A prisoner of Israel’s petty vindictiveness
The life of nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician employed at Israel’s Dimona facility, is being deliberately and cruelly left in limbo. He has paid a heavy price for exposing his country’s once best-kept secret, complete with photographic evidence, to the Sunday Times in 1986, and is still being made to pay.
His journey of conscience has been captured by Hollywood movie “Secret Weapon,” and is told by Peter Hounam in his book “The Woman from Mossad: The Story of Mordechai Vanunu and the Israeli Nuclear Program.”
Vanunu fell for an Israeli honey-trap operation. Lured to Rome by a female Israeli undercover operative, he was kidnapped by Mossad and forcibly taken to Israel, where he received an 18-year prison sentence, 11 of them in solitary confinement, during which he refused to converse with his guards.
He served his time long ago, and all he wants now is to be unshackled from crippling restrictions barring him from traveling abroad to re-join his Norwegian wife. He is barred from speaking to foreigners and owning a cell phone. Last year, while visiting a book store, he chatted to foreign tourists and within no time was dragged away by police.
He has to inform the authorities in advance of his movements and the names of people he plans to meet, and is obliged to report any change in his living quarters. Whenever he is suspected of breaching those harsh conditions, he is imprisoned or placed under house arrest.
On Jan. 18, a judge considered allegations that he had moved address (he had relocated to a different floor in the same building), discussed nuclear secrets and spoken with foreign nationals. He was found guilty of meeting with foreigners in 2013.
He has applied to courts on numerous occasions to be divested of his Israeli citizenship, but was refused because he had no other passport. Over the years, he has appealed to Norway, Demark and Canada, among other countries, for asylum.
Although he has met with sympathetic ears, his applications — championed by international human rights organizations — have to date been turned down. He believes revocation of his citizenship will open the door to another country, another life, a place where he is no longer treated as a pariah or vilified for his conversion to Christianity.
On Monday, he once again reiterated a message to the Supreme Court that has been rejected over and over again: “Give me my freedom.” Every year he makes the same plea with renewed hope. On this occasion, as always, government lawyers advised the three judges that he is a security risk. He awaits the court’s decision in coming weeks, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.
“Thirty years of ongoing restrictions is a big shame on Israel’s democracy,” he wrote. “There is no real justification. It is just revenge like in the old Soviet regime. This is a conspiracy by Israeli intelligence to isolate me. Even when I’m out of prison, foreigners are afraid to meet me. So this is a new type of Israeli prison.”
He is right. There is no justification. More than 30 years have passed since he worked at Dimona. Any secrets he gleaned are already out there. He has no other information to share. How could he when he has been jailed for so long and any news he had is old news?
Israel has never denied building nuclear weapons, preferring to keep what it describes as a policy of nuclear ambiguity, which its Western allies do their utmost to play along with. Israel is not recognized as a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even though it has been making nuclear bombs since the 1960s. Its activities in this field are thus not subject to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The BBC’s “Newsnight” program revealed documentary evidence that the UK secretly shipped specialist chemicals and fissile material such as uranium, plutonium and enriched lithium to Israel during the 1950s and 1960s, as well as heavy water destined for Dimona.
Israel not only has a stockpile of nuclear weapons, but deliberated deploying them as a last resort in the early days of the 1973 war. And according to Haaretz newspaper, “Israel again reportedly considered using atomic weapons in response to the Scud missile attacks launched by (late Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.”
It is time that Israel dropped its sham pretexts for ruining the life of a man considered a hero by many around the world. He has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize multiple times, but has asked to be taken off the list because one of its winners was Shimon Peres, the father of Israel’s nuclear program and the man who ordered his kidnapping.
In 2005, he was awarded the Norwegian People’s Peace Prize for his courageous action to protect the world against destruction in a nuclear holocaust, and he has received several others.
Vanunu no longer thinks of himself as Israeli. He presents no danger to the Israeli state, and at 62 all he seeks is a little happiness in his twilight years. Pettiness and grudge-bearing are not democratic values. Even for purely PR purposes, allowing this captured person of principle to break the virtual bars of his cage would be beneficial for all concerned.
• Linda S. Heard is an author and columnist specializing in Middle East affairs.