Israelis discovered early this month, to their surprise, that in one of its prisons there is a second Prisoner X held in complete secrecy. He is been dubbed X2 in the Israeli media.
The various security agencies have already started accusing one another of leaking the case. The sheer existence of Prisoner X2 was considered to be one of the most kept secrets in Israel, protected even by secret court gag orders.
All of the details of the new affair are still clouded in secrecy. But one fact is clear. The leakage is a result of negligence by one or more government agencies that failed to properly protect perhaps the most significant piece of classified information.
This happens just a few months after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broke the sensational news that a previous Prisoner X (now known as X1) was Ben Zygier, an Australian-born Jew. Zygier worked for five years for the Mossad in operations directed against Iran. In March 2010 he was arrested on suspicion of espionage and treason. While in his highly guarded cell at the Ayalon prison in Ramla, half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, waiting for his trial, he committed suicide in December 2010.
The roots of the leakage can be traced to the time after the suicide of Zygier. The Israeli police opened a secret investigation that determined that he indeed put an end to his life and was not murdered. The investigation also dealt with the question of whether his jailers showed negligence in their duty to monitor him around the clock. The conclusion was that some jailers showed incompetence and did not fulfill their duty.
One paragraph in the secret police report stated that Israel Prison Service did not follow in the Zygier case its own procedures with regards to protecting and monitoring of special prisoners who are charged with security offences while they did so in another case of a prisoner who was held under similar circumstances in the same prison though in a different wing. This is Prisoner X2 whose name or other details were not mentioned in the police report. The report was sealed and handed over to a judge who was appointed to reach her own independent findings in the Zygier case.
The judge, Daphna Blatman Kardaei, presiding over the central magistrate court, invited all involved parties for her hearings including lawyers who represented Zygier when he was still alive and after his death represented his wife and parents. The lawyers demanded in writing that those in the security services and the prison guards be punished for negligence. They based their demand on the police findings and cited the paragraph in the police report that mentioned prisoner X2.
Until February 2013 all the police and judicial investigations were held behind closed doors. The public did not know about what was happening while the press was prevented from reporting about it by gag orders and military censorship. But then came the Australian television program that opened a Pandora’s box.
The silenced Israeli media started digging into the Zygier case and Haaretz appealed to the courts to release all relevant documents. The state prosecutor and the security apparatus objected to the request but Blatman Karadei overruled them and earlier this month ordered the state to disclose most of the materials except those which would be considered as invading the late inmate’s privacy.
It is standard procedure in Israel that judicial deliberations and court decisions dealing with top security cases are censored before being released to the press. The responsibility lies with the relevant units in charge of information protection and security in the Israeli intelligence establishment. But in the new affair of prisoner X2 it did not happened. Someone failed to do it. Haaretz and other Israeli dailies noticed that incredibly sensitive paragraph revealing the existence of another top-secret prisoner in the police report and in the lawyers summary and hurried to publish it.
The Israeli security establishment is in a state of shock. One of their most guarded secrets has leaked out. And not only that. Avigdor Feldman, a top Israeli human rights lawyer and outspoken critic of the culture of secrecy nourished by the Israel government, was interviewed by a local radio station on July 9 and asked what he could say about the case. He answered that he would say very little but added that the case of Prisoner X2 is more shocking and severe than the case of Ben Zygier.
The security establishment went bananas. Some security officials suggested that Feldman has to be punished but eventually reason prevailed and he was only politely warned to shut his mouth. But it lasted less than 24 hours. The following day another Avigdor opened his mouth. This was Avigdor Liberman the former foreign minister and now the chairman of the prestigious foreign affairs and security committee of the Knesset. “It is indeed a serious case,” he said.
Surely the legal and security authorities can do very little when it comes to prominent public figures such as the two Avigdors. It is easier for them to go after journalists.
And still we do very little about Prisoner X2 and even if we know we are forbidden by the court and the military censorship, which censored this story as well, to publish it. So we wouldn’t be able to reveal the identity of Prisoner X2, who he worked for, and the nature of his crimes.
What we know and what we can write is that in Israel in some rare cases its own citizens are held in prison cells in solitary confinement without the public being informed, although they do enjoy full legal rights and are visited by their families.
This article was censored by Israel’s censorship authority.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli security and intelligence commentator and a senior contributor to The Tower website.
This story "What We Know — and Don't Know — About Israel's Prisoner X2" was written by Yossi Melman.