I did not seek to harm Israel, but rather to warn of an enormous danger. I do not seek to harm Israel now. I want to work for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. I want the human race to survive, Mordechai Vanunu.
Mordechai Vanunu – Israel
The Vanunu Story :
Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician, completed his entire 18-year sentence in Israel’s Ashkelon Prison on April 21, 2004, for blowing the whistle on his government’s secret nuclear weapons program. Captured by Israeli agents on September 30, 1986, he spent more than 11 1/2 years in solitary confinement.
One of 11 children of Moroccan Jewish parents who emigrated to Israel in 1963, when he was 9 years old, Vanunu served in the Israeli army and then went to work as a young man in the Dimona nuclear “research center” in the Negev Desert near his home at Beersheba. The facility harbored an underground plutonium separation plant operated in strictest secrecy. As the years went by he grew increasingly troubled as he realized his work was part of Israel’s nuclear bomb program. In 1985, before leaving Dimona, he took extensive photographs inside the factory in order to document the truth for his fellow citizens and the entire world.
Traveling through Asia with the film in his backpack, Vanunu made his way to Sydney, Australia, where he found companionship in an Anglican church social justice community with whom he shared the story of his nuclear background. In Sydney he also converted to Christianity and was baptized in July, 1986. A British newspaper, the London Sunday Times, learned of his story and sent a reporter to Sydney to check it out. The newspaper then flew Vanunu to England, where his photos and facts were further checked by British scientists familiar with nuclear weapons. Vanunu’s story, published October 5, 1986, gave the world its first authoritative confirmation that tiny Israel had become a major nuclear weapons power, with material for as many as 200 nuclear warheads of advanced design.
Israeli agents got early wind of Vanunu’s intentions. Even before publication of the story they had lured him from Britain, abducted him in Italy, and dumped his drugged body onto an Israeli cargo vessel bound for Israel. In the following months he was charged with espionage and treason and convicted at a closed-door trial. All legal appeals were exhausted, and he was consistently denied parole or probation.
For the first 11 1/2 years of his imprisonment Vanunu was held in solitary confinement, denied human contact except with his guards, a lawyer, a priest, and the occasional visits of his siblings. This treatment was condemned by Amnesty International as ” cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”
On March 12, 1998, he was released into the prison population but was still subject to many restrictions – no contact with Palestinian prisoners, no phone use and his mail was censored. During the last 6 years he spent in prison, Vanunu was also able to have occasional visits with Nicholas and Mary Eoloff, the St. Paul, Minnesota couple who adopted him in the fall of 1997.
Despite years of isolation in prison, Vanunu remains steadfast in his belief that what he did was necessary and right. He was released on April 21, 2004, but the Israeli government imposed severe restrictions on his movement and speech, including the condition that he is not allowed to leave the country.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel represented Vanunu in an appeal of the restrictions to the High Court. In July, the Court rejected the appeal, on the grounds that Vanunu “might be in possession of additional secrets he had not yet revealed”. Vanunu continues to assert that he has no more secrets, and told everything he knew to the London Sunday Times when he blew the whistle in 1986.
At a mandated six-month review in October, 2004, the restrictions were renewed.
On November 11, 30 armed Israeli police stormed St. George’s Cathedral and arrested Vanunu. (He had been given sanctuary there by the Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, and has been living there since his release from prison.) He was questioned about his interviews with foreign press, which he conducted in open defiance of the restrictions, believing the restrictions to be a violation of his freedom of speech. He was released late that night to a week of house arrest.
Vanunu was also detained on Christmas Eve, December 24, as he attempted to enter the off-limits West Bank city of Bethlehem for worship at the Church of the Nativity. He was released several hours later to five days of house arrest.
The next review of Mordechai Vanunu’s restrictions will take place on April 21, 2005. There is continued pressure from campaigns, supporters and anti-nuclear and human rights activists around the world, urging Israel to lift the restrictions and let him go. An international delegation will go to Israel April 18-22.
Vanunu is very much looking forward to his complete freedom and the end of his long ordeal, and hopes to soon be able to leave Israel and begin a new life.
Final letter (see this link): July, 2005, Dear friends, By mutual consent of Mordechai Vanunu and campaign coordinators, the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu has ended.
