would hardly be in Western countries; they could be Russia or China, or perhaps some states or agencies in the Persian Gulf (with whom Israel has been reported to have undercover connections).
And for nitpicking, as the head of the Shabak, Carmi Gilon wasn’t “C” for very long. He was appointed in the wake of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, and I still remember how within a couple of days his full name was spelled out on several Web sites. Those were the good old days when the Internet was young and surprising.
Sorry, Carmi Gilon was *ousted* after Rabin’s assassination. The one appointed in its wake and the one whose name got aired on the Internet a couple of days later was Ami Ayalon.
Mr. Silverstein, thank you for addition of screen grab and the tekst document of Haaretz article!
@Oui: You’re welcome! Glad I could preserve it all before the censors & secret police grab it all!
This is the kind of article that truly represents what this website is all about. Good to see you get away from the more sordid nonsense and back on track to more substantial matters. Of course, your blog, you can write about whatever you want, but in my humble opinion, a piece like this is what sets you apart in a special way. Keep up the good work.
Thanks, Bob. I appreciate that.
You are welcome. By the way, the rest of the media has finally caught up with your story about the Latakia incident.
Sometimes you need to cover the sordid stuff, because unaccountable people in positions of great power, tend to abuse that power for very base personal ends, rather than ideological or strategic goals.
And the very base personal ends can cause extraordinary misery. Sometimes, Israel resembles Germany in the thirties, at other times it resembles post war Belgium or Portugal, where control of a children’s home or state orphanage can be a greater prize than control of a strategic industry. If politics is being run by people who respond to very, very sordid incentives, then power may lie in the control of institutions not commonly mentioned in political science courses.
Sexual vice can be and is, an enabling factor in subversion of legal and democratic institutions.
Organised sexual vice is how the secret police of the former Portuguese dictatorship survives, as the PJP, under what looks like and has all the institutions of, a European democracy. No matter what the democratic aspirations of ministers, prosecutors and officials may be, what they actually do is dictated to them by vice rings which always have the goods on someone whom a minister with honest intentions has trusted or relied upon.
If this were happening in Israel, it really would make it impossible to reform or democratise the power structure.
But in Portugal’s case, the grip the vice rings have on government (and most of the press) is so great that the state is now on a collision course with Portugal’s oldest, and still its most powerful, ally. The Euro crisis places Portugal on the same collision course with Germany as everybody else in Southern Europe, but the vice rings place it, simultaneously, on a collision course with the United Kingdom, for the first time in eight centuries.
During the Dutroux case, many Belgium politicians and judges feared that if the British press found out about the British victims of the vice ring he was part of, Belgium would collapse as a state, because the United Kingdom would be pushing in the same direction as the million-odd Belgian citizens who had turned out on the streets in protest at political collusion with vice. With the help of the despicable Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, they kept the lid on, just.
Ignore all Richard’s “sordid stuff” and that’s where Israel will be.
Some of my contacts claim that it already is. The sordid stuff, matters, I’m afraid.
You do realize that without the full cooperation of the prisoner his identity can’t be concealed ?
What are the reasons for his cooperation ? some has to do with the terms of his imprisonment for sure, but some has to do with other factors such as own safety and the safety of his relatives. I’m sure there are others.
With respect to the democratic process, life is complicated. The existence of prisoner X (or others like him) doesn’t mean that state of Israel is no longer a democracy just as the existence of Guantanamo doesn’t mean the US is no longer a democracy. In my opinion a State has every right to balance between its security needs and the civil right of it’s citizens, other citizens (as in the US wiretapping half the world), and said state enemies.
@EladR: No, I don’t “realize” that. Nor is he “cooperating” with such inhumane treatment that violates international law & any democratic system. Your claim beggars belief & is little more than a bluff. No person in their right mind agrees to be held in solitary confinement, with no contact with other prisoners or guards. If you can produce an agreement of any sort in which he or his lawyer agreed to such treatment I’ll eat my hat.
If the existence of Israeli Prisoner Xs were the only affront to Israeli democracy of course it wouldn’t mean democracy didn’t exist. But it is one in a very long line of such stains against democracy. The U.S. too has stains, very big ones. But overall, there are still many more democratic safeguards here than there.
There is no “balance” in Israel in these matters. If you are Prisoner X or any Israeli security detainee you have very, very few rights. You are at the whim of the security services & the State inquisitors known as prosecutors.
“If you can produce an agreement of any sort in which he or his lawyer agreed to such treatment I’ll eat my hat.”
I can’t produce the actual agreement – though there is no doubt that one exist – What i can do is refer you to the 7th eye article datet 02/15/2013 (http://www.the7eye.org.il/41227) in which an article by Tova Zimuki of yediot is quoted. She states the following:
“Quoting a high level source within the department of justice Tzimuki states that Ben Zygier agreed to be imprisoned agreed under a false name. Ben received the full rights given to prisoners in segregation, including visits from his family and lawyers.”
Without such agreement the prisoners would simply reveal his/her true identity to his prison guards, to the courts guard when he/she brought to court hearing and to other people he/she coming in contact with. Mordechai Vanunu did exactly that providing information by writing it on his palm.
