Ben Zygier did not betray his country, says Prisoner X's lawyer
Attorney Moshe Mazor was one of only people in Israel allowed into Ayalon Prison's isolated wing to meet with his client, alleged Mossad agent Ben Zygier. In exclusive interview, he speaks about his relationship with 'Prisoner X', phone call he received from him hours before he committed suicide, and why he believes Zygier's death was a huge failure.
A charged silence filled the courtroom of Judge Hila Gerstl, president of the Central District Court. Only several people were allowed to stay for the discussion about the detainee who would be led into the room very soon, a detainee with no name and no address outside the courthouse walls, who only few people know what he had been doing in the past few years. Even fewer people are familiar with the suspicions against him.
Attorney Moshe Mazor stood in the corner, alert. In order to be here, he had to undergo strict security clearance by the Shin Bet security service. A special room was built in his law firm for his work on the case, a room which one could only enter by punching in a secret code. An intimidating safe placed inside the room was to be the only place where the material of the mysterious case attorney Mazor was about to become part of would be kept. He had yet to meet his client.
And then the door opened.
who would later be known as Prisoner X
and become the focus of a security-related affair which rattled Israel in early 2013, walked into the courtroom. "And that's when I saw him for the very first time," attorney Mazor recounts. "I expected to see a laurelled hero, as portrayed in thrillers and espionage stories. I expected a Rambo. And I saw a child. A pleasant-looking child, with big blue eyes.
"I remember the first time those eyes stared at me, because he didn't understand who I was and what I was doing there. When I left that discussion, I realized that those must be the people who eventually do the job. At the end of the day it was this figure of a regular-looking person, like anyone else, which added further mystery to the affair. I said to myself: If this is the person, he must be very special."
That was the beginning of the acquaintance between Mazor and Zygier. What started off as a relationship between a client and his lawyer developed into a deep, personal friendship. Long hours of heart-to-heard conversations, frequent visits to prison, and also getting to know his wife in Israel and his relatives in Australia, turned attorney Mazor into one of the closest people to Zygier during the last months of his life. Zygier's last phone call, at 5 pm on the day he took his own life, was to Mazor.
Attorney Moshe Mazor. 'I still find myself thinking about Ben occasionally' (Photo: Photo: Rami Zerenger)
Mazor, 34, exactly the age Zygier was when he died, refused to discuss the affair until now. He was afraid to offend Zygier's family members, and also found it difficult to deal with the difficult memories left by the affair. Several weeks ago, he finally agreed to talk about Ben Zygier for the very first time. He said he felt a strong need to repair the public image created by many reports about Zygier and present him as he had known him.
Attorney Mazor, some people will say that you became a traitor's lawyer.
"The first question I asked when I joined the representation was: What were his motives? And when I realized that the motives were not financial or, God forbid, ideological, I let go of this issue and understood that it would be easier for me, both in terms of my conscience and perhaps professionally too, to handle the case."
Do you define Ben as a friend?
"Look, this is a difficult question which I struggled with quite a lot in the period after his death. I lost a client, that's for sure. A client which filled many of my hours in the last year of his life. I reflected on whether I had lost a friend, and the more I delved into that thought, then the answer is yes, he was a friend. Ben needed a friend before he needed a lawyer. He wouldn't have survived the months he managed to survive in jail in the difficult conditions he was placed in, without a sympathetic ear for his personal problems."
On December 15, 2010, Ben Zygier (Alon) was found dead in his isolated cell at the Ayalon Prison. The wardens who entered his cell found him hanging in the shower with a sheet tied to the bathroom window wrapped around his neck. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
Zygier, who was 34 when he died, was born in Australia. He was arrested for what Israeli authorities referred to as a "security affair." A joint investigation by German news magazine Der Spiegel and Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Ronen Bergman revealed that Zygier had handed sensitive information to Hezbollah, which led to the arrest of two Lebanese agents who had worked for the Mossad, the Israeli secret service. According to the report, Zygier had contacted a Hezbollah collaborator and tried to recruit him of his own accord. But the collaborator had deceived him and managed to get sensitive information out of him.
