Ben Zygier, the former Mossad operative known as “Prisoner X,” was seen crying
and distraught following a visit from his wife and daughter just hours before he
killed himself in 2010, according to a court document made public on
The document also says that at the end of the hour-long meeting
at Ayalon Prison, near Ramle, Zygier tried to pass his wife a note but was
stopped by a prison official. Zygier then tore up the note in rage before his
wife was allowed back into his cell to speak to him alone for a few minutes.
After she left the cell, she was in tears, the document said, adding that it
appeared that during the meeting Zygier had received a message that left him
That same day, wardens received what they considered an
out-of-the-ordinary call from Zygier’s attorney Moshe Mazor, who asked if his
client was doing all right and if he could speak to him.
They put the
call through, and Mazor spoke to his client but did not update the Prisons
Service officials about anything out of the ordinary after the
These revelations are part of a December 2012 report by Judge
Daphne Blatman- Kadrai, president of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, which
placed blame for Zygier’s death directly on the Prisons Service, saying it had
caused his death by failing to carry out its responsibilities to ensure he did
not cause himself harm.
Though much of the document became public in
February, the rest was cleared for publication only on Thursday.
report – which is based mainly on testimony taken from Prisons Service officers,
both senior and low-level – paints a picture of the 34- year-old Australian-born
Zygier as a man whom Prisons Service officials knew full well was emotionally
distraught and in danger of harming himself.
From the beginning, the
service’s psychiatrists ruled that he was a prisoner in need of supervision
level B, requiring that someone check up on him every 30 minutes.
Service officers testified that a social worker had visited Zygier 57 times
during the time he was in Ayalon Prison between March and December 2010. The
officers said they would call the social worker whenever they observed Zygier
crying in his cell, and she would typically come and visit with him.
document includes testimony from the social worker about a time when, during a
visit, she noticed a cut on Zygier’s hand, which he told her he had made to
relieve some of the stress he was under.
On December 15, the day Zygier
was found dead in his cell, hanging from a bed sheet tied to his bathroom
window, Prisons Service officers called the social worker to tell her about his
distraught condition after the family visit. The court document says that “since
it was not the first time that the deceased was disturbed and crying after a
phone call or family visit, she didn’t see the emotional outburst as a special
incident and didn’t give an instruction in kind.”
The document also
states that on November 29, 2010, a doctor sent by the Prisons Service saw
Zygier, ruling that the prisoner’s emotional state was in decline and that he
posed a threat to himself. On December 5, Zygier saw a psychiatrist, whom he
reportedly told that he had stopped taking the antidepressants he had been
The psychiatrist ruled that Zygier’s situation hadn’t changed
and that he wasn’t displaying suicidal tendencies.
Based on the testimony
of 10 Prisons Service officials – including the head of Ayalon Prison at the
time, “Commissioner A.B.S” – the document concludes that the Prisons Service
failed to carry out guidelines that could have prevented Zygier’s suicide, and
therefore bears direct responsibility for the tragedy.
The officers whom
the court interviewed stated that they had been short on staff, with only four
people instead of the usual five manning the operations room, which surveys
footage from 330 cameras. The report goes into detail about the conduct of
“M.A.,” an officer who was in charge of the control room – a separate command
post that contains far fewer cameras. The document states that M.A. left the
room shortly before Zygier committed suicide, and was in the operations room
when it happened. The document says M.A. left his log notebook back in the
control room and did not fill it in during the time he was absent.
addition, it says that while the operations room did include the footage from
the cameras in Zygier’s room, camera 116, which covered the center of his cell
and part of his bathroom, was not connected to the screens in the operations
room – a fact that the officers on duty beforehand had known.
to the document, M.A. left the control room at 5:52 p.m. and went to the
operations room, leaving behind his shift log. At 8 p.m., he felt something was
amiss and sent an officer to check on Zygier by intercom. He then went himself
to to the control room, at which point he saw Zygier hanging from the
“At 6:54 p.m., Zygier went to the bathroom, and until he was
found at 8:13 p.m., the situation was suspicious and should have drawn the
attention of the supervising officers,” the court document reads.
there is no record in the log during this time, the document states that there
is no way to prove that the officer even looked at footage of Zygier’s room at
all from the time he left the control room until Zygier was found
Besides this, the report states, the cell’s infrared camera, which
would automatically turn on after the cell’s lights went out, was very old and
provided “zero visibility” of what was going on in the cell. The report says
officers had brought this up with one of their commanders, who told them that it
would require a civilian contractor to come in for half a day to fix the camera.
