Mordechai Vanunu - still imprisoned by Israel?
Please read my latest report which was published by the Yorkshire Post in the UK. It's a feature about Mordechai Vanunu, the man who revealed to the world details of Israel's seret nuclear programme in 1986. Vanunu served 18 years in prison after being found guilty of treason and although released from prison in 1984, he remains in Jerusalem as Israel will not allow him to leave the country. Vanunu considers himself still a prisoner; Israel views him as a traitor.
I've pasted the text below if link broken.
FOR a brief spell during the 1980s, he was the focus of global media attention and he later became one of the world’s most famous prisoners of conscience. In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu revealed details of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons programme to an astonished world via an article published by The Sunday Times. In doing so, the nuclear expert caused a sensation and prompted an Israeli response straight from a John Le Carre novel, when he was lured to Italy from London by a femme fatale with Mossad and kidnapped during a classic honey-trap operation.
Now, some 17 years on from such seismic political events, Bradford University is home to a new archive which documents an international campaign to free a man who became famous as the ‘nuclear whistle-blower’.
Vanunu’s story is extraordinary. After being drugged in Italy by Mossad and transported to Israel to face a secret trial, he was found guilty of treason and spent 18 years in prison; 11 of those years were in solitary confinement.
The sentence handed down by an Israeli court in 1988 - viewed by many critics as draconian - provoked outrage from anti-nuclear supporters across the world who began campaigning to win Vanunu’s freedom. One of the most vocal and enduring groups was the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear Free Middle East (CFV), formed in London.
Bradford University's new archive documents the role of CFV which was officially started in 1991 by Vanunu’s brother, Meir. CFV attracted support from many famous people including writer Harold Pinter, musicians Peter Gabriel and Dave Gilmour, and actors Julie Christie, Susannah York and Prunella Scales. Active campaigners with CFV during the early 1990s included Ernest Rodker, Rami Heilbronn, Jenny Shubow, David Polden, Ossi Ron and Sabby Segal. It was Rodker who presented Bradford University with the Vanunu collection.
He explains: “I know Mike Randle from Bradford University’s Peace Studies Department so it seemed an appropriate place to house the collection which documents a major campaign. There are items such as photographs, press cuttings, communications with The Sunday Times, communications with MPs and the Israeli Embassy, and the minutes of many of our meetings. I still have letters Mordechai sent from Israel while he was in solitary confinement. It sometimes took six months for them to arrive in the UK, and then six months for him to receive our reply.”
The archive at Bradford University is about 1.5 metres long and covers the period 1987-2005, although most of the material relates to the early period of CFV.
Bradford University describes its latest acquisition as being “rich in detail” adding: “It shows how political, media and celebrity networks were used by campaigners during the 1990s, and is of interest not only for the study of nuclear issues but for social and cultural history.”
CFV was backed by - among others - Amnesty International - and although it never succeeded in its ultimate aim of securing Vanunu’s early release from jail, there were some uplifting moments for Rodker and his colleagues. In 1992, for example, supporters held a 24-hour vigil outside the Israeli Embassy in London to mark Vanunu’s 2000th day in solitary confinement. Demonstrators included violinist Nigel Kennedy and actor Timothy West, and a thirty-foot banner which read - ‘Vanunu – 2000 days in Solidarity’ - was displayed, alongside a wooden replica of Vanunu’s cell. But despite the high profile backing CFV received and years of international political pressure on Israel, Vanunu served the full sentence and remained imprisoned until the 21st April 2004. On the day of his release, he gave a press conference and accused Israel's security services of trying to drive him insane by keeping him in solitary confinement. Flashing the V-sign for victory, he added: “You didn't succeed to break me, you didn't succeed to make me crazy.”
It was a momentous day for Vanunu and his supporters but Israel imposed a number of parole restrictions which remain in place some nine years after his release. He is not allowed to leave Israel nor is he allowed to speak to foreigners. But Vanunu has been defiant and as a result of a series of parole violations he has been arrested and imprisoned again. His crimes included granting interviews to foreign journalists and attempting to leave Israel.
Indeed, he was arrested three days after I first interviewed him in Jerusalem in 2005. Police officers carrying machine guns entered the compound of St George's Anglican Cathedral where Vanunu was living, and where we had spoken for a couple of hours. Vanunu had explained to me why he’d gone public about Israel’s nuclear programme. “I was terrified at what Israel was capable of and felt that I had to prevent a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East,” he said adding he had no regrets whatsoever.
Vanunu was born in Marrakech, Morocco in 1954. His father was a rabbi and in 1963 the family emigrated to Israel, where Vanunu served in the Israeli army and studied geography, philosophy, maths and physics at university. He first began to sympathise with Palestinians while studying, questioning Judaism and Israeli politics, and despite his leftist politics he was later cleared to work at a secret underground weapons facility at the Dimona Nuclear Plant in the Negev Desert, Southern Israel. From 1976 to 1985, he processed plutonium for nuclear bombs, but was alarmed when the facility started using Lithium Six, a chemical element used for hydrogen bombs. It was then he took photographs of the plant secretly.
After losing his job in 1985 due to government cuts, he went backpacking and ended up in Australia where he converted to Christianity. While in Sydney, he met Peter Hounam, a journalist with The Sunday Times. In early September 1986, Vanunu flew to London with Hounam, where - in violation of a non-disclosure agreement - he revealed his knowledge of the Israeli nuclear programme, including photographs he had taken at Dimona.
Frustrated by the delay while the Sunday Times checked his astonishing claims, Vanunu approached the Sunday Mirror - a disastrous move given the subsequent allegation that Robert Maxwell, the Jewish owner of the London tabloid, tipped off Mossad that the nuclear technician was in town.
His story then touches on James Bond. On September 30, 1986, Vanunu was lured to Rome by a femme fatale called ‘Cindy‘, who turned out to be an Israeli secret agent. Vanunu was kidnapped and drugged before being shipped to Israel, where he found guilty of espionage and treason; the Sunday Times had printed its article on October 5 under the headline: “Revealed: the secrets of Israel's nuclear arsenal.” Israel put up a wall of silence. Vanunu famously made contact with the media by writing details of his abduction on the palm of his left hand, which he held up to the window for waiting photographers as he was driven from court.
When I met Vanunu for the second time in 2009, on the fifth anniversary of his release from prison, he recalled that day well. He looked tanned and fit and as stern as before, but was more downbeat particularly about the fact he could not leave Israel, which was his dearest wish. Journalists had stopped coming and he’d told his campaigners in the US and Britain he no longer required their support. East Jerusalem was Vanunu's new prison, where he remains today.
I remember asking: ‘why not stay quiet for a period in the hope that Israel might let you leave?’ His reply was this: “They will never stop me thinking or speaking about what I believe in. Freedom of speech is part of being a human being. If you are not free to speak then you are not a human being." I contacted Vanunu again via email with questions for this article, but at time of writing, no reply had come.
To this day, Israel still refuses to confirm or deny whether it possesses the atomic bomb.
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