There were also additional reports which ascribed other deeds to Zygier, but all of them portrayed him as a "babbler" rather than as a person who committed treason for financial or ideological motives. Attorney Mazor stressed throughout the interview that he would not address the circumstances of Zygier's arrest and the offenses attributed to him.
Zygier was imprisoned in strict secrecy and isolation, under a false name, in a separated wing called Wing 15, the place where Yigal Amir, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's murderer, was once held. Because of these unusual confinement conditions, the Israeli media also referred to Zygier as Prisoner X.
After his death, the State launched a special legal procedure called "investigation into the cause of death." Judge Daphna Blatman-Kedrai, president of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, ruled that there was alleged evidence for prosecuting some people in the Israel Prison Service (IPS) for causing death by negligence. The State Prosecutor's Office, however, decided not to file criminal charges.
In September 2013, the State of Israel struck a deal with Zygier's family members, granting them about NIS 4 million ($1.15 million) in compensation in exchange for not filing a civil lawsuit against the state.
In 2013, an investigation by Australia's national public broadcaster, ABC, published details about Zygier's arrest and suicide – and the Prisoner X affair broke in Israel too, despite the gag order placed on it. It was then also revealed that the late Zygier had been represented by attorneys Roy Blecher, Boaz Ben Zur and Moshe Mazor.
Attorney Mazor, do you remember the day this sensitive case landed on your doorstep?
"I remember that one day a rumor began circulating in the corridors of Boaz Ben Zur's law firm, where I had worked at the time. According to the rumor, there was a highly classified security case which attorney Roy Blecher had offered Attorney Ben Zur to work with him on. I was lucky enough to have Boaz telephone me and ask me to join the representation and undergo the proper security clearance.
"Among my colleagues in the office there was a sort of positive envy, although I was chosen to handle the case. The truth is that I was very happy, because I am interested in security-related issues. I realized that this was a professional opportunity to enter a world I was unfamiliar with, or to be more exact – a world I only knew from books and films."
Did you receive any special instructions from the security organizations about the investigation?
"A very limited number of people were in on the secret. We were not even allowed to tell people in the office what it was about. When the material arrived, I had already moved to Roy Blecher's office at the Seligman & Co. law firm and a room in our office was dedicated to it. We installed PIR detectors in the room, as well as a door which only opens with a secret code and an extremely massive safe.
"We received clear procedures: We could perform our legal work only on laptop computers with different types of coding, and print the material related to the case on a unique printer. We were given very clear instructions and procedures about how to handle the material, both inside the office and when we take it outside. Extremely strict security measures."
The day he met Zygier for the first time, in Judge Gerstl's courtroom, Mazor also met Prisoner X's wife. "She appeared distressed and spoke about the uncertainty she was facing. You could actually see it on their faces, both his and hers. The Shin Bet officials kindly let Ben be with his wife inside the courtroom after the discussion. It's hard to describe Ben and his wife's difficultly to create some kind of intimacy between a couple in this difficult situation."
From that moment on, Zygier and Mazor began holding long telephone conversations and frequent meetings at Wing 15. "It was an odd situation," Mazor says, "because we would arrive at the prison gates, and at the entrance we already realized that there was something quite weird going on: We wouldn't say the name of the inmate we had come to visit and our entrance would not be registered."
What does Wing 15 look like?
"Ben's cell was at the end of the prison. I would arrive at a door leading to a large yard, and from there we were led to a separate wing, Wing 15. At the entrance to the wing there was a three-door barrier, and each time one door opened – the others would close. In order to open the first door, the warden accompanying you presses an intercom button and asks the guards at the command center, 'Open door number one.' The door opens, you pass through it, it closes, and only then the warden presses the intercom button and asks them to open door number two, and so on.
"After the three doors there was a small yard with a locked door. That's the yard Ben would walk around in. A yard covered with concrete with a net on top, which had very little light. It's a yard which was extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter, so he didn't make much use of it. In the yard there was another door, which was the entrance to the cell itself. It was also opened through remote control by the wardens who oversaw Ben."
