Lift the Veil Over Israeli Intelligence Officer’s Death

Haaretz Editorial
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An Israeli soldier walks near Gaza border, last month.
An Israeli soldier walks near Gaza border, last month.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo,AP
Haaretz Editorial

On Tuesday there were reports of a security matter that ended in tragic circumstances, when a Military Intelligence officer died in a military prison. The Israeli kingdom of secrecy in which the security agencies are involved – sometimes the Shin Bet security service, sometimes the IDF’s information security department, sometimes the police, the military police or the Mossad, and always the prosecution and the judges – continues its usual convoluted behavior. It makes the same mistake time after time by imposing sweeping gag orders. Supposedly it’s for security reasons, to prevent secrets from being leaked to the enemy, but often it is also to hide the kingdom’s malfunctions and failures.

Israel may not hide its prisoners, but the arrests and convictions always involve court decisions sheltered by gag orders. Suspects, detainees or those convicted of security offenses are held far from the public eye. Although their cases are different, there are many examples: Mordechai Keidar, Marcus Klingberg, Shimon Levinson, Mordechai Vanunu, Yossi Amit and others come to mind.

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This latest case is likely to recall the result of the case of Ben Zygier, an Australian-Israeli Mossad operative who was charged with spying for Iran. Unlike the latest case, he was held for 10 months in solitary confinement in Ayalon Prison before trial – but then, too, his prison guards were negligent and the cameras installed in his cell proved worthless. Zygier committed suicide in his cell.

In this case we don’t even know the circumstances of the intelligence officer’s death, which is being kept under a sweeping gag order. The army issued a laconic press statement about “an IDF soldier being held in Prison 4 who collapsed and the circumstances of the incident are being examined,” after which it issued another statement saying that same officer was found in serious condition “at a military detention facility in the center of the country,” and that “the detainee was transferred for medical treatment to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.”

We cannot let this officer’s death in prison drop off the public agenda. The questions are many: What did he do? Did his actions cause any damage to state security? What caused his sudden death? How was his screening and background check handled before he was drafted? Were there any signs of distress that the authorities ignored? Were his investigators and guards negligent in protecting him?

These are weighty questions that show the need to remove the gag order in this painful affair. This case must be thoroughly investigated by an independent, unbiased, authoritative and trustworthy official, preferably a judge.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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