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Vanunu's Ongoing Persecution in Israel
Editor’s Note: Mordechai Vanunu stands as one of the premier whistleblowers in the nuclear age, having exposed what has remained a topic never officially acknowledged by U.S. presidents and rarely discussed in the U.S. news media: Israel’s possession of a large and sophisticated nuclear arsenal.
In 1986, after turning over photographic evidence of Israel’s nuclear program to a London newspaper, Vanunu was lured to Rome, where he was kidnapped by Israeli agents who smuggled him back to Israel, where he was tried for treason and imprisoned for 18 years.
After his release in 2004, he was barred from speaking with foreign journalists and – when he resisted those restrictions – he was prosecuted again and returned to prison, as author Eileen Fleming describes in this guest article:
On May 23, 2010, Mordechai Vanunu began a three-month sentence in solitary confinement on charges of speaking to foreign media in 2004. On Sunday, July 11, 2010, his brother Meir was allowed to visit him for 30 minutes.
Vanunu’s friend, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, reported: "There was a glass window between them and they spoke via the phone. He wore a prison uniform. He is held in the hardest prison section there is in the prison. It has the most notorious criminals in the country, well known hard murder cases. All about a dozen are in severe isolation conditions.
“He is in a cell by himself for 24 hours a day, no window but a small wire covered crack at the top part of one wall. He has about an hour’s walk a day in a very tiny yard. He was simply thrown in a cell by the security agents, the door locked, and left to suffer there all alone. He has not spoken to anyone in all the seven weeks and this visit was (apart from a short visit of his lawyer 6 weeks ago) the first conversation he had in seven weeks.
“His food is limited in quality and quantity, and his reading material two books he has with him. Of course his spirits are down as a result of being put in such harsh, inhuman and cruel conditions."
It is well known why Vanunu was originally kidnapped by Israeli agents in Rome and spirited back to Israel for a trial on treason charges: because he had provided photographic evidence to the Sunday Times of London proving the existence of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program at the Dimona facility in the Negev, where Vanunu had worked as a technician.
In a 2003 BBC documentary, Peter Hounam stated, “Vanunu told the world that Israel had developed between one hundred and two hundred atomic bombs [in 1986] and had gone on to develop neutron bombs and thermonuclear weapons. Enough to destroy the entire Middle East and nobody has done anything about it since.”
As punishment for revealing Israel’s nuclear secrets, Vanunu was imprisoned for 18 years in a windowless tomb-sized jail cell, including 11 years in solitary confinement, before being released on April 21, 2004.
Some Israeli journalists suspect that the harshness of Vanunu’s treatment was, in part, a reprisal from powerful figures in Israel who were embarrassed by the breach in security that Vanunu’s action had revealed.
In 2004, Israeli journalist Yossi Melman wrote for Haaretz: "This is the secret that hasn't yet been told in the affair: the story of the security fiasco that made it possible for Vanunu to do what he did, and the story of the subsequent attempts at cover-up, whitewashing and protection of senior figures in the defense establishment, who were bent on divesting themselves of responsibility for the failure.
"The 18-year prison term to which Vanunu was sentenced is almost exactly the same period as that in which Yehiel Horev has served as chief of internal security in the defense establishment [who has been] involved in the affair as deputy chief of security at the Defense Ministry, and also after Vanunu's abduction and arrest, as a member of an investigative commission."
Melman described Horev as devoted to duty, bland, petty and acutely suspicious with a penchant for vengefulness.
"The affairs of the secrets that leaked from the two places considered Horev's holiest sites - the Biological Institute, which produced a senior spy in the person of Prof. Marcus Klingberg, and the Dimona nuclear plant, about which secret information was revealed through Mordechai Vanunu - were formative events in the development of his world view.
“Shortly after taking office as chief of security at the Defense Ministry, Horev began to take punitive measures to hobble Vanunu. He is responsible for the harsh conditions in which Vanunu was held, which included years in solitary confinement, and the sharp limitations on the number of visitors he could have [and has fought] a rearguard battle to prevent Vanunu from leaving Israel and to place him under supervision and restrictions that will be tantamount to house arrest.
“Horev has always been considered the strictest of all the security chiefs in Israel, especially in regard to the protection of institutions such as the Dimona facility and the Biological Institute. He is apprehensive that if Vanunu goes abroad, he will continue to be a nuisance by stimulating the public debate over Israel's nuclear policy and the nuclear weapons he says Israel possesses…
“All the hyperactivity being displayed by Horev and those who support his approach is intended only to divert attention from what has not yet been revealed: the security blunders and their cover-ups."
The story of why Israel persists in persecuting Vanunu via a restriction barring him from speaking with foreign media has become another mystery.
As Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist, wrote at the time of Vanunu’s release: "Everybody understands that he has no more secrets. What can a technician know after 18 years in jail, during which technology has advanced with giant steps?