The Ayalon Prison. Three doors led to Zygier's isolated cell (Photo: AFP)
And what did the cell look like on the inside?
"The room wasn't particularly big, rigged with cameras, painted in grey-white shades. There was a bathroom with a shower and an old toilet. He also had a large safe in his room, which contained the investigation material about him, and no one apart from Ben had access to the safe. There were IPS orders forbidding the wardens to enter the cell when the safe was open. Ben told me that it was always an issue with the wardens, the content of that safe. They weren't used to having an inmate with a safe in his cell which only he was allowed to open."
Did he try to make the room a bit homier?
"Yes, it was part of his way of coping. His bed, for example, was always very tidy. I think it was an attempt to maintain order within the whole mess he was in. Over time, the room got an increasingly human and pleasant form.
"Ben would scribble and draw all the time. One day I arrived at the cell, and on one of the bare walls he had hung all kinds of scribbles and drawings related to his family members. He wrote their names in English on the drawing, and we spoke about the fact that the drawing was a sort of symbol. I told him that every time he experienced a tough day or received unpleasant news, he should look up at the wall and understand that this is the essence, that this is what he is living and fighting for. I told him he should hope that the names' letters would become part of his daily reality."
What was his daily routine in the cell?
"Ben was a very organized person. He would limit his hours in order to create a normal daily routine, as much as he could in the difficult isolation conditions he was in. He had a fixed daily routine of hours dedicates to reading, hours dedicated to listening to the radio and hours dedicated to watching television. There were shows he would never miss."
"'Survivor.' He would wait enthusiastically for 'Survivor' once or twice a week."
Was he allowed to talk to the wardens?
"He had very limited contact with the wardens. They didn't know who he was, and he couldn't tell them of course. At some stage he received a television in his cell, and that was the time the World Cup matches were being aired. One day, one of the wardens walked into the cell and saw him watching one of Australia's games. The warden asked Ben which team was he in favor of, and Ben, who didn't know much about football, replied instinctively: 'Australia.'
"The warden began teasing him a bit: 'Of all teams and matches, you've chosen to watch Australia? What do you have to do with Australia?' Ben, who couldn't tell him where he was born, smiled and said: 'There's nothing to watch, so I'm watching this game, and Australia looks like a nice team, an underdog.'
"But despite the restrictions, he still became attached to some of the wardens. One day, after the Carmel fire disaster, I arrived and saw Ben very sad, in a really gloomy mood. I asked him, 'What happened? Why are you sad?' He replied, 'Listen, you're not going to believe this. One of the wardens here, one of the nicest ones, was killed in the Carmel disaster."
I imagine he also experienced long periods of boredom.
"Absolutely. Many times when I entered the cell he would be facing the wall and playing with a small tennis ball. You would hear the tennis ball hitting the wall and bouncing back even before entering the cell. Dozens of times. Sitting in front of the wall, in his boredom, and that's his way of killing a bit more time. I would enter the cell and ask him, 'Ben, what's this about?' And he would reply, 'Sometimes you have to calm your nerves.'"
The more they met and spoke on the phone, the relationship between Mazor and Zygier grew tighter and deeper. In the presence of the wardens, Mazor would use the false name given to Zygier in the prison, Yossi. When they left, he would call him by his real name again.
"I remember a very difficult conversation during one of the moments of crisis, about the fact that he misses people who call him by his name and doesn’t have even that. I said to him, 'Why do you care about them? They're wardens. Let them call you what they like. Why do you care?' Then he said, 'You don't understand how important it is. Imagine if one day people would tell you that your name isn't Moshe and that you're actually someone else. You can't explain that it's not even your name, that your name is Moshe Mazor. And you are in distress, because you feel your identity is not your identity at all. You're sitting here and playing a part in a show.'
"Our meetings were very frequent. The professional conversations slowly began touching on more personal and intimate matters as well, because at the end of the day, how much can you talk about the case? I felt that he wanted and needed a social relationship, a sympathetic ear."
How much did he miss communicating with other people?
