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Disappearing articles and the dead prisoner affair ('Mr. X'): A timeline

UPDATE, Wednesday 9.00 AM: The censorship ban on the ABC report regarding the arrest and death of Australian born Ben Zygier was lifted, and this morning the Israeli media is publishing the details in Hebrew. Here is the ABC report:

In June 2010 Ynet, Israel’s largest online news site, posted a story on an unknown prisoner held in confinement in Ayalon Prison. The story was then removed from the site, but the account is still available in the Israeli blogosphere.

In December 2010 American blogger Richard Silverstein claimed that the prisoner was an Iranian general named Ali-Reza Asgari, supposedly abducted by the Mossad.

A couple of weeks later, on December 27 2010, Ynet published a short item on a prisoner who killed himself in his cell two weeks prior. Unlike similar cases of prisoners’ suicide, there was no official report of the death by the prison service. The item was also removed from the site but a screenshot and the account of the story is still available online.

This morning (local time), Australian TV network ABC aired an investigative piece into the alleged identity of a prisoner who was held in Israeli without trial, before committing suicide. The report stated:

Evidence has been unearthed that strongly suggests Israel’s infamous Prisoner X, who was jailed under extraordinary circumstances in 2010, was an Australian national from Melbourne.

Investigations by the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program have revealed Ben Zygier, who used the name Ben Alon in Israel, was found hanged in a high-security cell at a prison near Tel Aviv in late 2010.

His body was flown to Melbourne for burial a week later.

The death goes part of the way to explain the existence in Israel of a so-called Prisoner X, widely speculated in local and international media as an inmate whose presence has been acknowledged by neither the jail system nor the government.


The Prisoner X cell is a jail within a jail at Ayalon Prison in the city of Ramla. It was built for the assassin of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.


Foreign Correspondent can reveal that Mr Zygier was 34 at the time of his death and had moved to Israel about 10 years earlier. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two small children.

Mr Zygier’s arrest and jailing in Israel remains a mystery, but the ABC understands he was recruited by spy agency Mossad.

It is understood Mr Zygier “disappeared” in early 2010, spending several months in the Prisoner X cell.

According to ABC’s report, the man’s family refused to cooperate with its investigation. The item, along with photos of the man, can be seen here.

The Israeli media published short stories based on the Australian piece this morning. Usually, the Israeli military censor allows Hebrew stories on secret issues if they are based on foreign sources. The assumption is that the information has already been made available, so there is little point in keeping it secret. Around noon the stories on the dead prisoner disappeared from the Haaretz, Globes and Walla sites.

An urgent meeting with the editors of the Israeli papers was later called by the Prime Minister’s Office. The so-called “editors’ committee” is an informal Israeli institution in which newspapers editors were given access to secret information in exchange for refraining from publishing it. According to a report in Haaretz, the meeting was called regarding an affair which “severely embarrasses” a government institution or person. Haaretz is not part of the “editors committee.”

Updated Tuesday 5:00 p.m.: During a Knesset session, several Knesset members asked Justice Minister Ya’akov Ne’eman whether he knows anything about the suicide of an Australian citizen in Ayalon Prison. The minister said he is unfamiliar with the affair, and that “if those claims are true, they need to be checked.” The exchange was seen on the Knesset Channel’s live broadcast from parliament.

Ayalon Prison: Nameless inmate commits suicide, then disappears

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    1. Larry Stillman

      Noam, this is tragic for the family involved who, for whatever reason, have kept silent. But it is a disaster for Israel-Australia relations, particularly since Aust. emphasizes its support for Israel (and a 2-state solution).

      Once again, it seems that Australian citizenship has been exploited by the government of Israel and screw the consequences. This compromises Australian Jews, and particularly Australian Jewish parliamentarians, including the Attorney-General who has responsibility for intelligence agencies. What the f#@$! does Bibi think he can get away with?

      It even makes it harder for people like myself who while highly critical of the government of Israel, the occupation, and all that goes with it to find much to defend. What can you say that is positive in such circumstances, when even the press is muzzled from reporting such a scandal.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Save your bloated outrage. An Australian citizen moved to Israel and was recruited by the Mossad. I don’t know why this should have any greater on Australia-Israel relations than the agents recruited by Australian intelligence agencies who have foreign backgrounds. In other words this is normal.

        What isn’t normal is that an Israeli citizen died in questionable circumstances while under detention and that this was covered up. For that the Israeli government is going to have to answer questions.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          “In other words this is normal.”

          I wouldn’t use the word ‘normal’ in any association with Israel.

          “What isn’t normal is that an Israeli citizen died in questionable circumstances while under detention and that this was covered up.”

          He was also an Australian citizen, and according to reports, was kidnapped from his home in Australia. If that is the case, Israel may be facing charges of kidnapping and possibly homicide of an Australian national.

          And one last tidbit: Didn’t Israel promise to not use Australian/New Zealand passports, after those Mossad agents were detained in New Zealand? My, my, my.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Where did you get the kidnapped from Australia part? What reports? Now your just pulling crap straight out of your hindquarters.

            And no, to my knowledge Israel has made no commitments about using or not using Aussie/Kiwi passports although in this case there would have been an entirely legitimate Aussie passport that could have been used by its holde.

            There is a scandal and some heads will roll. But seriously, get a hold of yourself.

            Reply to Comment
          • sh

            Didn’t they already break that promise during the Mabhouh assassination affair? In fact Zygier’s arrest or kidnap or whatever it was must have been during that whole business.

