Report: Security prisoners 'disappear' in Israeli jails
Israeli-Australian Ben Zygier, the suspected Mossad operative who allegedly committed suicide at Ayalon Prison in 2010, was not the only person to be jailed by Israel under a false name.
In many cases, the Israeli detainees are in greater danger of being locked up under an assumed name and "disappearing." However, the judicial system claims there is no such thing as "Prisoner X" in Israel.
"When an Israeli is detained for security offenses, a process begins, but no one knows how it will end," a source who is familiar with the Zygier affair said Friday.
"He disappears into interrogation rooms, and no one knows where he is. They do it using two tools: A gag order and an injunction that prevents the detainee from meeting with an attorney.
"In this manner, the detainee is interrogated without being aware of his rights and without meeting anyone. The entire system is recruited to make him disappear.
"For instance, Izzat Nafso, the IDF intelligence officer who served in the Lebanese Liaison Unit and was suspected of espionage and aiding the enemy, was detained without the knowledge of his family. He was interrogated for 14 days, and was tortured during the questioning," the source claimed.
However, a senior judicial official painted an entirely different picture. "There are no 'Prisoners X' in Israel," he insisted, "It's an expression that comes from dictatorial countries where people vanish without ever having seen an attorney or their family members."
The Australian newspaper reported on Friday that Zygier's family was given little information regarding the reasons behind his arrest and did not know what the exact charges against him were.
According to the report, the family was convinced that Israeli authorities were protecting his rights and did not cast doubt on the investigation into his death.
The judicial official said, "Over the past 25 years there wee very few cases in which it was decided that for security reasons prisoners would be held under false names. In these cases, as in the Zygier case, the family was immediately informed of the arrest, and the detainee was given access to an attorney within days.
"In these cases the usual criminal proceedings were held and the prisoner can file an appeal with the court, just like any other prisoner."
Attorney Rachela Er'el, head of the Detainees and Prisoners Rights Clinic in the Israel College for Law and Business, stressed that taking away an individual's freedom while concealing information regarding his arrest and identity is forbidden according to international law.
"Israel should have signed the treaty for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. Hiding people in difficult conditions while keeping them isolated and forbidding them from maintaining contact with their families does not correlate with the concept of human rights in a democratic country," she said.
A source who is familiar with subject explained that for years prisoners were interrogated in "Facility 1391," where people suspected of hostile activities against the State were held.
Since 2003, after an appeal on the matter had been filed, detainees are held in interrogation wards inside detention facilities or in separated maximum security wards inside prisons, such as the wards in Ayalon Prison or Ohalei Keidar Prison.
According to the source, the problem pertains mainly to Jewish detainees.
"Being a Jewish detainee can be the lowest status there is. When Arab detainees are involved, the State usually cooperates or allows visits by the Red Cross, as in the case of Palestinian engineer Dirar Abu Sisi, who disappeared and was kidnapped in Ukraine about a year ago," he said.
"When an Israeli security detainee is involved, he is detached from the world for as long as the authorities want. This is what happened to former army intelligence officer Jean Elraz, who was arrested and accused of murdering the security officer at Kibbutz Manara, stealing weapons from the kibbutz's armory and selling them to terrorists."
Another source who is familiar with the incarceration process said the Shin Bet security service is responsible for security detainees, adding that the "Prison Service has almost no control" over the cells in the isolated wards, "despite the fact that the Prison Service is legally responsible for the prisoners.
"It's a situation whereby there is a prison inside a prison. Sometimes even the commander of the facility does not know who the prisoner is or what he was tried for. These are people without identities, and their wardens do not know their real names," the source added.
"Their identification numbers are not registered in the system. There is no documentation. The spy Marcus Klingberg, for example, was called Greenberg. These methods still exist."
However, the legal official said the "Prisoner X" affair was different in that Zyglier was held in solitary confinement under a false name out of security concerns, as well as concerns for the personal safety of the detainee and even his family.
The official said the gag order in cases such as these is a necessity. "Here the public's right to know was violated for the sake of State security. The gag order was completely justified," he said.
"Everything you hear about 'Prisoners X,' including their suicides, comes from other inmates. Prisoners in the ward know when another inmate kills himself and how he did it, because the story circulates; but they do not know what it's about."
Attorney Er'el said the Zygier case shows that Israel must introduce a system to supervise over the holding facilities in the country. "We must work to eradicate such illegitimate practices in which 'nameless people' die in State holding facilities," she said.