"Very much. He was a very smart man, with extremely high emotional intelligence. He once told me, 'I can't open my heart to my wife like I do with you, because I want her to stay strong. I understand the distress she is in of course and I have to show her that I am strong, because if I won't be strong she'll be destroyed."
You were the one who informed Zygier that his wife had given birth.
"One day, at around 5 am, I got a phone call about his daughter's birth. In an exceptional manner, I telephoned the wardens supervising him at the command and control room. Basically it was against procedures, but I felt it was a special occasion and something had to be done.
"I told the guys at the control room: Listen, this is an unusual situation, but 'Yossi' has a new daughter, and I would like to give him the news. The warden replied, 'Okay, I have to get some permits.' About 25 minutes later, Ben was on the line. I said to him, 'I have very good news for you.' He said to him, 'What? Am I being released?!' I said, 'No, much better news.' And he asked, 'What is it?' There was a moment in which he didn't really understand what was going on, he was still sleepy, and then I said: 'Ben, your daughter has been born.' And then there was another pause, and he said: 'Look at the situation they've brought me to, that the happiest thing that could happen to me in my life is getting out.' His daughter's birth was something which made him very happy and gave him mental strength during that period."
How was his first meeting with his baby daughter?
"His first meeting with the daughter wasn't simple at all. He told me it hurt him so much that he had to meet his girl for the first time in prison. We actually tried to create a situation in which he would be able to come out of prison to an isolated place, so that the first meeting would at least take place there, but unfortunately the security authorities wouldn't allow it."
Did you discuss his future plans, after it would all be over?
"He spoke as if he would end this saga and move on with his life. He once told me, 'Regardless of when this finishes, I will invite you to Australia to introduce you to a different country, to show you some kangaroos. I will take you to Byron Bay, and you'll see how different it is from anything you know here.'
"On the other hand, there were also many moments of stress and crisis, in which I realized that he was a person in great distress, who was under a huge amount of pressure both in terms of the criminal case filed against him and in terms of the isolation, the secret surrounding him and his desire to be strong for his family too."
When were his toughest moments?
"Weekends. After the weekends I would always receive a phone call from him in low spirits. I already knew to expect a call on Sunday. A very unpleasant call, with outbursts. After the conversations I would usually report it. He would tell me that he feels the biggest loneliness on weekends, because on weekdays he hears the doors slam and the announcements on the loudspeakers, and on Saturdays there isn't any of that. Complete silence."
Ben Zygier. 'A person in great distress' (Photo: The Australian website)
During that period, only few people were aware of his arrest. "One day he disappeared both in Australia and in Israel," says Mazor, "and all his relatives – apart from his wife, his parents and a very limited number of people who were in on the secret – didn't know why."
In the meantime, Mazor's relationship with Ben's parents grew stronger, especially through telephone calls and emails, but also in meetings with the parents when they visited Israel while their son was in prison.
"When I visited Australia and saw how pastoral it is, the green, the swimming pools, the communal life which is very tight, I couldn't understand what Ben had been looking for in Israel," says Mazor. "You must understand that his father is one of the community's notable people, someone who one really looks up to. As far as I know, he still participates in all kinds of conferences and congresses and defends Israel passionately. He did the same even when his son was imprisoned."
Did you ask the father about it?
"Yes, he told me he was living in insane duality: On the one hand, he is angry with the state for failing to protect his son's life; on the other hand, he still feels Jewish and Zionist and wants to show the entire world that Israel's image is wrong.
"By the way, it's important for people to know that Ben – even during the toughest times, when he felt that the entire State of Israel was plotting against him – was a Zionist, even an ardent Zionist. This is the huge gap between who Ben was and how he was perceived after his death, and it really hurts. He is the exact opposite of an enemy of Israel. He was a man who had love of Israel flowing in his bloodstream. And that's not a metaphor."
Apart from Ben Zygier's case, attorney Mazor has handled many other high-profile legal cases in recent years, including an investigation against Breslov Rabbi Eliezer Berland for alleged sexual offenses. Today, Mazor works at the Goldfarb Seligman law firm, which is led by attorneys Eli Zohar and Yudi Levy. These days, for example, he is representing Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto in an alleged bribery case involving an Israel Police official.
