Documents Show Israel Held Other Unnamed Inmate at Same Time as Zygier

It is unclear what second anonymous prisoner's crime was, or whether he is still in custody. But he was being held under conditions similar to those in which Ben Zygier, also known as Prisoner X, was held.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Ben Zygier, the former Mossad agent who committed suicide in his guarded cell while on trial for serious security crimes in December 2010, was not the only prisoner being held anonymously at the Ayalon Prison at that time, according to court documents released for publication on Monday at Haaretz’s request.

According to the documents, from the Central District Magistrate’s Court, the other prisoner had already been convicted. It’s not clear what his crime was or if he is still in jail. But he was being held under conditions similar to those in which Zygier was held.

Zygier was arrested in February 2010 and spent 10 months in an isolation cell in Ayalon’s Block 15 before killing himself. The court documents reveal that apparently another man was then serving his sentence in Block 13. According to the report, it is possible that he, too, was an Israeli citizen with a background in security, though it’s not clear if he was also in the Mossad. And as with Zygier, the Shin Bet security service and the prison’s intelligence officers were in charge of all his contact with the outside world.

This information was included in an appendix to the transcript of hearings and decisions on the Zygier case, which the court president, Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai, released for publication at Haaretz’s request. Though the first page of the appendix is missing, its content makes clear that it is the report of the inquiry into the causes of Zygier’s death conducted by the police under Blatman Kedrai’s supervision.

The inquiry discussed the case of the other anonymous prisoner in an effort to ascertain the usual procedure for handling prisoners of this sort.

“It’s important to note,” the investigators wrote, “that the investigative material includes extremely lengthy, detailed and specific procedures regarding both the previous occupant of Block 15” − Yigal Amir, the murderer of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin − “and apparently another prisoner residing in Block 13 ‏(a high-security unit whose characteristics, like the characteristics of its occupant, are very similar to those of Block 15 and its occupant‏).”

Nevertheless, the report continued, “with regard to the handling of [Zygier], very exceptionally, no orderly procedures were set and no order was issued on this matter.” That conclusion was based on testimony from the prison commander, the shift commander, the intelligence officer and his assistant, the operations officers and the control center staff.

A comparison between blocks 13 and 15 is also made one other time in the report: “A clear and unequivocal picture arises, according to which in the months before the suicide, Ayalon Prison’s technology staff applied to the intelligence officer, as the person with sole responsibility for [Zygier], several times, on several different occasions, and asked that the cameras in Block 15 be upgraded. It’s important to note that at that time, cameras in the other isolation block, Block 13, underwent a similar upgrade.”

The names of the Israel Prison Service staffers involved in the inquiry are still under a gag order. In recent weeks, disciplinary measures have been taken against six of them. Some have also been transferred over the last two years, but according to the prison service, this is unrelated to the disciplinary proceedings.

Haaretz submitted several questions to the Israel Prison Service over the weekend about the other anonymous prisoner: Who is he? Is he still there? How long a sentence is he serving and when did he start serving it? Have lessons from the Zygier case been learned and applied to the supervision of this prisoner, including, among other things, a change in the balance between protecting the prisoner’s privacy and preventing suicides? Has the Zygier affair caused the prison service to change its work practices and reporting rules for mental health professionals − psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers − in general, and regarding the prisoner in Block 13 in particular? And finally, is Zygier’s former cell in Block 15 now occupied by someone else, or is it empty?

To all of these, Israel Prison Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman replied, “The prison service doesn’t release information about the placement of prisoners in particular cells or blocks.”

An image of Zygier on the front page of an Australian newspaper.Credit: AFP

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