Thursday July 24, 2014
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24.07.2014
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Prof. Aryeh Eldad

Things more sacred than public proceedings

The fact that we don't know the truly important details of the Ben Zygier case means we can try to learn something about Israel. Because we don't know whether Zygier was a villain or a victim, a tragic hero or a traitor, then the following can actually be seen as devoid of having a nationalist or leftist slant.

For the sake of disclosure: Israel's security is of uppermost importance in my eyes, but I do not kneel down before everything encompassed by the flag of security. Too often in the past we have seen the desecration of this sanctified principle, how blood libels and accusations of treason have been made in its name. The Bus 300 affair (in which the then head of the Israel Security Agency issued an order to kill two terrorists; and when the order was exposed, he turned the heads of his organization into perjurers) and the case of Izzat Nafso (a Circassian Israel Defense Forces officer who had served a prison sentence for alleged contacts with a PLO agent in Lebanon) brought to the public's attention that our sacred cows can also graze in fields of lies and falsified evidence. Such acts are not for the sake of weakening the state's enemies and strengthening its security — but merely to cover for the failures or crimes of senior agency officials.

One more basic assumption: The flag of Israel's security, even while waving proudly, cannot hide foolishness or inability. The argument that lawmakers are forbidden from speaking in the Knesset about things that have already been published abroad is foolish. The thought that updating a "committee of editors" about a situation can replace parliamentary oversight is nothing but an archaic remnant from the days of Mapai, the precursor to the Labor party.

However, a simple examination of those who tried "exposing" the affair at the Knesset plenum is a testament to the notion that the state's security was not at the forefront of Ahmad Tibi’s, Dov Khenin’s or Zehava Gal-On's minds. The primary claim that basic human rights were violated is also baseless, as we learned from the subsequently published facts. Three lawyers represented Prisoner X (Roi Belcher, Moshe Mazur and Boaz Ben-Tzur), and one of Israel's most prominent defense attorneys (Avigdor Feldman) met with him the day before his death. The legal proceedings took place in a civil court, not in a military court, and the comprehensive gag orders — which were perhaps prudent in 2010, even if they were foolish after the Australian news report — were issued by the District Court president.

Is democracy severely compromised when a man is held in prison under a fictitious name? Not if doing so protects the lives of other agents. However, in this case, too, the principle of national security was spoiled and the secrecy was intended not to protect anonymous agents in the field but their publicly known handlers wishing to conceal their own shamefulness. Therefore, the main issue is not the damage to democracy, but the concern that the agencies on which our security is dependent require thorough reform.

The publicity of proceedings principle is not more sacred than the lives of Mossad agents, and a prisoner can be held under a false name if his family is notified of his arrest and he receives due legal representation, even if his trial takes place behind closed doors.

Gal-On, who has rushed to defend our judiciary system against all criticism from the Right, needs to be all the more careful before she accuses it of harming civil and human rights, lest we suspect her of only respecting the rule of law when it is interpreted by judges who wear two left shoes.

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