What does it feel like being at the center of so much legal excitement?
"I like what I do. Working alongside attorneys like Eli Zohar and Roy Blecher is an amazing and educating experience. It's a sort of school for representation and managing legal procedures. I have learned a lot from both of them, as well as from attorneys Boaz Ben Zur and Hagai Halevy, who I worked with in the past."
I understand that you recently found yourself in Zimbabwe with Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who fled Israel after being faced with alleged sexual harassment allegations.
"Working in this field provides meetings with very interesting people and many journeys around the world. It's true that I traveled with attorney Blecher to Zimbabwe to meet Rabbi Berland, and without addressing the suspicions raised against the rabbi and his detailed version of the events, I hope that in the very near future the conditions for his return to Israel will be created."
You can't elaborate about the charges attributed to Ben Zygier either. But what was his attitude towards these charges?
"He spoke about it as a process one must undergo. I felt he was aware of the severity of the allegations, but that in some way he also wanted to confront them."
Did he realize that he would probably go to jail for many years?
"Of course. He understood that he was in for a difficult legal battle. On the other hand, there were many expectations on the way that this battle might be prevented, and there was also another very significant hope."
Are you referring to the reports that there were negotiations for a plea bargain?
"I don’t want to get into the details of the plea bargain which was taking shape and was almost signed. What I can say is that there was a very significant gap between the way this case started and the way it was supposed to end.
"In the beginning there was a completely imaginary situation: Attorneys Roy Blecher and Boaz Ben Zur were present during the reading of the indictment. The prosecutor stood up and said that in this case, the state would not seek the death penalty. Roy and Boaz told me that at that same moment they looked at Ben's wife and tried to indicate to her that it was just a formal statement, which the law binds the prosecutor to say, but that they were also shocked by this statement made by the state."
The Zygier affair made headlines in Australia and worldwide (Photo: AFP)
One of the main disagreements between the State Prosecutor's Office and the Zygier family's lawyers had to do with the "red lights" before he committed suicide. The court ruled that Zygier had been defined as a "prisoner under supervision," and that accordingly the wardens should have anticipated that he would try to hurt himself even without warning signs.
"I'm not a professional," says Mazor. "I can't distinguish between momentary depression and ongoing clinical depression, and when it reaches the place in which a person wants to take his own life. What I can say is that all along, the conditions and extreme circumstances Ben was in should have turned on all the red lights on.
"Occasionally he would realize that he is not inside a dream, that this is reality. And when he went head-to-head against reality, those were moments of crisis, low points. It would take him a few days to go back to being the Ben I knew. It would come and go."
But did you hear specific suicide threats from him?
"There was a certain attempt, an immature one: He tried to cut his veins, which resulted in a superficial wound. When he did it, some of his benefits were revoked and his phone calls were slightly shortened. He realized that making threats would hurt him. I think that's the reason why after this case, Ben refrained from saying it clearly and expressing his distress. But the distress was built into the situation."
In its summary of the investigation into the cause of death, the State Prosecutor's Office said that he had undergone psychiatric tests and had met with a social worker 57 times.
"Ben met with some woman who didn't know who he was, what he was, where he was from, what was his job, why he was in prison, what kind of distress he suffered from. Ben would laugh about it with me. He defined it as a 'social talk,' as a conversation out of boredom, because he had no one else to talk to. But he didn't really expect her to help him."
Mazor still finds it difficult to talk about Ben Zygier's last day. The IPS report described his final hours as follows: "At 11:10 am, the wife and small daughter of the deceased entered his cell, accompanied by an intelligence non-commissioned officer. At 12:05 pm, the intelligence NCO entered the cell in order to escort the family members out. The NCO said in his testimony that he had noticed that the deceased was crying, nervous and agitated… The deceased's wife went back into the cell in an unusual manner, and when she came out he noticed that she was crying."
"I remember that it began like any other day," Mazor recalls. "I was at a meeting and I received quite an unusual phone call from Ben, who was crying, shouting, not speaking very clearly. I asked him what had happened, and he said that he was in a difficult situation. He told me he had met with his wife and told me about the meeting. I don't want to delve into the details because of the right to privacy."
