In an unprecedented move, 58 laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, the prestigious international prize known as the "alternative Nobel prize," have called for the release of their fellow laureate, Mordechai Vanunu, imprisoned since 1986 for telling the world about Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Their resolution was endorsed unanimously at a June meeting in Salzburg, Austria, by laureates from 33 countries gathering for the 20th anniversary of the organization.
The "Alternative Nobels" called on the newly elected government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to "approve the organization of a regional conference under the auspices of the United Nations to consider the feasibility and potential benefits of a project to make the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction."
In order to democratize the decision-making process, the laureates also called on the political representatives of the Israeli people to "initiate a full-scale parliamentary debate on the political, strategic, environmental and health implications of Israel's nuclear weapons program."
Vanunu, formerly a technician at Israel's Dimona nuclear weapons reactor, was honored by the jury of the Right Livelihood Award in 1987 for "his courage and self-sacrifice in revealing the extent of Israel's nuclear weapons program." An Israeli court sentenced him to 18 years in prison for espionage and treason.
By going public with information about Israel's nuclear weapons, the resolution said, "he made it possible for the issue to be debated by the international community on the basis of facts rather than suspicions."
A delegation from the conference traveled to Israel to present the resolution to political authorities but failed to obtain appointments with President Ezer Weizman or representatives of the new government.
Attempting to present a letter and gifts to Vanunu himself, the delegates were turned away by prison officials and told to mail the materials.
"They were not hospitable," said Sr. Rosalie Bertell of Toronto who herself had received a Right Livelihood Award for her research in the effects of low level radiation. She noted wryly that a few days later Israeli authorities granted parole, after completion of two-thirds of his 13-year sentence, to Rami Dotan, convicted of taking part in a multi-million-dollar arms swindle.