Israel Can't Just 'Disappear' People

Secrets of the state should be kept, but it cannot justify violating its citizens' human rights.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

"Forced disappearance" is one of the pronounced distinctive marks of dark, dictatorial regimes that flout human rights and see their people as state property.

In the Soviet Union the families of Stalin's murdered victims were told their loved ones had been "tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison without the right of correspondence." In Argentina under the generals' rule people were taken from their homes and never seen again, while their relatives waited for them in vain.

Israel is not Soviet Russia, Argentina or China, but a democracy bound to its citizens' human rights and that enables freedom of expression and publication. But sometimes the state sacrifices civil rights in the name of "security considerations." One such example is making people disappear by incarcerating them for long prison terms, far from the public eye and under strict media censorship.

Since the '50s several Israelis suspected of espionage and other security breaches have been caught and locked up for many years, after being convicted in secret trials, attended by a handful of people who were in on the affair. Most of these prisoners were intelligence and security people who had strayed, and exposing their acts would have put their operators in an embarrassing light.

This was the case in the affair of Mordechai Kedar, known as the original "Prisoner X"; Marcus Klingberg, the spy from the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Ziona; IDF Lt. Izat Nafsu, whose interrogators tortured him until he admitted the "crimes" they framed him for.

Now we have Ben Zygier, the Australian immigrant who committed suicide in Ayalon Prison some two years ago.

The authorities justify the suspects' forced disappearance as a ploy to mislead the enemy and protect security secrets and the lives of active agents.

The state's secrets should indeed be kept rigorously, but it cannot justify such a grave infringement on the civil rights of people who are confined in prison under false identities and with no public supervision. Certainly not when the ban on publicizing their identity and acts is maintained for many years and even after their death, as in Zygier's case.

This kind of prolonged suppression prevents an investigation into the failures in handling these cases and punishing those responsible. It could also lead to unjustified incarceration, as it did in Nafsu's case. The state's security must be protected, but not with totalitarian methods.

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