The State Prosecutor's Office said that his wife had told him during that meeting that she was leaving him.
"That claim is just incorrect. Again, because of the right to privacy I can't discuss exactly what happened in the conversation between them, but I am one of the only people who know what they spoke about that day, and I am telling you that the reports about this issue are just incorrect and are causing great injustice to Ben's widow.
"Anyway, I received the phone call and asked what I could do to help him, and he said he had to make an urgent and exceptional phone call to Australia. I explained to the officials in charge of the issue that it was a difficult situation, and asked for the phone call. I spoke to him and to his wife a few more times, and from the conversation I sensed that things were slowly calming down a bit.
"In the afternoon hours I arrived at the office, opened the computer and saw an email from Ben's mother, which shocked me, made my heart beat faster and left me in cold sweat. Just like that. It said, 'Moshe, I have spoken to Ben. He sounds like he's under the influence of pills. I'm afraid he may have taken an overdose of pills. I fear for his life. Try to help.'
"It's a very unusual email. Immediately, acting against procedures, I picked up the phone and called the commanding post. I said to the warden, 'I know that I'm not allowed to call, but this is a highly unusual situation. I demand that you tell me what Ben is doing.' He told me, 'He's asleep.' That troubled me, because if there indeed is an attempt to commit suicide by taking pills, this is the exact situation we should be concerned about. I said to him, 'Wake him up, no matter what. Wake him up now.' And he said to me, 'Wait a second, I need permission.' I said to him firmly, 'Do what I'm telling you, and have him call me.'
"Ten minutes later, Ben was on the line. He sounded very confused and I tried to get him to speak in order to try to understand if he had actually taken pills. It was a very long conversation. At first Ben was in a bad mood, confused and unfocused, but as time passed I felt he was himself again.
"I said to him, 'Ben, you've had a very tough day. I understand your distress, but you must look at the future.' We spoke about the future, we spoke about what would happen from now on. He told me it had been another tough day, but that it was okay and that he had to move on, and that he would talk to me the next day, immediately after he got up in the morning."
The State Prosecutor's Office says that "even according to attorney Mazor, the conversation was held in a calm and conventional manner, including intentions and references to the future."
"It's true that at the end of the conversation Ben let me understand that he was himself again and spoke about the future a bit, but it wasn't 'calm and conventional.' I believe that I turned all the red lights on and rang all the possible limited bells that I could. But I am a lawyer, not a psychiatrist. I think that the court's report about the state's negligence speaks for itself, and points to the system's helplessness in terms of Ben's unnecessary and outrageous death."
What did you do after the phone call?
"I emailed his mother, saying that he was indeed shaken up but that he was doing better now, and that I planned on talking to his wife and updating her on the conversation. I came home, and at around 1 am they informed me that Ben had died.
"I couldn't believe it. I simply refused to believe it. I remember that I stood in the living room for a long time, completely shocked, reenacting the last conversation, confused. Then I called the lawyers I had been working with on the case, Roy and Boaz, and we had a lengthy conference call. It wasn't a conversation of talking, but a conversation of silence.
"The next call was to Ben's wife. It was a difficult, painful conversation. The amazing thing is that in this conversation she spoke less about herself and was more interested in knowing how I was dealing with the pain. A noble woman like no other."
You couldn't even tell your spouse that your client had died.
"I couldn’t tell her anything. She was familiar with these conversations, when I would go into a room and talk, and she understood that it had to do with the secret case I was handling. But she didn't understand exactly what it was about and she knew she was not allowed to ask.
"It was a very difficult night. I didn't fall asleep. In the morning, all I wanted to do was to go and see Ben's wife. I opened the door to her house, went in and we just embraced one another for a long time. She gave me a brave hug without speaking. Those were very difficult days for me, perhaps the most difficult days I have ever experienced in my life."
Did you feel more relieved when the story was published and you could talk about it a bit?
