Keeping Prisoner X a secret when everyone knows about it
Whether we want to or not, Israel somehow always ends up being in the eye of an international storm. Earlier this week, it was the Women at the Wall fiasco, and only a couple days later, we’re back in headlines around the world thanks to Prisoner X.
The website of ABC News in Australia first reported the story, previewing a startling TV report detailing the death of Ben Zygier, aka Ben Alon, an Australian-Israeli who was allegedly found hanged in a high-security cell originally built for Yitzhak Rabin’s killer Yigal Amir at Ayalon prison in late 2010.
There were loads of questions surrounding the case – why was Alon in jail? Was Alon a Mossad agent? Why was it kept quiet?
Unfortunately, none of those questions were going to be answered, as long as the Israeli censor’s office had anything to do with it. Minutes after the ABC story appeared online, the censor’s office called all the major Israeli media outlets to warn them that publishing a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g about the case would violate a court-issued gag order on the subject and would amount to breaking the law. This despite the fact that at the same time, one could go into the ABC site, or any number of other non-Israeli sites that quickly picked up the story. The blogosphere and twitter was also soon filled with comments and posts, making Prisoner X the worst-kept secret of the week.
Still the censor persevered, until in the middle of the afternoon , MKs Zahava Gal-On, Dov Henin and Ahmed Tibi raised the issue during their speeches in the Knesset plenum by asking outgoing Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to confirm the ABC reports.
By then, it was clear that whatever efforts made by the censor to keep the story from getting ‘out there’ were futile, and that, gag order or not, there was nothing that could be done to rein in the leaks. The censor’s office backed down a small bit, telling editors that the MKs’ comments on Prisoner X could be published, but no details from the ABC story.
By today, the censor has lifted that ban too, 24 hours too late however. In our volatile region of the world, there are certainly instances when the publication of details of sensitive, security-related issues indeed should be monitored, and if need be, censored. It’s especially relevant if the publication of such material could endanger lives of Israeli citizens or Israeli security personnel.
However, as exemplified by the Prisoner X saga, the digital communication age has changed the playing field. If a story is under wraps, it’s one thing. But once a report has surfaced online and is disseminated faster than one can press “favorite,” there’s clearly another set of rules that need to be brought into play.