On April 21, 2004, Mordechai Vanunu walked out of the prison that had confined him for nearly 18 years. A few months ago, on the one year anniversary of his release, the draconian restrictions imposed then upon his freedom of speech, association and travel were up for review. Several dozen of us from around the world gathered with Mordechai in East Jerusalem in the days leading up to the review, hopeful that he would soon be free to leave Israel. We held a public meeting and a press conference to denounce the restrictions. We vigiled at Dimona, the Ministries of Justice and Defense, and the Knesset, where a legislative committee hearing on Mordechai’s restrictions finally took place on April 19.
Despite our hopes, all of Mordechai’s restrictions were renewed. Unless they’re lifted, Mordechai won’t be able to leave Israel until at least April 2006.
The U.S. Campaign continued this past year, after discussion with Mordechai in the days immediately following his release from prison, because he is not totally free. But, as he has recently pointed out, he is no longer in prison, and he can now speak and act on his own behalf. He remains in sanctuary at St. George’s Cathedral. He has the assistance of lawyers as he awaits word about a court date for the 22 count indictment he was handed in March, charging him with violating his restrictions.
You can contact Mordechai Vanunu directly c/o Cathedral Church of St. George, 20 Nablus Road, PO Box 19018, Jerusalem 91190, Israel and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu was initiated in the summer of 1992, after Sam Day, Kathy Kelly and other Americans on an international peace walk in Israel/Palestine learned of Mordechai’s plight from Israeli Vanunu supporter Gideon Spiro. When they returned home they started the U.S. Campaign, wanting to encourage public support in this country for Vanunu and his freedom, while promoting his universal message of nuclear disarmament and an end to nuclear secrecy.
It was this small group of anti-nuclear and peace activists who got things underway – also among them Mary Lou Pederson, Mike Bremer, Charles Carney, John Landgraf and Jim
Rissman – but this campaign could not have continued without the contributions of so many of you. Thousands of people over the years wrote letters to Mordechai, contacted government officials here and in Israel, held vigils and fundraisers, lobbied Congress for support, signed petitions, organized and attended meetings, hosted visiting speakers, attended the campaign’s conference in Washington, D.C. in 2000, brought the Israeli play “Mr. V” to their community, contributed money to the campaign, wrote articles, and spoke about Mordechai’s case at conferences, rallies and other gatherings.
Without all of these many efforts, there wouldn’t have been a campaign. Countless hours were given to spreading the word about Mordechai’s case, pressing for his immediate release, and giving voice to our shared goal of nuclear disarmament. While in the end it was not in our power to win Mordechai’s early release from prison, we did keep the pressure on Israel, and who knows how much worse his treatment would have been without it? Together, we were successful in keeping Vanunu’s name and urgent message out in the public eye, during a time when his own communication with the outside world was severely restrained by prison censors. So I would like to say, thank you and well done!
Although there are too many to name them all, I would like to give special thanks to some of the people who played a vital role in the U.S. Campaign over the years, in addition to those named above.
First and foremost among those who need to be recognized is Sam Day, who worked tirelessly as campaign coordinator till he died of a stroke in January, 2001. Sam had campaigned for many years for an end to nuclear secrecy, himself spending time in prison for acts of anti-nuclear civil disobedience, and he strongly, passionately believed in the importance of courageous acts of whistleblowing such as Mordechai Vanunu’s. Without a doubt, the U.S. Campaign would not have lasted as long as it did nor have been as successful as it has been without his tremendous efforts. Thanks also to his wife Kathleen, who helped with the work of the campaign in so many ways.
Special gratitude also goes to Nick and Mary Eoloff, of St. Paul, Minnesota, whose simple yet powerful act of love and support in adopting Mordechai led to scores of subsequent interviews and articles about them and their adopted son, and to accepting several honors on his behalf. Their legal relationship gave them the rare opportunity to visit Mordechai in prison, and with assistance from the U.S. Campaign, they traveled to Israel repeatedly over seven years to bring tremendously important human contact to their imprisoned son.