"But gradually it becomes clear what the security establishment is really afraid of. Vanunu is in a position to expose the close partnership with the United States in the development of Israel's nuclear armaments.
"This worries Washington so much, that the man responsible in the State Department for 'arms control', Under-Secretary John Bolton, has come to Israel in person for the occasion. Vanunu, it appears, can cause severe damage to the mighty super-power.
"The Americans, it seems, are very worried. The Israeli security services have to dance to their tune. The world must be prevented by all available means from hearing, from the lips of a credible witness, that the Americans are full partners in Israel's nuclear arms program, while pretending to be the world's sheriff for the prevention of nuclear proliferation."
Israeli authorities subjected Vanunu to 24/7 surveillance after his release, tracking his movements, phone calls and e-mails, citing powers from the Emergency Defense Regulations, which were implemented by Britain against Palestinians and Jews after World War II.
Attorney Yaccov Shapiro, who later became Israel's Minister of Justice, described the Emergency Defense Regulations as "unparalleled in any civilized country: there were no such laws in Nazi Germany."
Despite the restrictions placed on Vanunu’s communications, he was determined to tell his story, including his insights into how Israel sought to manipulate its American ally.
In 2005, Vanunu told me: "President Kennedy tried to stop Israel from building atomic weapons. Kennedy insisted on an open internal inspection.
"When Johnson became president, he made an agreement with Israel that two senators would come every year to inspect. Before the senators would visit, the Israelis would build a wall to block the underground elevators and stairways. From 1963 to ’69, the senators came, but they never knew about the wall that hid the rest of the Dimona from them.
"Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation. As a result, Israel increased production. In 1986, there were over two hundred bombs. Today, they may have enough plutonium for ten bombs a year."
Vanunu also complained about the unwillingness of powerful U.S. news organizations to present his case to the American people.
On March 26, 2006, Vanunu told me: "Many journalists come here to the American Colony [hotel in East Jerusalem] from CNN and NY Times. They all want to cover my story, but their EDITORS say no...CNN wants to interview me; but they say they can't do it because they don't want problems with the Israeli censor. BBC is doing the same thing.
"’Sixty Minutes’ from the United States from the beginning they wanted to do a program, but because of the censor situation they decide not to do it. Also big media from Germany, France, Italy, Japan. None of them wants problems with the Israelis."
Vanunu’s resistance to the restrictions placed on his communications and movements led to another prosecution.
On Nov. 24, 2006, Vanunu wrote: "My lawyer succeeded to reveal a few very important facts: This General of the Army also was not allowed to see all the secrets that he is required to protect by these restrictions that they claim I know them.
“So, he gave orders of restrictions without knowing what he is protecting or that he is also following orders blindly, and Mossad Shin Bet using its authority for just punishing me. He testified that it is not a crime for me to talk with foreigners in general anywhere.
“He testified that I can speak freely to any Israeli citizens about anything; it is not his concern what I am saying to them. These Israelis can give this information to any foreigners. It was difficult for the Judge to understand why this dichotomy exists between foreigners and Israelis. It means that it is not about secrecy but about something else."
On April 30, 2007, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, convicted Vanunu on 14 [out of 21] counts of violating a court order prohibiting him from speaking to foreign journalists in 2004.
Vanunu was also convicted for traveling the four miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem when he hoped to attend Christmas Eve mass at the Church of the Nativity, his first Christmas after being released from jail.
On July 2, 2007, Israel sentenced Vanunu to six more months in jail. On Sept. 23, 2008, the Jerusalem District Court reduced Vanunu’s sentence to three months "in light of his ailing health and the absence of claims that his actions put the country’s security in jeopardy."
The Israeli Supreme Court refused Vanunu’s offer to do three months of community service in Arab East Jerusalem, the only community he has known since his release. The Court insisted Vanunu must serve in West Jerusalem, which is 99 percent Jewish-populated, but Vanunu feared attack there by angry Israelis, many of whom consider him a traitor.
I began the taping of “30 Minutes with Vanunu” with this question: "If the British Mandate has expired why not the British Mandate's Emergency Defense Regulations?"
Vanunu replied, "The reason given is security but it is because Israel is not a democracy unless you are a Jew. This administration tells me I am not allowed to speak to foreigners, the media, and the world. But I do because that is how I prove my true humanity to the world.
“My freedom of speech trial began Jan. 25, 2006, for speaking to the media, the same day as the Palestinian elections."
There are also questions about Israel’s misuse of law in its initial arrest and prosecution of Vanunu. Israel kidnapped him in Italy in 1986, but Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention," including abduction of a person by agents of one state to another state.
Vanunu was charged with and convicted of treason and espionage. Yet, in Section 99 of the Israeli Penal Code, treason is defined as "an act calculated to assist (an enemy) in time of war...delivering information with the intention that it fall into the hands of the enemy."
