I have dreaded writing this post. A young man is dead. He died in an Israeli military prison. No one seems to know why or how he died. No one who might be able to tell us, seems to want to know the answers to any of these questions.
His name was Tomer Eiges, age 25. He was a Captain in Unit 8200, the army’s elite signals intelligence service. He was arrested last November for unspecified crimes. Not even the IDF itself will tell us why he was arrested or what the charges against him were, except in the vaguest terms. While riding his bicycle home from his base, a van pulled up and essentially kidnapped him off the street. Not even his parents knew where he was for some time.
By all accounts, Tomer was a brilliant boy. Some say he may have been autistic. But this would likely have given him precisely the sharp intellectual skills needed for computer hacking, the main mission of Unit 8200.
The army kept him in prison indefinitely. It began negotiation for a plea bargain. But Tomer resisted. Meanwhile, he languished. A brilliant boy beaten down by a system he had served loyally, and which his family served as well. His father is an engineer at Rafael, one of Israel’s leading military contractors.
Tomer died one night last May. As I wrote above, no one knows how or why. He went to dinner, came back to his room. And the next thing anyone knows he was spitting up and unconscious. Then he died. The whole episode aroused a furor in Israel. When the best and brightest die in custody, people want answers. The military was contrite. It consoled the family by saying Tomer was a good boy, but one who had somehow gone wrong. It promised an official inquiry. It appointed a general with lots of medals and stars on his chest. A sober, serious man who would get to the bottom of this.
But as happens far too often in Israel, the general did nothing. No report was issued. To this day, eight months after Tomer’s death, the investigating officer has produced nothing. What was issued was a short statement saying “definitively”…no cause of death could be determined:
The military said…that tests conducted by a United States lab had not given a clear answer on whether he had overdosed on one of two drugs he was taking, which were reported to be antidepressant and anti-psychotic medicines.
“The results show that the concentration of one of the drugs is within the parameters expected as a result of regular dosage. The concentration test for the second drug did not succeed.”
The army noted that “such results occur from time to time” as the test is a complex one.
How is it that when you send toxicology reports to an Israeli lab and then to the world’s most advanced lab in the US, the results still come back with no clear answer? Maybe because the army doesn’t want the answer? Maybe because it killed Tomer, and admitting it would tarnish it in the eyes of the Israeli public. By “killing Tomer” I don’t mean that they murdered him outright. I mean that the entire military justice system and the circumstances which led to placing him under suspicion were, and are deeply flawed.
Further, no one should accept the army’s interpretation of the results. It is in the army’s interest to either distort or lie outright about the results. The results should be made public. Let the public decide what the results mean. Personally, after examining all the available evidence, I don’t believe Tomer did anything which any normal person would consider a crime. I also believe that placing him under suspicion in the first place was a grave error involving his commanding officer and possibly others in Unit 8200 and the IDF’s investigations unit.
While as a parent I am loath to say how a bereaved parent should mourn such a crippling loss, it’s unfortunate that Tomer’s parents have done little more than express concern and heartache for their loss. Unless you are willing to take your case to the media and make a huge stink, the IDF will ignore you, which is exactly what has happened here. Perhaps because of his father’s employment within the Israeli defense industry, he feels conflicted and cannot act. Perhaps there are other reasons. Whatever they might be, without the protest of his parents, the army feels under no obligation to expose the truth.
After an Israeli lawyer wrote (see pictured the military prosecutor’s letter and the response to it) to the military prosecutor demanding an independent investigation, the army responded that there would be none. It was satisfied that the current investigation, in which the army was investigating itself, was sufficient. And why would there be an independent tribunal? No one except a few malcontents with no following are demanding transparency. So why should they wash their dirty linen in public? Why stir up unnecessary trouble?
Permitting the army to investigate itself is like the chief fox appointing a fellow fox to investigate how the chickens died in the hen house. What would he say? Would he tell the chickens who killed their comrade? Or would he protect the fox’s prerogatives?
Why is this important? After all, a single lad done wrong is hardly a story. That happens virtually every day. And it happens to Palestinians even more frequently.
The reason I was the first journalist to name Tomer, his military unit, and his rank is because his death reveals the systematic corruption at the heart of the Israeli security apparatus. It trumps individual rights. It tramples on the average citizen or soldier. And when an individual like Tomer or hundreds of other similarly mistreated soldiers get in the way of the army’s interests, they are tossed away like so much waste. The military censorship regime further reinforces this cult of secrecy. To this day, it prohibits naming Tomer or reporting on what his alleged crime might have been. Israelis accept this horrific bargain because they accept the need for security above all else. As was said of Lenin by one of his biographers: “he cracked more than a few eggs while attempting to make his utopian omelet.” To save and protect a nation, some of those cracked eggs will be those you’re supposed to protect.
I write this blog to be a witness for the Tomers of Israel: the victims, the helpless, the innocent, the disappeared. They have neither voices nor names. But I do. My voice is not loud. It is that “still small voice” that summoned Elijah the Prophet. Perhaps no one will hear it. Perhaps a few will. Perhaps over time the ideas and outrages recounted here will resonate more strongly. At least, that is what I hope.
To read the full series of posts I wrote about the Eiges case, click here.