The Inside Looking Out: Report 64
If all the interested spectators who sat in on the second day of Mordechai Vanunu's trial in a Jerusalem magistrate court had been seated around a table, it would have been a very small one. As a matter of fact, a few minutes after the session adjourned for the day, all four were seated around a small table with Vanunu and his three person defense team in an East Jerusalem restaurant. The team is headed by internationally known Israeli human rights advocate, Avigdor Feldman.
"Ranking all the significant trials of your career," Feldman was asked, "where would you rank this one?"
"It is one of most significant," he replied, "because it involves important issues about the Israeli government producing weapons of mass destruction and Vanunu's right to let the people know about that. So it is a very important issue."
In 1986, a conscience stricken Vanunu, shared with a British newspaper what he had learned about Israel's secret nuclear weapons building program while an employee at its Dimona production facility. Afterwards apparently lured to Italy by an Israeli femme fatale, he was kidnapped to Israel and put on trial behind closed doors for disclosing those secrets. After conviction he spent the next eighteen years in solitary confinement (See From The Inside Looking Out Report--44 December 21, 2004: Mordechai).
"When Mordechai called you to defend him again, did you have a feeling of déjà vu?"
"Last time he couldn't call me," Feldman reminds with a chuckle, echoed by Vanunu, "he was held in secret. So his brother had to call me."
For those used to dramatizations of high profile cases involving crucial principles of justice and freedom, Feldman's style is not what one might expect. It is low key, soft spoken, and devoid of the super heated passion so characteristic of motion picture or TV court room drama.
There are two reasons for this. 1) The case is being argued before a judge; and judges ordinarily don't react pleasantly to even well intentioned histrionics, whereas juries notoriously do; and 2) " because," explained Feldman, "we are arguing mostly about technicalities."
The "technicalities" are about how the police went about collecting its evidence on which the prosecution has based its case. Essentially he is accused of criminal violations of restrictions imposed by the government on him after his release from prison in April 2004. Significantly those restrictions have been affirmed not once but twice by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Specifically he is charged with 1) maintaining contacts or exchanging information with foreign citizens especially journalists, and 2) coming within 500 meters of places from which it is possible to leave Israel, including the West Bank. The charges detail 21 interviews with "foreign journalists" and "chat room" conversations and with trying to go to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 2004. (See From The Inside Looking Out Report--45 December 27, 2005: Mordechai's Not So Excellent Christmas Eve Adventure.)
"The problem for the prosecutors," said Mordechai, "is, even if the journalists are foreigners, how can the prosecutors prove they are foreigners. They must do this."
"Yes," said his long time friend and indefatigable supporter, Israeli journalist Gideon Spiro. "They must prove that the people who talked to him are not Israeli citizens. So Avigdor argued `O.K. if there are no mistakes in the Interior Ministry's citizenship records there is proof. But if there are mistakes, then no proof.'"
Then Spiro explained how a government functionary working with citizenship registrations, when required, was obliged to produce a list on which "twenty seven Amy Goodmans can be found who are Israeli citizens. So how can they prove that the Amy Goodman Mordechai was talking to was a foreigner?"
"Beyond a reasonable doubt," echoed Feldman. "All those interviews that were published on the internet and in the newspapers," he added, " the police didn't interrogate the journalists who made these interviews. So even if something is published either in the newspapers or the internet, it does not mean that it really took place. So we are making it very difficult for them to prove.
Then there is the question of Mordechai's chat room dialogues that were copied from his computers after they were seized by the police and then transcribed. Feldman has argued that chat room conversations are private like phone conversation which police in Israel cannot monitor and transcribe even after the fact unless they have prior permission of the court. The prosecution naturally thinks there is a difference.
Finally there is the question of Mordechai's alleged attempt to leave Israel. "As a matter of fact," said Spiro, "Avigdor brought out, that Mordechai was arrested at a police checkpoint 200 meters before the military checkpoint. So, when he was stopped, he was not leaving Jerusalem yet. He was still in it. So, if you ask me, he was arrested without any reason, because although he intended to go to Bethlehem he was not yet in.
"Yes," said Mordechai, "and it also happens that, according to the legal description, leaving Israel for the occupied territories is not like leaving the country."
"No, said Feldman, "in the strict legal sense by going to Bethlehem he would not be leaving the country."
Based on the technicalities advocate Feldman is asking Judge Yoel Zur to dismiss the charges. He is expected to rule by February 22nd. Feldman is hopeful. "The judge already has reduced the charges from a maximum three years in prison to six months."
"Supposing, despite your case, Mordechai is convicted; will he go to jail?"
"I think he would get parole."
"With a conviction," would the fundamental issue of freedom of speech, movement and association be a dead issue?
"No, it could come again. The limitations approved by the Supreme Court are temporary; for one year. So we could raise it again. And the court did say in its last decision that the limitations can't go on forever."
As the post trial gathering broke up, Mordechai was asked, "Do you ever feel that where the progress you and others are trying to make in the world is like the Greek myth of Sisyphus? One step forward and two steps back?
"No, in this century I feel it is two steps forward and one back."
"You really believe that?"
"I believe it is much better situation now than it was one hundred years ago."
"Since the principles of freedom issues are so important to you, will it disappoint if you win your case on these technicalities?"
"No," said Mordechai with his second chuckle of the day, "I want to be free anyway."
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