Results of Probe Into Death of Ben Zygier Likely to Be Published in Coming Days

In the coming days representatives of the State Prosecutor’s Office will meet with officials from the security services and the Israel Prisons Service to determine what other information from the investigation will be released.

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The Justice Ministry and security officials are considering allowing publication in the coming days of the results of the probe into the death of Ben Zygier in prison.

The circumstances of Zygier’s death were under investigation for about two years in a judicial procedure behind closed doors before Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai of the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court. At the conclusion of the procedure about two months ago, Blatman Kedrai determined that Zygier had committed suicide, and instructed the prosecution to examine whether there had been neglect in the guarding of the prisoner that justified filing an indictment.

No details other than these have been forthcoming about Zygier’s death. In the coming days representatives of the State Prosecutor’s Office will meet with officials from the security services and the Israel Prison Service to determine what other information from the judge’s investigation will be released. Meanwhile, the prosecution is mulling whether to file indictments in the affair.

The Israel Prison Service still isn't commenting officially on the Ben Zygier affair, but behind the scenes it is preparing for all those involved to try to pin it with the blame for the international scandal.

The service may be one of the most organized among Israel's security organizations, but it is also the weakest. In practice, the Prison Service provides services to all the state's other security organizations: the police, the army, the Shin Bet and the Mossad. As the national prison organization responsible for all those imprisoned in Israel, the Prison Service is essentially a subcontractor. It isn't involved in the legal proceedings, however, and it cannot violate the investigating body's requests regarding conditions of imprisonment.

At present, many sources in the Prison Service say they suspect other parties involved in the so-called "Prisoner X" affair who have more political leverage will do everything in their power to place the blame on the Prison Service.

Certain individuals, they say, will try to divert the attention to the question of how Zygier managed to commit suicide in an observation cell.

Protocol requires every person who arrives at the Prison Service to appear on their first day before a committee of doctors, psychologists and other professionals who evaluate the likelihood that they will attempt to harm themselves or others. In Ben Zygier's case, no such risk assessment is known to have taken place. The decision to skip this meeting was apparently made by someone other than the Prison Service.

Furthermore, despite the fact that Zygier was held in an observation cell monitored by security cameras, it is evident that he was not monitored as closely as other prisoners.

Prison Service employees were kept in the dark about his identity and forbidden from engaging in conversation with him. They were permitted to check only if he was present. Only a few Prison Service employees even knew which government body was responsible for his arrest.

One of the major questions that has yet to be asked and which is likely to reduce at least some of the blame being leveled against the Prison Service is whether the Mossad instructed the Prison Service not to turn on security cameras in the cell. Prison guards did not consistently monitor video of Zygier, as they did for Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when he was kept in the same cell.

The Prison Service has not commented on whether it was ordered to turn off the cameras in Zygier's cell in order to prevent him from conveying messages to the prison guards or to explain why he had been arrested.

Even on the day Zygier was found dead by guards, none of them entered the cell when the medical team arrived. The guards who were on duty that day waited in a relatively distant wing of the prison and refused to enter even when they were asked by the medical team to help.

Medical staff who arrived at the cell were surprised to discover that the prisoner had only one identifying detail listed: his name, Ben Alon. In any incidence of death, the Prison Service is required to provide details regarding the deceased, including identification number, age and emergency contacts. One medic attempted to inquire about the lack of information and claimed that the body could not be evacuated without additional identifying details, but he was asked to proceed without them. Medics and Prison Service officials were further surprised when during the evacuation they learned that Ben Alon's name had been changed to Zygier.

Should a thorough investigation be held into the Ben Zygier affair and the circumstances of his suicide, it appears that the Prison Service would benefit from the results being publicized widely.

An image of Zygier on the front page of an Australian newspaper.Credit: AFP
The isolation cell in which Ben Zygier, known as 'Prisoner X,' was incarcerated.Credit: Haaretz

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