The commander told the two officers to write a letter to his commanders, which
he would forward. However, he said he had never received a letter from the two
The report also includes testimony from officers who said they
had been told that there was no budget to fix the cameras.
conclusion, Blatman- Kadrai states that “during the time of the incident, the
means needed to carry out the special supervision of the deceased were not
followed: The control room was not occupied, the supervisors’ journal was not
filled out every 30 minutes from 17:52 until the body was found, it was known
that camera 116 from the cell was not transmitting footage to the operations
room at the time and that the cameras’ ability to film in a dark room was
She ruled that while Zygier may have been determined to
end his life no matter what, “defending the deceased from such possibilities is
done through command procedures which were not carried
Blatman-Kadrai added that since a prisoner with Zygier’s profile
could be expected to try to end his life, a meticulous series of steps must be
taken to ensure he does not do so, and that the failure to do so could have
On Thursday, in the wake of the court’s decision to
release the full content of the document, the Justice Ministry released what
appears to be a decision taken beforehand, not to bring criminal charges against
any of the Prisons Service personnel or other persons who had responsibility for
In the wake of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court
decision to release the report on the circumstances of Zygier’s death, the
Justice Ministry on Thursday released what appears to be a decision taken
beforehand, not to bring criminal charges against any of the Prisons Service
personnel or other persons who had responsibility for Zygier’s
The decision, signed by State Attorney Moshe Lador, said that
despite “deficiencies” in how Zygier was handled, the issue would only be
submitted to the Prisons Service itself to decide at its own discretion whether
to take internal disciplinary measures.
Lador said that overall there was
insufficient evidence to prove criminal charges to the standard of beyond a
He added that there is no legal precedent for bringing
criminal action against prison personnel for negligence relating to a prisoner’s
suicide such as occurred here.
More specifically, Lador cited information
to the effect that in 14 visits from psychologists and 57 visits from
sociologists during nine months prior to Zygier’s suicide, virtually all of the
professionals said that he was not a suicide-risk, seemed to be improving and
maybe could even have his prison conditions relaxed.
This opinion was
reaffirmed by professionals who met with Zygier only days before he committed
Lador’s statement noted that despite some extreme indications of
Zygier’s instability following a meeting he had with his family on the day he
committed suicide, little could be inferred regarding any criminal culpability
for Prisons Service personnel when not all of the facts of that day were known
by them in real-time.
He also said that the expert reviewing Zygier’s
hanging of himself said he likely died within minutes or shorter, whereas the
standing order to check his status every 30 minutes was followed by the Prisons
Essentially, Lador’s point was that even with strong evidence of
negligence by the service, it was unlikely that they could have intervened in
time to prevent Zygier’s suicide.
Lador noted the court’s complimenting
the Prisons Service in recent years in its efforts to reduce the number of
suicides, but also said that “the tragic suicide of the deceased strengthens the
need to further address this complex issues [of prisoner suicide] and to do all
we can to reduce this phenomenon.”
Responding to Lador’s statement, the
service said that “in keeping with the publication of the ruling by the
magistrate’s court on the cause of death and in light of the lessons that have
already been implemented in regard to this incident, the IPS [Israel Prisons
Service] will examine the state attorney’s findings on this matter.
Prisons Service added that it “would like to emphasize the tremendous effort
undertaken in recent years to reduce the number of suicides among those in its
custody. In this matter, the figures indicate a dramatic drop in
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