Section 113 defines aggravated espionage as "deliver(ing) any secret information without being authorized to do so and with intent to impair the security of the state" and a sub-clause provides for a penalty of seven years for the unauthorized collection, preparation, recording or holding of secret information; if this is done with intent to impair the security of the state and then, the penalty is increased to 15 years.
During my interviews with Vanunu, he informed me that "All the secrets I had were published in 1989 in an important book, by Frank Barnaby, The Invisible Bomb: Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East."
Barnaby, the nuclear physicist who was hired by the London Sunday Times to interrogate Vanunu and test out his veracity, testified at Vanunu’s closed-door trial, "I very vigorously cross-examined Vanunu, relentlessly asking the same questions in a number of different ways and at different times...
“I found Vanunu very straightforward about his motives for violating Israel's secrecy laws; he explained to me that he believed that both the Israeli and the world public had the right to know about the information he passed on. He seemed to me to be acting ideologically."
But Vanunu was rendered defenseless during that closed-door trial when the court ruled that his motivations were not ideological, and they refused to allow Vanunu's own statements regarding his intentions to even be considered in his defense.
Prisoner of Conscience
On May 23, 2010, the Israeli Supreme returned Vanunu to jail where he was put back in solitary confinement.
On June, 18, 2010, Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East Programme stated: "Mordechai Vanunu should not be in prison at all, let alone be held in solitary confinement in a unit intended for violent criminals.
“He suffered immensely when he was held in solitary confinement for 11 years after his imprisonment in 1986 and to return him to such conditions now is nothing less than cruel, inhuman or degrading.
“Mordechai Vanunu is a prisoner of conscience. The prison authorities might claim that he has been put in isolation to protect him from the risk of attack by other inmates, but if the Israeli government is really concerned for his safety it should release him without delay. His re-imprisonment is both harsh and unjustified.
“The restrictions on Mordechai Vanunu arbitrarily limit his rights to freedom of movement, expression and association and are therefore in breach of international law. They should be lifted and he should be allowed to start his life again as a free man."
The day before Vanunu returned to jail he e-mailed me:
From: Vanunu Mordechai J C.
Date: Sat, May 22, 2010 at 5:10 AM
Subject: SHAME ON YOU
SHAME ON YOU.
ISRAEL VERY STUPID SPIES.
MOSSAD SHABACK FOR PUTTING ME BACK IN PRISON AFTER 24 YEARS FOR SPEAKING THE TRUTH.
SHAME ON YOU. ISRAEL MEDIA STUPID SPIES, HAAREZ EDIOT AHARONOT MAARIVE FOR SELF DECEPTION.
SHAME ON YOU. ISRAEL DEMOCRACY, KNESET=BET KNESET=SINAGOUGS DEMOCRACY FOR NOT LEARNING IN 2000 YEARS THAT THE BASIC RIGHT IN DEMOCRACY IS FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
SHAME ON YOU. ALL WORLD MEDIA BBC PPC CNN ABC CBS NBC FOX SKY HERALD TRIBUNE NEW YORK TIMES AND ALL THE WORLD MEDIA NRK NHK STA WD ZDF 24 FRANCE ALZAJJIRA SUNDAY TIMES FOR LET SUCH CASE HAPPENING AND NOT PROTECT FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
SHAME ON YOU ALL THE ARABS STUPID SPIES FROM EGYPT TO DUBAI SAUDI,LEBANON.JORDAN FOR LET ME GO BACK TO PRISON.
SHAME ON YOU. US SENATE CONGRESS WHITE HOUSE. UN IAEA MOHAMED ELBARADY FOR NOT PROTECTING MY FREEDOM.
SHAME ON YOU ALL THE RELIGIOUS STUPID SPIES JEWS, CHRISTIAN, MUSLIMS, BIG SHAME ON YOU FOR NOT BRINGING MY RELEASE IN 24 YEARS, RELIGION IS BIG BULLSHIT SHOW,
SHAME ON YOU.ALL THE WORLD STUPID SPIES CIA FBI MI5 MI6 AND ALL THE STUPID SPIES OF EVERY STATE WHO WANT ME BACK IN PRISON YOU WILL NOT GET ANY THING FROM ME.
FREEDOM AND ONLY FREEDOM WILL SURVIVE AND CONTINUE FOR EVER,
VMJC FREEDOM AND ONLY FREEDOM I NEED NOW.
VANUNU MORDECHAI John Crossman.
KIDNAPPED IN ROME SEP' 30 TH'-1986.
18 YEARS IN ISRAEL PRISON.OUT IN APR'-21-2004.
Waiting In East Jerusalem. To Be Free, To Leave.
Eileen Fleming produced "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu." She is the founder of WeAreWideAwake.org and author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American ‘Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory. You can hear Vanunu speak for himself in 2005, 2006 and 2008 video interviews freely streaming @ http://wearewideawake.org, “The Vanunu Saga, 2005-2010.”
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