The High Price of Silence in the Prisoner X Affair

While the State of Israel refuses to take responsibility, it is willing to pay the family NIS 4 million - in installments. The reason is obvious.

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Do you know any person or organization that would be willing to pay, out of pocket, compensation amounting to NIS 4 million for something it was not responsible for?

As of last week, I do.

The State of Israel has agreed to pay that sum as compensation to the family of the late Prisoner X as part of an intriguing deal.

Why is it so intriguing? Because until now, the state has refused to acknowledge responsibility for any omission in the life and death of Ben Zygier: neither the strange way he was recruited for Mossad, nor his failure as an agent, nor his interrogation and imprisonment under extreme conditions, nor his death under the nose of the Prison Service in Cell 15 of Ayalon Prison. No one was ever questioned or prosecuted.

Would you like a reminder of how the state evaded responsibility? Here’s the Justice Ministry’s response to the compensation deal: “Over the past several months, the state’s attorneys and those of the family of the deceased, who committed suicide in his cell in December 2010, held negotiations on the family’s claim that the state had been negligent in dealing with the affair and that it deserved compensation because of that. At the end of the negotiations, the parties reached a compromise under which the state agreed to pay the deceased’s family NIS 4 million. The state went beyond the letter of the law in agreeing [to the deal] and without confessing to the claims made against it.”

Amnon Abramovich of Channel 2 News was the first to report on the deal. Quite a scoop, that. Why did he have to report about it? Because it, too, was reached and signed in secret, like this whole affair. But this is a legal matter that has nothing at all to do with state security. So why did the state keep it under wraps?

There is no alternative to saying it for the thousandth time: It seems there was a great deal to hide in this affair. It looks as though many people would prefer that the affair never be investigated or publicized.

How do I know? Because the state, through the Justice Ministry, explained on its own initiative its willingness to pay compensation to Zygier’s family. And an explanation is definitely warranted here. Still, millions of shekels are going to be taken from the state budget, which is already in deficit. So here is the explanation, black on white, on official stationery: “The reason the state agreed to pay this amount stemmed from its desire to avoid a court hearing, during which information that could cause real harm to state security might be revealed. A report on this matter was submitted to the Knesset’s Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services.”

That’s strange. If the problem were a fear that state security might be harmed, the court hearing could be held behind closed doors. That’s what they did until now, after all. The state could have continued asking for gag orders and more gag orders on top of them. It has already been proven in this affair, and others, that the state asks for them, and all parts of the legal establishment grant them willingly.

But here, the state chose to pay NIS 4 million just to keep this affair and its possible failures from being investigated in court.

Only one thing is more intriguing than the agreement and the amount: the method of payment. At the end of the negotiations between the parties, and after the damages were calculated, the sum of NIS 4 million was agreed upon. But not all at once. In installments. A first installment of NIS 2.4 million, followed by four payments of NIS 400,000 each.

That is really odd. We just mentioned that the State of Israel has a budget deficit, but its cash-flow situation is not all that bad. It’s very rare that the State of Israel needs credit lines, or compensation on credit, for such amounts of money. Compensation in installments means that once the first payment has been made, all further installments are conditional.

What could they be conditional on? That Ben Zygier might rise from his grave in Melbourne? Of course not.

They are conditional on his family’s good behavior. They must be good little boys and girls. In other words, they must keep hermetic silence — and the agreement includes stipulations to that effect. Again, for the thousandth-and-first time, it is obvious that it is very important to some people and organizations that this affair stay under wraps. The family, for reasons of their own, though it is easy to imagine and understand what those reasons might be, is willing to keep it that way, as long as they can get on with their lives.

So this is the real lesson we can learn from the compensation agreement regarding the life and death of Prisoner X. We can learn nothing from it about the value of Ben Zygier’s life as a human being, because a human being’s life and death cannot be quantified in money.

But we can conclude from it how much covering one’s behind is worth — covering the behinds of higher-ups in the Prison Service, but mainly in Mossad and Shin Bet. The latter two, as mentioned, are under the direct authority of the prime minister of Israel. Well, as of 2013, covering behinds in Israel’s vaunted security organizations is worth NIS 4 million, 60 percent in the first installment and 40 percent in four installments to be paid over four years. That is the price of silence, and of silencing, that the State of Israel is paying to the family of Prisoner X. The main thing is that the truth, whatever it may be, never come to light.

The only question at this stage is whether this is an agreement that really serves both sides. It is obvious that it serves the state, at least in the narrow view of its current decision-makers. Otherwise, it would not have been signed.

But does it fully serve the interests of the deceased and his family? That question is more complicated. To understand how complicated it is, tomorrow we will mention, in a separate post published on this blog, the law office that represented Zygier and his family in the legal proceedings that took place during the Prisoner X affair over the last three-and-a-half years. I have something interesting to tell you about that.

Darth Vader in the grocery store

It happened to me yesterday for the first time. My immediate physical reaction was a chill of terror and a wave of cold sweat. In a fruit and vegetable shop in Jaffa, my city, I saw a woman wearing a black burka without even an opening for the eyes. I looked closely to confirm that I was seeing properly: she was clothed in that burka from head to foot, without even an eye-slit. The scum who forced or convinced her to walk around like that did not see fit to allow her even a narrow crack to see the world through. She had densely-woven netting in front of her eyes so that she could still see enough to perform her tasks — like blinders that are put on horses to protect their eyes from flies. I did not take a picture of her so as not to show her disrespect — she had been shown enough of that already. She walked around the store, picking out potatoes and tomatoes for her home, like some black-clad Darth Vader.

Don’t get on my case about multiculturalism or orientalism. I want to ask when a politician here is going to get up and get legislation under way that will outlaw wearing this abomination in public, including a particularly steep fine if it turns out that a man ordered the victim to do so. It was done in Belgium and in France, and they are just as enlightened as we are. Of course, I am talking about applying the law without respect to religion — to Muslim and Jewish fundamentalists alike. We’re not having any Taliban here. I find it difficult to call the creatures who send their women out into the world looking like that “men.” One thing is clear, though: while we cannot control what goes on in their homes, at least we can make them buy their own fruits and vegetables. Let’s see how long it lasts.

Mossad agent Ben Zygier: His suicide in an Israeli prison was concealed by a gag order.Credit: Handout

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