No court issued a gag order on the detention of Samer Al Issawi. The information was freely available, and anyone who wanted to could have published all the facts: Samer al-Issawi, a resident of Isawiya in East Jerusalem, was placed last July in Administrative Detention without trial and imprisoned at the Ramla Prison (yes, the same Ramla Prison which this week got to the headlines for other reasons). He began a hunger strike which already passed the 200 days' mark, lost thirty five kilograms and suffered severe damage to his kidneys. A few days ago he stopped drinking the vitamins and few nutritional supplements which kept him alive until now. All this information was completely open to publication - everything except the charges against Issawi, which were contained only in "secret evidence" presented to the judge who extended his detention and of which Issawi himself was not told.
There was no problem in publishing it - but reporters and editors in Israel's newspapers and electronic media just did not think it was of interest to their readers and listeners. Only when this weekend the deteriorating condition of Samer al Issawi precipitated a series of demonstrations across the West Bank and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers, a few references cropped up in the media - and even then, in a very minimal way.
Had Ben Zygier been a Palestinian, still now nobody would have heard of him.
So what did really happen, in this affair of which only a select few knew four days ago and which now captured the headlines in Israel and Australia and around the world?
How it started is well known: a young Jew raised in a distinguished Melbourne family, taking his Zionism seriously makes Aliya and goes to live in Israel and getting married here; entering the country's spy service, Mossad, and taking on a series of mysterious tasks, and certainly not giving up his Australian citizenship. Much of his value to the Mossad consisted of his ability to carry (or lend to others) a genuine Australian passport, which would pass the closest scrutiny, and enter freely countries barred to carriers of an Israeli passport. And indeed, he did not cut his ties with Australia, where his family lived, and where he has gone to visit and study at university.
The middle of the story is still mostly hidden. In early 2010 unknown agents assassinated a senior Palestinian at the Emirate of Dubai. The assassins failed to disappear without a trace. Indeed, they left behind a spectacular trail – abundant photos taken by security cameras, names in forged Australian passports, and a series of clues pointing to the State of Israel and the Mossad. But what exactly was the connection to Ben Zygier, the Australian Jew who went to Israel and made his Australian passport available for Israel's daring espionage operations?
And the end - most of it is by now clear. A secret trial and a secret detention at a well-guarded isolation cell in the Ramla Prison and gag orders to hide every scrap of information from the public. Serious charges that could have kept him in that secret cell for very many years, and a plea bargain offered which was a bit more lenient but which also involved quite a few years in prison, a difficult choice between two harsh options. And then suicide in custody, in a cell with four surveillance cameras. If it was a suicide.
But what exactly did happen in the middle? What did he do or plan to do? Shalom Yerushalmi in Ma'ariv published what seems to be a message sent directly from within the Mossad: "Zygier, it is said, was holding a smoking gun. Had he not been stopped, he would have caused great damage. No one in the Mossad wanted him to kill himself in prison, but after he hanged himself none of them went into mourning" . And on TV the veteran Ron Ben-Yishai pointed an accusing finger at the Australian security service: "They are the ones who got Zygier into trouble". How, exactly?
A hypothesis, not based on any first hand information: At some time in late January or early February 2010, the security services of Australia turned to Zygier, an Australian citizen who traveled a lot with an Australian passport, and demanded that he tell them what he knew about the use which the State of Israel made of Australian passports, in ways which were liable to damage the national interests of Australia. Australian tourists and business people arriving in various countries were increasingly suspected of being Israeli spies.
If this is what happened, Ben Zygier could not have gotten out of it well, do what he would do. Had he provided the information, he could have come to be considered under the laws of the State of Israel a traitor failing in his loyalty to Israel. Had he refused to provide it, he might have been considered under the laws of Australia a traitor failing in his loyalty to Australia. In short - the nightmare of Jews in Australia, as in the U.S. and many other countries – the charge of "double loyalty."
Did Israel have the moral right to place an Australian Jew is such an impossible situation? Did Israel, thirty years ago, have the moral right to appeal to an American Jew named Jonathan Pollard and convince him that as a Jew he owed to Israel a loyalty surpassing that he owed to the United States?