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Vanunu Faces New Prison Term - Will They Bury Him?

By Mark Gaffney
March 24 2005

Dan Ellsberg calls fellow whistleblower "a prophet..."

The travails of Mordechai Vanunu continue.

Last week, the Israeli government indicted the former nuclear technician on 22 counts of violating restrictions it had imposed upon him last April. A hearing date has not yet been announced.

During the past year Vanunu has openly defied the Israeli authorities. Indeed, on the very day, last spring, when he completed his 18 year sentence for treason, Vanunu walked out of Ashkelon prison to the cheers of his supporters and immediately violated the government's restrictions by issuing a press statement on the nuclear issue.

Who would have guessed that this brave man would not only survive 18 years in a 6X9 foot windowless cell, eleven and a half of them in solitary confinement, not to mention near-continuous harassment by his handlers, but would emerge unbowed and unbroken, as plucky as ever? Vanunu's resiliency is amazing.

He has made it known that he wishes to leave Israel, settle in the US, and have a life. Yet, Mordechai has also refused to be muzzled. He is blessed with the gift of gab, and during the last year, in numerous interviews with the world press, he has been an articulate spokesperson for a nuclear-free Middle East. Vanunu has warned of the grave perils of a nuclear disaster. He has called upon the Israeli government to sign the NPT, open the country's nuclear sites to IAEA inspection, close down the aging and unsafe Dimona reactor, and take immediate steps in concert with other states in the region to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ). Vanunu has also roundly condemned Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

All of this has alarmed the Sharon government. At a time when Israel's leaders have been threatening war on Iran for its alleged (but unproven) secret nuclear weapons program, the last thing they need is this pest Vanunu going around blabbing about Israel's enormous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Mordechai is the mite under their skin, the irritant that keeps them scratching at the nuclear rash. Obviously, they want to make him go away (permanently) by putting him back in a cell. Out of sight (as in forever) and especially out of earshot of the world press. Will they succeed? Will the world stand idly by while they bury Vanunu a second time?

The day before his indictment, Mordechai and several other peace activists spoke at a press conference in Jerusalem, organized by Rayna Moss of the Committee to Free Vanunu. Mordechai said: "I did not seek to harm Israel, but rather to warn of an enormous danger. I do not seek to harm Israel, now. I want to work for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. I want the human race to survive."

He continued: "I'd like to address world leaders here for the Holocaust Museum ceremony. They have come to commemorate the Jewish holocaust which took place 60 years ago, but they must acknowledge that the threat of a future holocaust is the nuclear holocaust."

Other speakers included Moss; Dan Ellsberg, former Pentagon insider who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers; attorney Jennifer Harbury (from the US), author and director of the STOP Torture Campaign; and also Fredrik Heffermehl, a Norwegian author/attorney who is the Vice President of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms.

The Israeli government claims that despite Vanunu's 18 years in prison he remains in possession of nuclear secrets, and for this reason is still a threat to Israel's security. The claim is bogus, as Dan Ellsberg pointed out in his statement: "Mordechai Vanunu has no secret information. He has one huge secret which he revealed on April 21 last year. That after 18 years of imprisonment and solitary confinement and mistreatment a person can still come out sane, articulate, compassionate. This is the secret that no regime wants its citizens to know." He then added, "Mordechai is a prophet, and the scriptures say that prophets are never appreciated in their own country."

Ellsberg called on Israel to lift the restrictions on Vanunu: "At the time of the American revolution, when we freed ourselves from the British empire, we didn't retain any of their laws and regulations. The time has come for...Israel to also free itself from the State of Emergency regulations of the British Empire."

Israel has no first amendment and no Bill of Rights. The restrictions imposed upon Vanunu (prohibiting him from traveling abroad, contacting foreign citizens and media, and controlling his movement inside Israel) are based on the 1945 State of Emergency Regulations introduced by the British during the period of the Mandate. Since 1948 Israel has continued to operate under this antiquated legal structure, which allows the Israeli government to penalize individuals without trial, indefinitely. The regulations are used frequently to detain Palestinians. Nor have Israel's courts challenged the system. For example, in July 2004 Israel's Supreme Court rejected Vanunu's appeal of his restrictions.

Evidently, the Sharon government was not listening to Ellsberg. The very next day they indicted Vanunu, though at this juncture it remains uncertain whether they intend to use the court process, i.e., put Vanunu on trial, or apply the draconian emergency regulations.

If there is a silver lining, here, it is the likelihood that Israel's leaders, in their limitless arrogance, may overreach. They seem perpetually on the brink. Vanunu has been nominated again this year for the Nobel Peace Prize, and who knows? The Nobel committee may yet redeem its many recent blunders by actually doing something noble. If Israel continues to harass Vanunu, he might get it...

That would surely touch off an explosion in the Sharon government louder than a Sahab-III missile.

(Thanks to the Campaign to Free Vanunu for details used in preparing this report. A special thank you to Rayna Moss.)

Mark Gaffney is the author of Dimona, the Third Temple, a pioneering 1989 study of the Israeli nuke program. Mark's latest is Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes, released last spring by Inner Traditions Press.

Mark can be reached for comment at

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