Vanunu released to cheers and veers

IssueJune - August 2004
News by Brian Bunyan

On Tuesday 21 April, Mordechai Vanunu was released after spending 18 years in prison. He had been jailed after divulging Israel's secret nuclear activities and capabilities to the British Sunday Times in 1986.

With one swift blow, he undid Israel's policy of “strategic ambiguity” whereby Israel neither accepted nor denied the existence of nuclear weapons. Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and does not allow inspections of its nuclear sites.

Unbowed, unrepentant

Having had almost 20 years to disparage him, his detractors, who include virulent nationalists baying for his blood, have not stopped and are still trying to reduce his achievement by arguing that Israel's nuclear weapons are now accepted in European and US political circles and serve as deterrent to invasion by the country's neighbours.

And unfortunately, Vanunu's release from prison does not coincide with freedom from restrictions, as Israeli authorities still consider him a threat and have called him a traitor. He is unable to have a passport, forbidden to approach ports and airports, cannot use the Internet and can not contact foreigners without permission. His brother, Meir Vanunu, now a political refugee in Australia, decries these acts as merely a continuation of state control.

However, Mordechai remains unbowed and, at his press conference, refused to answer in Hebrew almost all the questions put to him as he categorised the language as that of a dictatorship. He also claimed that his conversion to Christianity has inflamed his jailers as he suffered 12 years of solitary confinement and three years of his cell being lit day and night.

As quoted in the Washington Post, he says that Israel had no right to build a nuclear weapons programme without consulting its citizens and that now “Israel should destroy the reactor.”

Hero, traitor, example

Reactions to his release have been naturally varied. He was greeted with black roses that symbolised opposition to his actions and a selection of posters and placards: “Hero of peace,” “Death to traitors” and “Death to the spy, Death to Vanunu”.

The Los Angeles Times called him “the pre-eminent hero of the nuclear era” and considers the benefits that “a heroic Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian or North Korean Vanunu” could do or have done as these countries have become nuclear powers or have experimented with nuclear capability.

Some of the letters in the Jerusalem Post present Vanunu as someone who “sends shivers down the spines” of the Israeli nuclear establishment. Al-Jazeera was quite forthright in its language as it quoted Vanunu saying that “we don't a Jewish state” and that “the Jewish state needs to solve its problems with the Palestinians”.

Removed from the list!

Throughout his incarceration, Peace News was sent to Ashkelon prison as a gesture of support for the internationally recognised nuclear resister - this is the first issue that will not be sent.

The world needs more people like Vanunu, to overcome the misplaced belief that we are secure only when surrounded by the worst military weapons.