Details about “Prisoner X”, an Australian-Israeli who was found dead in a high-security cell in Israel are emerging more than two years after his death with reports claiming he was a spy for Mossad.
Any news about the man unveiled this week to be Ben Zygier, who according to Israeli officials committed suicide in 2010, had been censored by Israel.
The family, including his father Geoffrey Zygier, an executive director of B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, refused to comment after ABC television named the prisoner on February 12.
Zygier was buried in Melbourne, where a large polished grave stone lies in the Chevra Kadisha Jewish cemetery, reading “In loving memory of Ben Zygier, Beloved husband of Maya, Adoring father of Romi and Yuli, Cherished son of Louise and Geoffrey.”
Undated photographs have been published of a shaven-headed, smiling young man, dressed casually.
Other pictures show Zygier striking a serious pose in his Israeli army uniform, sleeves rolled up and a rifle under his arm.
Patrick Durkin described him as “my lawyer friend” and detailed fond memories of nights out in Melbourne while qualifying for articles.
The revelations had “sent a shock wave through my group of lawyer friends, who all completed our articles with Ben at law firm Deacons [now Norton Rose] in 2001,” Durkin wrote in Thursday’s Australian Financial Review.
“I remember drinking with Ben one night in 2001 when he recounted his famous story of taking a bullet in the posterior during his military service in Israel, which he served shortly before joining our group,” said Durkin.
“He described in vivid detail patrolling the frontline and backtracking across war-torn countryside while gunfire peppered the ground.”
Zygier attended Bialik College in Melbourne which is described as a “co-educational, Zionist, Jewish day school” on its website.
The 34-year-old reportedly moved back to Israel more than 10 years ago, married, started a family and became known as Ben Alon.
The Israel Prisons Service noted he was an Israeli citizen who also held foreign citizenship.
No information has been released about how and why Zygier ended his life in the virtual isolation of a state-of-the-art surveillance cell designed to prevent suicide.
ABC said the cell had been specially designed for Yigal Amir, the Jewish ultranationalist who in 1995 assassinated then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Israeli TV has speculated that Zygier was imprisoned after committing some kind of act of treason.
The justice ministry said an inquiry ruled he took his own life.
“For security reasons the man was held under a false identity although his family was immediately informed of his arrest,” the ministry said.
The story first surfaced in June 2010 when Israel’s Ynet news website briefly ran a report about a prisoner whose identity and alleged crime were not even known to his jailers.
That was quickly taken offline and a media blackout imposed, but it resurfaced on Tuesday after an investigation by Australia’s public broadcaster.
The same day Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called an urgent meeting with top editors to ask them to withhold “publication of information pertaining to an incident that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency,” Haaretz newspaper said, in a clear allusion to Mossad.