Family rejects possible suicide in death of imprisoned intelligence officer

Amid shroud of secrecy surrounding case of soldier held in army detention, relatives say computer specialist’s social media history is being deleted

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The military's nearly completed Prison 10 complex, built to replace the Israel Defense Forces' existing British Mandate-era prisons in March 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
The military's Prison 10 complex, built to replace the Israel Defense Forces' existing British Mandate-era prisons in March 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Relatives of an IDF intelligence officer who died under unclear circumstances while he was being held in military prison have expressed doubt as to suicide being the cause of his death. They complained that they are being kept in the dark about details of the case and filed a request with the military on Sunday to hear the allegations against him.

The entire case, including the identity of the officer, has been subjected to both military censorship and two court-issued gag orders, despite the fact that the information is widely available online and has been seen on social media by thousands of people.

Through attorney Benny Kuznitz, the officer’s family appealed to a military court asking to see the indictment against him.

Family members have also claimed that efforts were being made to delete the officer’s social media history from the past few years.

Few details of the circumstances of the soldier’s arrest and months-long stay in prison, and his eventual discovery in his cell in serious condition and subsequent death have been permitted for publication.

Military officials have said it was a suspected suicide, though no official cause of death had been designated. The prison where the officer had been held, Neve Tzedek, was newly opened and its designers told reporters at the time that it was specifically designed to make it difficult for inmates to commit suicide, with closed-circuit cameras throughout the structure and specially designed fittings to prevent people from being able to hang themselves.

A family member cast doubt on the suggestion that the officer took his own life as his sister had just had a baby, Channel 12 News reported Saturday.

“The officer was under arrest for many months,” said the relative who was not identified in the report. “He knew his sister was on the way to the delivery room and that it was the first grandchild for his parents. Under those circumstances, is unthinkable that specifically on that joyous and important day for the family he would choose to end his life.”

According to the family, in addition to not releasing information about the case to the public, or even to the family, the army has deleted much of the officer’s social media record going back as far as 2018, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

A relative of the officer, not identified in the report, told the newspaper that “the anger is at the attempt to disappear a person who died in military prison.”

“We don’t know anything. To this day no one has explained to us what happened,” the relative said. “The whole way that the army is behaving looks like an attempt to hide their failures. How can it be that they are trying to wipe out a person in this way?”

Family members said that on the eve of the Shavuot festival, May 16, hours before his death, the officer had called his parents. The family sources said he didn’t sound distressed and asked them to bring him clothes on their next visit, other personal items, and treats to tide him over during his time in prison. The family also noted his previous relocation from one prison to a newer facility “was good for him” and he was in a positive mindset.

There was also said to be anger on the part of the family at the way the officer’s commanders and friends abandoned him following his arrest.

Before his funeral, some of the officer’s commanders asked to attend but the family refused, Haaretz reported. The family said that since the funeral, no senior IDF officials have come to visit the family to discuss the officer’s death.

The soldier was given an autopsy to determine the cause of death and a pathologist on behalf of the family was at the autopsy as well as from the army’s information security unit, Haaretz reported.

The family is still waiting for the results of the autopsy.

The army may release more details in the case in the coming week, including possibly the soldier’s identity, which is already widely available on the internet, but will decide only after hearing the family’s position on the matter.

However, the specific charges against the officer will likely never be publicized as they deal with a serious issue.

In the midst of the fighting last month with the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces announced that a soldier in its newly opened Neve Tzedek prison had died under unclear circumstances.

Last week, with the soldier’s identity and the crimes he was charged with classified, the military revealed that he was an officer in an intelligence unit who had been indicted last September.

The military also released that the officer had not been charged with espionage or treason, nor had he been in contact with a foreign agent, nor was he the asset of a foreign agent.

The serviceman was buried in a civilian cemetery plot and will not be recognized as a fallen soldier. The IDF said this was the case as the soldier had been formally discharged from the army while in prison and was thus not eligible for a military funeral.

The soldier was described by people who worked with him as a computer prodigy, beginning to work in programming as a teenager.

As the soldier died in a Military Police-run prison, his death will be investigated by the IDF’s internal affairs unit.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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