OPINION: ‘Prisoner X’ treated as Citizen of Nowhere

THE  ‘‘Prisoner X’’ issue will keep bubbling along  and various political motivations will drive people to make claims and counterclaims.

Issues about the Israeli state, Zionism, and the effectiveness of the Australian diplomatic corps remain as controversies.

When and how anyone may or may not have been informed are also problems  surrounding the disappearance and death of Ben Zygier. The important issues in the morass of all of this are something else, however, and we confuse them at our peril.

First, Prisoner X had a name, a family, and people who cared about him.

Whatever he may have done, Ben Zygier was a  human being and as human beings, we must speak out when governments do questionable things. Shrugging our shoulders and saying   ‘‘he was a dual national’’ or that he  ‘‘worked for the Mossad’’ are facts, but those facts do not allow torture, disappearance or imprisonment without trial.  States cannot cause human beings to disappear, cannot be allowed to engage in torture, and cannot get away with allowing someone to die alone in a jail cell.

This is the moral argument that applies in all cases: it applied in Pinochet’s Chile, in Nazi Germany, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and the myriad  other situations in which modern nations have treated people, with terrible consequences for the lives and families of people living under these regimes.

And yes, this  does include questioning our own government about their practices as well as the Israeli government and any other government.

Second, the question of dual or multiple citizenship has been raised and is often portrayed as something suspicious. It has been suggested that there is a special case to be made, in that Jewish people feel a special responsibility, whatever their place of birth, towards Israel.

This may well be the case but it is not unique.

In the conflicts in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many former Yugoslavs and their children went back to the Balkans to engage in the conflict. With the end of the Cold War, we saw demographics shift again in that some people returned to former Iron Curtain countries.

Different reasons perhaps, but the effects are the same: multiple citizenships, dual nationalities, and none of those societies fell apart.

Migration has been the norm in human history.

There are clear rules governing multiple citizenships, people are taxed where their residences are and where they earn their living. 

Ultimately, open societies always triumph and the more open, the better the lives of citizens.

Third, the legal status of Ben Zygier is on the one hand  clear, and one the other hand ambiguous.

The clear part is that governed by the master nationality rule of the Hague Convention of 1930.

This rule makes it clear that a person with dual or multiple citizenship is subject to the laws of a state whose citizenship they possess, without the ability of another state whose citizenship they possess interfering, [unless some kind of special case is negotiated]. 

If Ben Zygier was an Israeli citizen, regardless of what other nationality he may have, whatever happened to him in Israel was the fault and/or responsibility of the Israeli state.

According to the Hague Convention, and the master nationality rule, even though Ben Zygier could ask for consular assistance from the Australian consular office, neither Australia  nor Israel  were under obligation to allow this assistance to go forward.

States will often ask other states to keep them informed in these sorts of cases, and it may well be that Israel informed the Australian consular offices  there was a Prisoner X who was an Australian citizen. This is certainly something we need to question. 

And we can also ask questions about why the Australian state did not go public with the information, request that legal counsel be obtained, and that the prisoner be treated humanely.

Dr Robert Imre, Politics and International Relations, The University of Newcastle

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