Prisoner X
Prisoner X Screen Shot

In the wake of the revelations on the Australian “Prisoner X,” who apparently committed suicide in an Israeli prison, a major debate has broken out in Israel over the role of the military censor on news. The issue has arisen numerous times in the past, with the state claiming that keeping back details on security stories is often necessary in order to ensure the safety of Israelis – even though full details of the story that is being censored is freely available to Israelis in the international media, easily found through a Google search.

But don't blame the IDF Censor, said Sima Vaknin-Gil, who heads the Censor's Office. In an interview with Army Radio, she said that at least in this case, as well as in many others, the censor did not decide to withhold details about the case of Ben Zygier, who may or may not have been an Israeli citizen and/or a spy for Israel, Australia, or both. It was the courts that ordered that the information be withheld – specifically, the High Court, which reviews and approves state requests for censorship on sensitive cases.

It was a High Court order to cancel the gag order on the case that allowed Israeli media to begin reporting on the case. Permission to report the story came after an in-depth investigative report on Australia's ABC network.

“The IDF Censor is also subject to court gag orders,” Vaknin-Gil said in the interview. “I am able to discuss this in public now, because the court has allowed the state to acknowledge that the events took place.”

According to Vaknin-Gil, the decision to place a gag order on the story in 2010 when it first appeared was not made haphazardly. “The decision was reviewed by many judges, all of whom were convinced that the details needed to be kept secret. You in the media are trying to blame us for a 'coverup' that we had nothing to do with,” she said.

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