            Reply to Comment
          • Larry Stillman

            Kidnapped? I don’t think so. He immigrated The issue here is the secret trial and so on (I suppose, technically not an Australian matter), but of deep concern to Israeli human rights advocates, but the impact it has on Australia- Israel relations due to the clear use of his Australian citizenship.

            It is now front page news in Australia. the executive director of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission

            Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/australians-suicide-in-solitary-netanyahu-under-pressure-20130213-2ebpl.html#ixzz2KjE78RpE

            Reply to Comment
          • @Larry Stillman

            “The issue here is the secret trial and so on …”

            Trial? What trial? I didn’t see a trial mentioned in any of the stories about this. In fact, Noam’s piece says “…a prisoner who was held in Israeli without trial”

            I would just add that this sort of thing is not that unusual re Palestinian prisoners. But as Yeshayahu Leibovitz predicted years ago, the occupation will slowly take over Israel. This is just another step on that long sad journey.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            This will have zero impact on Israel/Australia relations.

            Also, front page story my ass. The top story in the SMH world section is ‘too much coca-cola killed mother’ from NZ.

            Reply to Comment
          • sh

            I call being nabbed and kept locked up without anyone knowing about it, not even his prison guards, kidnap. In a normal, supposedly democratic country you’re arrested and charged or, if you’re not charged, freed after whatever lawful time-frame for detention has expired.

            Reply to Comment
        • Leen

          According to customary international law, when a national is arrested and/or dies in prison, then the host country must inform the national’s country. Apparently, Israel didn’t do that, and the Australians are finding out about it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            More crap. He was an Israeli citizen not a ‘foreign national’. His dual citizenship means the Israelis get to treat him as an Israeli and disregard his foreign passport. Notification in such cases is voluntary and in any case according to the Aussies they were notified.

            Reply to Comment
    2. may

      one technical issue and one substantive:
      1. it was 8pm local time, but morning in Israel time.
      2. if a prisoner commits suicide in a cell that is under 24 hours surveillance, doesn’t it mean that his guards saw it and didn’t stop him? and isn’t that really the most convenient outcome for Israel?
      if so, what are the legal implications?

      Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        that;s what i started getting suspicious. Apparently the prison has 24 hour surveillance to ensure inmates do NOT commit suicide. What a fishy story.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Philos

      I thought Yigal Amir’s prison cell was meant to be “suicide proof.” So how is it then that this ex-Mossad man hanged himself?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Danny

      If I were Meir Dagan, I’d be looking for a good lawyer who specializes in international law, and war crimes in particular. If he manages to find one soon, I think Barak would like his phone number too.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        What international law was broken here? What war crime was commited? Seriously it is like there is no capacity for outrage without any moderator of common sense or logic.

        Meir Dagan might start looking for a new job far away from government service or potentially for a good local defense lawyer. This is however an entirely domestic affair given that the citizen that died was Israeli and potentially a Mossad operative.

        Reply to Comment
        • Leen

          According to customary internatonal law, when a foreign national is arrested and/or dies in prison, the national’s country must be informed by the host country. Israel has not done that.


          Articles 9.3 and 9.4 (of Internationa Convention on Civil and Political rights) impose procedural safeguards around arrest, requiring anyone arrested to be promptly informed of the charges against them, and to be brought promptly before a judge.

          Israel is a signatory of this convention and according to reports, there was no trial nor was he brought before a judge.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Again, as an Israeli citizen he gets to be treated as an Israeli citizen and not as a foreign national. This is customary international law.

            You do not have any information about the legal framework according to which he was processed. Neither do the Australian media or the Israeli media. Here you are just presuming things.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            Even dual citizens have to according to customary law. Plus the use of Australian passport to infiltrate Iran and Syria are a sore point for Australia. They even have a whole department to monitor unlawful use of Australian passports.

            As for the trial, you don’t know either and again you are assuming. I simply listed the possible international law violations. There are probably many to follow should people know about the case.

            Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      So here’s another case where the grounds for infringing on basic civil liberties is embarrassment and potential culpability of government officials.

      Exactly the sort of thing that the press is charged with exposing in a free nation. Not that there are any more of these.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Anon

      I know many members of his community in Melbourne. It is a religious, strongly Zionist community in the heart of Jewish Melbourne (Balaclava Road) closely affiliated with Bnei Akiva. The thought that he betrayed Israel somehow is unthinkable. This is completely against his upbringing. But I admit I don’t know him or his family.

      Reply to Comment
    7. American


      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      I’m seeing this blog post widely cited in the major media.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Giora Me'ir

      Yigal Amir gets conjugal visits, this guy gets a noose and a helping hand.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Be vigilant, Noam.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Yep

      This is what happens when you are a Mossad agent & become a CIA agent. I wonder what he gave to Obama that warranted an execution?

      Reply to Comment
    12. m haroun

      september 11 2001

      Reply to Comment
    13. Jonny

      So it’s started. It is not unusual to keep Palestinian prisoners without trial and now Israelis can be held in this way. Not the actions of a true dmocracy.

      You have to wonder what he knew or what he did to keep him isloated & not bring him to trial. And the fact he committed suicide in a prison designed to prevent that is suspicious but not proof he didn’t.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        When you find a ‘true democracy’ let me know. And be careful with your examples since I can go back to the 1940s to find interesting cases of how ‘true democracies’ treated elements in their population accused of treason.

        Reply to Comment
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