Yossi Melman: Israel Doesn’t “Disappear” Anyone — Though Legal Process is Behind Closed Doors and Reporting about a Secret Trial is Banned

On Wednesday morning, Israeli authorities eased — but did not entirely lift — their ban on any discussion in the Israeli news media of a Mossad secret operative who hanged himself in an Israeli prison.

Ben Zygier/Allon (from Australia’s ABC)

On Wednesday night, the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem issued a statement confirming that an Israeli-Australian dual citizen had been imprisoned and in 2010 was found dead in his cell.  It said the man’s family had been informed after he was arrested.  Only recently officials (without any public announcement) reached a conclusion that he committed suicide by hanging, but investigations continue into any failures, abuse, or wrongdoing by prison officials.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Foreign Correspondent” series had a half-hour report this week on the mysterious life and death of the man, born as Ben Zygier to a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne, Australia, who was known in Israel as Ben Alon.

On Wednesday morning, Israel Radio’s Keren Neubach phoned Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, seeking his analysis.  Melman explained that two years ago, when he was working for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he and the paper tried to publish an item — giving some partial details about a “Prisoner X” held secretly in an Israeli prison — based entirely on something that had appeared in a British newspaper.

Usually Israel’s military censor permits repetition of claims and information that have appeared in foreign publications, but — citing a gag order issued by an Israeli judge — the authorities did not allow Melman or the newspaper to say anything about Prisoner X.

Melman said on the radio that in the age of the internet and social networking — when any Israeli can go on the Web and read or watch what Australian TV revealed about Prisoner X and his suicide in 2010 — there is no point in banning any word of it in the Israeli news media.

Melman added, however, that the State of Israel does not “disappear” people.  If someone is charged with a crime, however serious, that person is brought before a judge, a state prosecutor draws up charges, the person’s family is informed, and a legal verdict is reached by a court.  In many cases touching upon the security and intelligence agencies, every step is however “behind closed doors.”

The Associated Press notes that the most recent case of a person vanishing — apparently through the action of Israel’s espionage agency Mossad and/or security agency Shin Bet — was that of an Arab who was last seen on a train in Ukraine.  Dirar Abu Sisi was later confirmed to be in custody in Israel, where he faces charges of being the director of Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israel.


February 13, 2013

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