* to my husband and campaign associate coordinator Jack Cohen-Joppa, who helped with many of the tasks once the campaign moved to our Tucson home office: from mailing list upkeep, newsletter editing and lay-out, to grant writing, press releases, email updates… not to mention dealing with the campaign email, phone calls, etc. and staying home to take care of our children whenever I went to Israel;
* to Gail Vaughn, who quietly did so much to keep the world informed about Mordechai’s case and campaign activities as webmaster of the U.S. Campaign’s informative and action-oriented internet website;
* for the support and input along the way from associate coordinator Art Laffin, as well as Scott Shaeffer-Duffy, Barry Roth, Eurydice Hirsey, Mary Miller and others;
* to Jeanie Shaterian, Garry Lambrev, Mark Gaffney, Hal Carlstad, Cynthia Johnson, the late Yani Herdes and others in the San Francisco Bay Area campaign for their steady work of outreach and activities over the years, beginning well before the U .S. Campaign began in 1992;
* to the people at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House and others who kept a monthly vigil at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. going for 11 years, and to many others who held occasional vigils in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Atlanta, Chicago and elsewhere;
* to those who were arrested for acts of civil disobedience in calling for Mordechai’s freedom and a nuclear free Middle East;
* to those who joined our important delegations to Israel;
* to the faithful gang in Tucson (and before, in Madison) who stuffed, sealed, labeled and stamped several thousand envelopes whenever it was time to get a newsletter mailed out;
* to those who lobbied Congress, urging support for Mordechai, including Tim Rieger and Harriet Tanzman, who Sam hired in Washington, D.C. to help him with that effort;
* to faith communities, including synogogues, churches and Catholic Worker communities, and groups such as the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Jewish Peace Fellowship and Pax Christi, who worked and prayed for Mordechai’s freedom;
* to Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Browning, Dr. Hugh Dewitt, Dr. Vil Mirzayanov, Rabbi Philip Bentley and Thomas Cochran from the U.S. who participated with other international figures in the groundbreaking 1996 conference in Tel Aviv, “Democracy, Human Rights and Mordechai Vanunu”;
* to U.S. nuclear weapons designer Dr. Ray Kidder for his research and subsequent letter to the Israeli judiciary certifying that Vanunu had no more secrets to reveal;
* to Bonnie Urfer, John Laforge and others at the Progressive Foundation, which served as the campaign’s fiscal sponsor;
* to Resist, Inc., for regularly funding the work of the campaign;
* to Jennifer Harbury for her past year’s work on amicus briefs and other legal support;
* to Mordechai’s brother Meir Vanunu, and Israeli campaigners Gideon Spiro and Yael Lotan for undertaking U.S. speaking tours and more to help spread the word.
One of the many gifts associated with working on this campaign for the past 10 years was meeting, corresponding, and working with so many wonderful people here in the U.S. and around the world. The solidarity that became evident when we joined together for our international delegations, and held vigils in cities around the world on a given day, was powerful as well as inspiring. In this international work and coordination of activities, special thanks go to Ernest Rodker (U.K.), Rayna Moss (Israel) and Fredrik Heffermehl (Norway).
After Jack and I finish organizing the campaign archives and ship them for preservation and public access to the Wisconsin State Historical Society, I’ll pay the final bills and we will close the campaign account. The remainder of the campaign money is then for Mordechai, and will be sent to his account in St. Paul, Minnesota, as he’s requested. Archives of the website will be kept at www.nonviolence.org/vanunu
In the U.K., where Vanunu’s public ordeal began, the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear-Free Middle East will continue to work for a nuclear free Middle East, and support people who are imprisoned or put under pressure for their anti-nuclear activities. Now called the Campaign for a Nuclear-Free Middle East, you can contact them at 146 Arnold Rd., N15 4JH London, UK, (phone)+44 208 808 7568, (email) email@example.com and visit their website at www.vanunu.freeserve.co.uk
Jack and I will return to regular publishing and editing of the Nuclear Resister, a newsletter we began publishing in 1980 to provide information about and support for imprisoned anti-nuclear and anti-war activists. The Nuclear Resister will continue to report on legal developments affecting Mordechai Vanunu as we have since 1987, along with reports about many more prisoners of conscience. If you would like to receive a free copy of the next issue, due out this summer, please send your postal address to firstname.lastname@example.org or the Nuclear Resister, PO Box 43383, Tucson, AZ 85733.
We very much hope that Mordechai Vanunu will soon have the total freedom he has long deserved. And we hope you will continue to join us, and Mordechai, and many others around the world, in carrying on the important struggle for a nuclear-free future. Best wishes, Felice Cohen-Joppa.
Mordechai Vanununs en français/in french au Reseau Voltaire le 17 octobre 2005;
Mordechai Vanunu and Wikipedia;