'Detainee X' Is Still Alive

Ben Zygier is dead and buried but the case of 'Detainee X' lives on. It’s high time for a serious and independent inquiry.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Ben Zygier, the Mossad agent who was arrested over suspicions that he put state security at risk and was later found hanging in his isolated cell, is now buried under a black marble plaque in Melbourne, his city of birth. He left behind a wife and two daughters, parents and a sister, friends and acquaintances.

His life and death still trouble me.

Over the last two months I have gone to great lengths to investigate this story and write about it, mostly in my blog, which appears on the Haaretz website. Along with other journalists and bloggers, I intend to continue doing so until the truth comes to light. The security and legal establishments in Israel would much prefer the whole issue to disappear from the public’s agenda. For three years, ever since Zygier’s arrest and secret detention, officials have been trying hard to silence any mention of the story, but to no avail. Any reference to this case draws enormous attention.

I’m proud of my insistence on calling Zygier "Detainee X" rather than "Prisoner X", the label that was given to him earlier. The distinction is not purely semantic, but one of essence: Zygier died in an Israeli prison before being brought to trial and as such must be considered innocent until proven otherwise. He denied all the accusations brought against him and intended to fight to prove his innocence in court, rejecting one or more plea bargains that were offered to him.

It bears repeating that Zygier was a warm-hearted Jew who came to Israel for Zionist reasons. He enlisted in the army and later joined the Mossad. This is one reason why the story won’t go away in Jewish communities in the West in general and in Australia in particular. Diaspora Jews, who struggle daily with issues of loyalty and double allegiance to their country of birth and to Israel, are closely following the handling of Zygier’s case. Israel was apparently negligent in recruiting and handling Zygier as an agent. When he erred or stumbled he was subjected to draconian measures of punishment with no proper precautions taken to prevent him from taking his own life.

At the very least, Israel now owes the Diaspora an honest and thorough investigation. To paraphrase David Ben Gurion on the army: Every mother, when entrusting her son to the Mossad or Shin Bet security service, should rest assured that they will be responsible for the wellbeing of her son.

Opposition to any thorough scrutiny of the matter only increases suspicion. There is no other option but to place the matter in the hands of an external, high-level commission of inquiry to examine these suspicions of negligence and misdeeds at every stage of the process. The Mossad recruited and handled Zygier. The Shin Bet arrested and interrogated him. The Prison Service detained him and his death occurred on its watch.

In addition, the behavior of the legal system is particularly worrisome. The State Attorney’s office and judges at various levels enabled security agencies to arrest, interrogate, press charges and hold an entire judicial process in complete darkness, even when the prisoner died in their custody.

A telling indication of the legal system’s prostrating itself before the security agencies is the manner of its investigation of Zygier death, which was conducted slowly and only partially, raising many perplexing questions. Even at this point, only 18 of the 28 pages of the final report have been released (while the judge who wrote the report is also hearing the appeals to publish it).

Amazingly, internal sources have started spreading questionable material relating to the case. On one hand the system prevents any investigation or publication, while on the other it leaks disparaging stories. A report in the German newspaper Der Spiegel claims Zygier is called "the biggest traitor in Israel’s history" by security agencies.

This cannot go on. Ben Zygier is dead and buried but the case of "Detainee X" is alive and well. It’s high time for a serious and independent inquiry.

Ben Zygier, the dual citizen who killed himself in prison.

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