As more details have seeped out about the mysterious life and death of Israel’s Prisoner X – identified last week by an Australian TV program as Ben Zygier – the wall of silence surrounding those who knew him has begun to show some cracks.
On Tuesday, Israel released parts of a report into Zygier’s death, confirming that he hanged himself with a bed sheet in the shower of his cell in Ayalon prison on Dec. 15, 2010. The report by Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai did not say whether there was any truth to the reports that Zygier, an Australian Israeli, worked for the Mossad; 20 of her report’s 28 pages were suppressed by a gag order.
Zygier’s enigmatic story has transfixed media outlets around the world and dominated headlines in Israel and Australia since the expose last week on the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s “Foreign Correspondent” program.
For Australia’s 110,000 Jews, it also has sparked charges of dual loyalty.
“Everyone here is talking about it – everyone,” said a friend of Zygier, who like many of his associates interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The feeling is no one wants to talk. The family is very private, the parents are devastated. When he died it was shock, shock, shock. We were all told he worked for Mossad and was killed in an operation.”
It remains unclear what prompted Zygier’s imprisonment, why he was held in a maximum-security cell reportedly built for the incarceration of Yitzhak Rabin’s killer, Yigal Amir, and why the 34-year-old father of two, who immigrated to Israel from Australia and married an Israeli woman, killed himself.
According to one friend, Zygier had a Facebook account under the name Ben Alon, the nom de plume he used in Israel; the account has been removed. He reportedly also held passports bearing the names Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows.
In early 2010, Zygier strenuously denied that he was a Mossad agent in multiple conversations with an Australian journalist.
On Tuesday, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement dismissing rumors that Zygier was some sort of double agent working with the Australian security services.
“We emphasize that Mr. Zygier had no contact at all with the Australian security services and organizations,” the statement said.