"My wife is the only person who I allowed myself to tell about my distress and the scars I have been carrying since the incident. She has always been my support, and most definitely in this case. I still find myself thinking about Ben occasionally. When the affair broke in the media, I felt bad. It took me back to those bitter and dreadful days. Seeing that face again with the blue eyes, experiencing those emotions."
Is that why you postponed the interview several times?
"Possibly. It's difficult for me."
Mazor took a flight to Australia for Zygier's funeral. Ben's coffin was in the same plane's cargo hold.
"I traveled with two people from the organization Ben belonged to," Mazor recounts. "One of them knew him very well. It's a 24-hours flight with a 12-hour layover in Bangkok. I don't think I fell asleep during this flight. I kept thinking about Ben and about the entire past year. Flashbacks jumped back and forth. I thought about his wife. By the way, his wife took an earlier flight and sent me a text message that her last request is for me to take care of him during the long journey he is about to take.
"We landed in Australia and traveled to the parents' home. It's an unbearable situation when a mother foresees her son's death, and you are there to explain that there were horrible failures in guarding him. This is the son she raised to contribute to the Jewish state, her pride and joy. I stood at the entrance to the parents' home with trembling knees. I felt like I couldn't go in and see the parents in their unbearable situation.
Zygier's grave. 'The day he died was one of the most difficult days of my life' (Photo: Reuters)
"I went in, and the mother and father gave me a very warm hug. The first question she asked me was if I had managed to get some rest on the flight, if I would like anything to drink or eat and if I could even talk. She, in her grief and before anything else, made sure to ask how I was and how I felt instead of talking about how she felt. It's the nobility which characterizes these special people.
"The funeral itself was a very difficult experience too. One of the eulogizers was a man from the organization. He got off the stage with a gloomy face. I indicated to him that it was a respectable speech, and he approached me and whispered in my ear, "I have been in quite a few difficult situation in my life, and this is probably the most difficult situation I have ever experienced.' I understood exactly what he meant."
And what about you? Do you have bad feelings towards the state following this affair?
"My bad feeling has to do with the IPS' conduct. I believe there was a shocking failure here. It's a situation which speaks for itself: A man whose freedom is taken away from him and who is placed in a closed and isolated cell is a man in danger of committing suicide. The IPS failed big time, and the investigating judge wrote that in her decision in clear language."
And when you summarize those turbulent months, would you say Ben was an innocent man who got in trouble? A Zionist who made a foolish mistake? Or a man who betrayed his country?
"Some of the reports which came out after the affair broke are inaccurate, to say the least. As a person who is very familiar with the details, I am telling you that Ben did not betray his country. The situation he got caught in is far from being categorized under 'traitor.'"
Do you understand the decision made by the State Prosecutor's Office not to file any charges following Ben's death?
"No, I really don’t understand that decision. We're not looking to destroy people, but it's important for a country to create deterrence so that such cases don't repeat themselves.
"I can tell you that at the end of the procedure I met with the parents and delivered the decision made by the investigating judge. They read every word with utmost interest and asked many questions. At the end, mainly with the mother, I saw a certain of sigh of relief. They wanted to believe that Israel was a law-abiding state, and when they read the investigation report they realized that is the way things are. It made them feel good.
"I remember the feeling of satisfaction that the tragic affair which turned their serene life into an ongoing nightmare was not swept under the rug, and that the Israeli court's criticism against the IPS was scathing and significant."
The State Prosecutor's Office offered the following response to this interview: "The decision made by the State Prosecutor's Office not to prosecute any of the people involved in the affair was made public on April 25, 2013, seeing that in light of the strength of the evidence and the enforcement policy in regards to the offense of causing death by negligence, it could not be determined on the required criminal level that IPS officials and others involved in supervising the deceased should have foreseen his suicide.
"Moreover, it was impossible to point to a casual connection between the flaws in the supervision and the fatal outcome. The full decision is 12 pages long and elaborates on the different considerations and misgivings, which will not be presented here due to their length, and the public is invited to review it."
The IPS said in response: "The Israel Prison Service has completed its review of the discussed affair and we do not see it fit to address any comment made on the matter."