Sunday, July 17, 2005

“Lighten My Burden, Stop the Train”

“Lighten My Burden, Stop the Train”
By Marion Boulby
These are words from the poem “ I am Your Spy” written from solitary confinement by Mordachai Vanunu.
Vanunu was a subordinate nuclear technician at what proved to be a clandestine nuclear weapons program in Dimona Israel . Following his personal convictions and opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons he delivered evidence about the Dimona program to a London newspaper, the Sunday Times , in 1986. Israel 's Mossad then abducted him to Israel , via Rome , in violation of the territorial integrity of Italy . He was sentenced as a spy to 18 years in prison. He wrote “ I'm Your Spy ” early during the first 11 1/2 years of his imprisonment when he was held in strict isolation. He was released on April 21 this year.

But he is not really free. Under restrictions based on regulation 6 of the State of Emergency Regulations imposed by Britain in 1948 Vanunu is prevented by an order of the Ministry of the Interior from leaving the country for at least one year, from associating with foreigners, severely limited in his movements and under the constant surveillance of the security establishment. His lawyers from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel are presenting a challenge to these restrictions to the High Court. The court hearing has already been delayed from June 28 to July 11 by the Israeli authorities.
Since his release in April Vanunu has been asked many times if he has any regrets and he has none. He is a man of considerable courage and strong moral principles who felt when confronted with the reality of the nuclear weapons program at Dimona that he had no choice but to reveal Israel 's nuclear secrets, to be, in his words “ the spy of the people .”
Yes, you,. he wrote to himself and the world in “ I'm Your Spy”
You are the secret agent of the people. You are
the eyes of the nation.
Agent-spy, tell us what you've seen. Tell us
what the insiders, the clever ones, have
hidden from us.
Without you, there is only the precipice.
Only catastrophe 
I have no choice. I'm a little man, a citizen,
one of the people,
but I'll do what I have to. I've heard the voice
of my conscience
and there is nowhere to hide.

I met the “little man” a few weeks ago in the courtyard outside St George's Cathedral in Palestinian East Jerusalem . Vanunu, a devout Christian, has been receiving sanctuary at St.George's since his release from prison. I was immediately struck by his calm, his serenity and gentleness. Eighteen years of prison may have etched some lines around his startlingly green eyes but they did not break the man. He endured eleven years in solitary confinement and the first two with the electric light constantly on. His only visits (infrequent) were from family members, especially from his brother Meir, his strongest and most devoted advocate. . His main company was the BBC radio and there were of course, thousands of letters from human rights supporters and anti-nuclear activists around the world. For a period of several years he refused to respond to the correspondence because of Israeli censorship of what he wrote.

How did he survive? Through a combination of profound faith, courage, utmost and creative endurance. Vanunu had converted from Judaism to Christianity in Australia before making his disclosures about Dimona to the Sunday Times and before being kidnapped by the Mossad in Rome . How does he feel about Judaism? It is not the religion for him. He sees Christianity as a most progressive religion that is evolving with changing times. How does he feel about Israel ? He rejects the concept of the Jewish state on the grounds that it is inherently exclusivist and anti-democratic. Israeli should be a democratic state for all citizens. Jerusalem should be an international zone.

He has no further interest in living in Israel , in a country which rejects him as a traitor. Indeed there have been threats against his life. Walking through the streets of Palestinian East Jerusalem he has been harassed by not only the Israeli Occupation Forces but also by Jewish settlers living in the neighbourhood. He deserves and needs political asylum in order to have the right to live the life he has missed for 18 years, a normal life in a house with a family, working for peace and against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The apparent justification for the restriction against his leaving the state of Israel is that he may still harbor nuclear “secrets” which could harm Israel 's security. In his order imposing the restrictions on Vanunu Interior Minister Avraham Poraz stated that he “was convinced that a real risk exists that in the event that Mordechai Vanunu , ID No. 06841193 leaves the country {….} that state security is liable to be damaged”.
This is blatantly nonsense. Vanunu told everything he knew twenty years ago, his information is clearly out of date in a world where there has, sadly, been such rapid development and proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. He was also a technician “clerk, driver, mechanic” rather than a nuclear scientist.

The clerk driver technician mechanic
looked up, 
he wrote, 
He stepped back and saw — what a monster.
Can't believe it. Rubbed his eyes and — yes,
it's there all right. I'm all right. I do see
the monster. I'm part of the system.
I signed this form. Only now I am reading the
rest of it.
This bolt is part of a bomb. This bolt is me.

He left Israel with 60 photographs of Dimona and traveled for several months across Asia , to Australia . All the time and all the way he thought about the burden in his backpack, the secrets in his backpack, and he knew that he would risk his life by exposing them.
He has no more secrets or any desire to harm the state of Israel .
I mentioned not only the strength but creativity of his endurance. While in prison he played loud German opera and read the Bible to irritate the listeners. He said that only by engaging in return psychological warfare could he survive the isolation.
After almost twenty years in prison many things are new to Mordechai Vanunu and sometimes I joked with him as he reminds me a bit of a kid in a candy shop. He is fascinated by computers and spends hours on his laptop. He is horrified by nachos (unhealthy greasy food) and loves red wine. He likes to chew gum. In prison he had to make a few pieces last for weeks. So he would take his gum out for a while and then resume chewing it again. Old habits die hard. After lunch with him one day I noticed he had left a small piece of gum arranged neatly on its paper for another time.
I say old habits die hard but why wouldn't they after 18 years and a complete lack of assurance of personal security and a future life in freedom? Walking down Salah al-Din, the main drag of East Jerusalem , Vanunu is hailed by Palestinians who invite him to stop for coffee. But later, in front of the Israeli Post Office at the bottom of Salah al- Din Israeli Border Guards summon him and radio in ID No. 06841193 to some central command. A small crowd of Palestinians gather in the bustling street which grows momentarily quiet. Then the Palestinians are angry and start to argue with the Border Guards asking why he has been stopped. Vanunu is stoic as usual. After several tense minutes the Border Guards receive the OK to release No.06841193 (but for how long?) and we walk away quietly into the dusk.

He is still not free No. 06841193.