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The Vanunu Story

Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician, is serving an 18-year sentence in an Israeli prison for blowing the whistle on his government's secret nuclear weapons program.  He was held in solitary confinement from September 30 1986 until March of 1998.  

Vanunu was one of 11 children of Moroccan Jewish parents who emigrated to Israel in 1963, when he was age 9.  When he was a young man he served in the Israeli army and then went to work in the Dimona nuclear "research center" in the Negev desert near his home at Beersheba.  The facility harbored an underground plutonium separation plant operated in strictest secrecy.  As the years went by he grew increasingly troubled about his work in the nuclear bomb program.  In 1985, before leaving Dimona, he took extensive photographs inside the factory in order to document the truth for his countrymen and the entire world.

Traveling through Asia with the film in his backpack, Vanunu made his way to Sydney Australia, where he found companionship in an Anglican church social justice community.  He shared with them the story of his nuclear background.  In Sydney he converted to Christianity, and was baptized in July 1986.  

A British newspaper, the London Sunday Times, learned of his story and sent a reporter to Sydney to check it out.  The newspaper then flew Vanunu to England, where his photos and his facts were further checked by British scientists familiar with nuclear weapons.  Vanunu's story, published October 5, 1986, gave the world its first authoritative confirmation that tiny Israel had become a major nuclear weapons power, with material for as many as 200 nuclear warheads of advanced design.

Israeli agents got early wind of Vanunu's intentions.  Even before publication of the story, they had him lured from Britain.  They abducted him in Italy, and dumped his drugged body onto an Israeli cargo vessel bound for Israel.  In the following months he was charged with espionage and treason, and was convicted at a closed-door trial.  

In the 12 years between his kidnapping and his release from solitary confinement, Vanunu was denied all human contact except with guards, members of his immediate family, a lawyer, and a priest.  His brothers and sisters saw him only through a thick metal screen.  Amnesty International condemned his prison isolation as "cruel, inhuman and degrading," and they have called for his immediate release.  There are concerns about the effect of this prolonged confinement on his physical and mental health.


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last updated April 16 1998