MORDECHAI VANUNU - in for endless persecution?
A LONG OVERDUE RELEASE
TIME FOR ISRAEL TO THANK, MAKE AMENDS AND MAKE
UP FOR INJUSTICE TO ANTI-NUCLEAR HERO
By Fredrik S. Heffermehl (copyright IPS Columnist service) International Peace Bureau Vice President and member of the International Vanunu Committee
Israeli media are sending mixed signals on what will happen with nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu at the end of his 18 years in jail, served under extreme circumstances - the first near 12 years in solitary confinement. It is hard to point to anyone who has endured a harsher punishment than Vanunu.
Since his arrest the Israeli government has created an image of Vanunu as public enemy number one, a spy and a traitor who hurt Israel´s security, since, in 1986, he gave photos of the interior of the Dimona nuclear bomb factory to a London newspaper, The Sunday Times.
According to recent press reports the Israeli security establishment is planning a "restrictions package" for Vanunu when he leaves jail on April 21 this year. Their claim, that Vanunu still has information harmful to Israeli security, is seen as an empty pretext by independent experts on nuclear arms.
Vanunu was subordinate technical staff, not a scientist. Whatever insight he may have had in 1986 was dated in the course of a few years. The idea that he should have anything to reveal today is laughable nonsense, says Sir Joseph Rotblat, the nuclear scientist and 1995 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
To continue to punish Vanunu runs against some fundamental principles of justice: that one who has served his time is a free citizen, and that you cannot sanction a person for wrongs he might do in the future.
The security establishment attitude towards Vanunu, may not hold much longer. Albeit unintentional, a TV debate in Israel Channel 10 (Tuesday), may have left many viewers with a new and more positive impression of Vanunu than the one prevalent in Israeli media for almost two decades.
In 2003 the international movement against nuclear weapons has welcomed major concessions from Syria, Libya and Iran, towards nuclear arms control. Should the Sharon government choose to continue to punish Vanunu, this would show a disappointing lack of appreciation, on the part of Israel, for the general progress towards the goal of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
No doubt Vanunu broke the extreme nuclear taboo and may still be needed as a scapegoat. Should the Israeli authorities permit the taboo to subside, the risk is that people in Israel may realize the precarious nature of nuclear security, and reject the idea, like some 80 to 93% of the populations in other countries, including nuclear weapon states like the US, UK and France.
Next, Israelis might even open up to a new view of Vanunu´s actual motives, and even come to the conclusion that Vanunu was right, and that the government´s nuclear program did put Israel´s existence at risk.
Vanunu´s poem "I´m Your Spy", is most telling on his actual motives. The poem (in Hebrew and other languages, on www.peaceispossible.info/Vanunu.html) circles around such themes as the moral responsibility of each individual not to be a mindless, willing tool. Vanunu felt that everyone - out of loyalty to society - has a duty to try to stop evil, dangerous plans. Vanunu rejected that you can build security on devises for total insecurity.
Hopefully, say Vanunu supporters around the world, the Israelis will now ask themselves what reason there is for doubting that his honest intention was to raise a democratic debate on a weapons program that he saw as an urgent threat to Israel, the region and the world?
- The nuclear danger is the dominating theme, repeated endlessly, in the prolific flow of letters from Vanunu´s prison cell. The authorities have censored his letters and would be hard put to show that there is anything but political discussions, warnings and criticism of nuclear security policies in his writings. Having read Vanunu´s letters for almost two decades, the security establishment knows the truth about Vanunu, it is time they tell the Israeli people, says Ernest Rodker in the UK campaign to free Vanunu, in fact, Vanunu is a political prisoner, denied his freedom of speech.
A respected journalist, Ra'anan Shaked, commenting on the Channel 10 TV debate, may well be a harbinger of new and favorable sentiments towards Vanunu. After mentioning Israel´s difficulties with protecting children and feeding the nation´s citizens, he asks "Who is its main threat?" and then, with scathing irony:"Of course, Mordechai Vanunu! He is the big danger S Israeli democracy simply cannot withstand the assault of this one man saying what every child knows: we have nuclear weapons!"
For his courage and moral standard, Vanunu became Honorary Doctor at the University of Tromsoe, Norway, in 2001. When this year´s deadline for Nobel Peace Prize nominations expired a week ago, Vanunu was again nominated by a.o. a number of professors and a parliamentarian. Many feel that Israel ought to thank Vanunu, make amends and make up for lost years between age 32 and 49.
In Israel pilots and privates now refuse to serve in the occupied territories. Several retired leaders of Israeli intelligence have become vocal critics of government policies that can only aggravate the confrontation with the Palestinians. With such security debates opening up, it may become possible for Israelis to see also Vanunu in a new light.The end of Vanunu´s almost two decades in jail may well end up as a moment of truth for Israel´s government and security establishment.
Fredrik S. Heffermehl