OVER the past week, two portraits have emerged of the man called "Prisoner X".
In one, we have a purported Mossad agent under investigation by ASIO for his work as an Israeli spy, a dual citizen with multiple aliases charged with unknown offences (perhaps treason), and who died alone in the cell of a maximum security prison in Israel one week after his 34th birthday. It is a picture made murky by official obfuscation and confidentiality.
The other mosaic of the man is of blue-eyed Melbourne boy Ben Zygier, son of Geoffrey and Louise, brother of Tully. This image is also shrouded, only this time because Melbourne's Jewish community has closed ranks, partially out of respect for a traumatised family and partially because so much is unknown.
Zygier grew up in the comfortable suburb of Malvern, and attended Chabad House, a synagogue near the confluence of well-heeled Toorak and Kooyong. It is the congregation of (among others) retail billionaire Solomon Lew. A bright and studious learner, he went to Wesley College and then Bialik College, graduating from the latter in 1993. He completed a law degree at Monash in 2001, and later began an MBA at the same university. He started articles at law firm Deacons (now Norton Rose) in 2001, became a junior lawyer there and left in 2002. But these are the places - not the person.
Patrick Durkin, a journalist with The Australian Financial Review, completed his articles with Zygier. This week he remembered an open and engaged friend who enjoyed recounting "his famous story of taking a bullet in the posterior during his military service in Israel". He recalled an informal footy tournament where "five-foot something Ben dominated on the ball", but also cerebral debates on the Israel-Palestine conflict with "a serious young man who was largely aloof from the rest of our tight-knit group".
The only person in the Jewish community to speak publicly has been family friend Henry Greener, who described Zygier as "one of the top kids in Melbourne".
"He did all of the things that we all did. He wasn't a loner. He was part of the social world, but not excessively," Greener said. "He was the nicest kid that I knew. When he saw me he would give me a big hug. We're all still gutted. We know that he died under suspicious circumstances, and there's nothing you can do, and that's the biggest frustration."
Other friends, speaking on condition of anonymity, called him "sweet", "focused", "serious, but with a joking side", "committed to anything he did", "super intelligent" and with a wide circle of mates - one of whom noted that the community was shocked, confused and "genuinely concerned and disturbed for his family, and hope that this will be resolved and understood. It's a world quite removed from us."