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.
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.