-by Rayna Moss, for the Israeli Committee to Free Mordechai Vanunu
December 15 1999
On the afternoon of December 15, hours before their departure from Israel, Mary and Nick Eoloff decided to travel to Ashkelon prison to plead with the warden to allow them to visit Mordechai Vanunu. Accompanying them was former Sunday Times journalist Peter Hounam, who arrived in Israel today to prepare a report on the Vanunu case.
After the Eoloffs had set out for the prison at their own initiative, word came from Vanunu's attorney, Avigdor Feldman, that the visit had been approved.
Hours before they departed from Israel, and after a week of lobbying Israeli authorities for the right to visit their adoptive son in prison, Nick and Mary Eoloff visited Mordechai Vanunu on the afternoon of December 15. They spent more than one hour with Vanunu.
According to the Eoloffs, Vanunu has changed immensely since they last visited him in September 1998. He was very calm, philosophical towards his condition, using his fairly recent relative freedom for taking long walks in the open-air prison yard to clear his mind and find inner peace. Although he was angry at the false allegations that appeared last month in Yediot Ahronot newspaper, that he had advised Hamas prisoners in constructing bombs, and not overly optimistic about his chances for release by the parole board that will convene within one month, Vanunu was generally at ease and unperturbed. He was very anxious to see the Eoloffs, whose visit he had awaited impatiently for more than one month. Vanunu reported that he had received "about one thousand" Christmas and New Year cards from supporters around the world, and was short on stamps and envelopes for answering well-wishers.
Mordechai Vanunu still adheres to a strict daily schedule that he set for himself, combining hours of reading and study with physical exercise, writing letters, resting and listening to the radio. He refuses to be drawn into confrontations with criminal prisoners or to respond to provocations, and reported that his relations with both the inmates and the staff at the prison were no longer strained. Although he appeared thinner, Vanunu seemed to be in good physical health and high spirits.
Speaking about the reason for the earlier prohibition on the Eoloff's visit, Vanunu said that prison authorities told him that it was something he had told them during their previous visit, 15 months ago,which they did not now specify. This was the only explanation that anyone received for the sudden and arbitrary prohibition that almost preventing the meeting between Vanunu and his adoptive parents altogether.
The campaign to force the Shin-Bet to back down and allow the visit involved several Knesset members and government ministers, the Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu, Rabbis for Human Rights and several journalists who pestered the authorities with repeated calls and inquiries, demanding that the reasons for the prohibition be made public and that the Shin-Bet be held accountable for its actions.
At Ashkelon prison and after the visit with Mordechai, the Eoloffs faced numerous journalists who asked about Vanunu's conditions, his state of mind and the chances for his release. They spent several hours answering questions from the Israeli press. British journalist Peter Hounam, who interviewed Vanunu for the London Sunday Times in 1986, accompanied the Eoloffs throughout the day.
The parole board that will discuss Vanunu's petition to be released after serving two-thirds of his sentence has not yet set a date for a hearing, but Vanunu said that he expected the hearing to take place within one month. If the board grants Vanunu parole, he must be released from prison immediately. Nick and Mary Eoloff parted with him, stating that the next time they came, they hoped to bring him home with them.