@EladR: You’re claiming that a man who faces 20 yrs in prison and has been deserted by his wife has free will to make any agreement with the State? Sorry chum that doesn’t fly with me. In a democracy in which he has free & full access to lawyers, they have free access to all the evidence, where the judge hears from both sides, & the public gets to know what’s going on–sure maybe then I can accept his freedom to sign such an agreement. But not the way the system works now. No way.
Saying Zygier had “full rights” is an insult to the term. He had no rights. He was nobody, literally and figuratively.
So what is the different, in your opinion, between Ben
Zygier who faced 20 years and made an agreement to someone who
faces life for murder and makes an agreement, what free will does
he have ? Ben Zigyer lawyers are considered among the Best in
Israel, they also represented Ex prime minister Ehud Olmert. In
addition Ben Zygier consulted with Avigdor Feldman. The attorney
for the current prisoner X is a well known figure within the
Israeli lawyers society.
You stoop to compare the state of affairs in Israel with the worst of the worse in the western world. The USA has little moral authority left after election fraud, voters suppression, Congress blockades, fp lies, Iraq invasion, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, torture and rendition, execution by drones, and last but not least the infringement on liberty and privacy of its and the world’s citizens. Just as a bully is expected to behave, and yet America is still attractive to emigrants from third world countries.
You were telling us about Israel, moral values, democracy, corruption, illegal occupation, detention of Palestinians …
Does Israel have any moral values? I think not, perhaps in the past but certainly not today.One should also look at the story of Victor Ostrovsky also a supposed Mossad agent but the one that got away.
Elad R, what exactly makes the US a democracy at this time? that they have elections? elections where the citizens have no choice whatsoever as to who the candidates are going to be? a democracy where money, and only money calls the shots?
Guantanamo is just a symptom, as was Abu Ghraib, as are the drones, as is the spying on everyone the world over, as is the buying of key UN offices including Ban’s, as is the forcing of neoliberal policies down the world’s throat. Policies that are bound to buy nothing but misery for the future citizens of the planet, inclusing in the US itself. What kind of a democracy would allow murderous neocon thugs to walk among us, not even shunned as well they should be by every civilized human. Criminals like Ledeen, Feith, kagan and Wolfowitz and cheney, hacks like Friedman, Brooks and krystol are still for some reason appearing on television spewing ever more inane platitudes, long after being utterly discredited. So many “intellects” well past their expiration dates. A normal, functioning democracy would have at least sent these characters to intellectual and spiritual exile if not to actual prison. Though, IMO, paying hefty fines to the Iraqi people would be a good place to start.
Unfortunately, the moral turpitude of the US government system is a direct result of a lobby system gone mad. the constitution just couldn’t stand up to it, it seems. It certainly didn’t help casting all those vetos in the UN on behalf of an apartheid country where the laws are flaunted every day and where racism reigns supreme, as bad as anywhere, including but not limited to saudi Arabia. A country found guilty of ethnic cleansing by most of humanity and is hell bent on carrying out more of the same, protected by a superpower that has all but lost any moral standing whatsoever.
No wonder that little country is so keen on keeping it’s secrets of slaughters and assassinations and mafia-style executions and indiscriminate bombings of civilians just plain corruption. Probably that’s Shabak’s main task, – keep the wool over people’s eyes so they won’t see the unbelievable evil engaged in under the guise of some bogus ‘security” needs.
For all we know, prisoner X2 is a prisoner of conscience, as Zygier may have been as vanunu certainly was. I am not saying X2 had conscience, having worked for mossad et al. But I don’t know he didn’t, do I? may be X2 did something a la Snowden? who knows?
In the end everybody knows everything!
Richard, you seem to bark at slightly the wrong tree. In Israel gag orders are not issued by the Military censorship. Gag orders are court orders. The Wikipedia article for “gag order” lists a number of coutries (and not North Korea, mind you). It explicly lists Ben Zygier, which you attribute to the Military Censorship. In the case of Uri Blau and Anat Kam: the original story of Uri Blau was approved by the Military Censorship (it was a dtory about the army) with a friendly warning that including the docuemnt is is risks esposing the source.
@Tzafrir Cohen: I know the difference between a gag order & military censorship. But often they are one & the same. I assure you that the Prisoner X2 saga is under military censorship as is the Latakia attack story which I broke. Cases that are more related to individuals rather than state or security entities are more likely to have gag orders placed on them. But in the national security state there is a great deal of overlap between the two.
BTW, you must be an afficionado of these techniques: perhaps a former censor yourself or just well-tutored in the ways of the national security state?
As I recall there was another government that took away the
names of Jews. The dream has become a nightmare. A waking
“If you have the power you can make ideas, newspaper articles, and even people ‘go away.’ It’s that convenient.” How true! But my father will not agree if it’s connected with Israeli powers.
About anonymous prisoners, I really appreciate your thought of giving them their identity. The system reminds me of the Nazi, rounding up Jews and stripping them of everything including their identity. I just don’t know which is better, giving anonymous prisoners a string of numbers for a name, or just Prisoner X, X2–or Y maybe, as if human life is created with algebraic equations.