The Testimony of the Shin-Bet Interrogators
"I asked him: Why did you do it?"

Yediot Ahronot
November 24, 1999
By Nehama Duek

The transcripts of the trial provided a rare peek into the Shin-Bet's Interrogation Unit in one of the most sensitive and secret cases in the history of the State.

The transcripts that were released for publication include the testimonies of two Shin-Bet interrogators, who are identified as "Alon" and "Yehuda", apparently pseudonyms, who obtained Vanunu's version and described to the judges how they met him on the beach, shackled to a stretcher, immediately after he arrived in Israel from Europe, established a personal relationship with him already on the drive from the beach to the prison, gained his trust and even became slightly attached to him. In the course of the testimony a familiar name appeared: a person who was identified as Joe who suddenly entered the interrogation room, and it appears that this person was Yossi Genosar, head of a division in the Shin-Bet.

It arises from the transcripts, that the interrogator Alon urged Vanunu to speak for days, but did not bother to record the conversations. At the end of each day he wrote down the main points. Among other things, he revealed that after the kidnapping, and en route to the place of the interrogation, Vanunu was calm. According to him, Vanunu felt calm because he understood who had captured him. "He saw that things had entered an official track."

The interrogator Yehuda also testified that Vanunu did not appear to be frightened in the course of the drive to the location of the interrogation. "He did not behave as a person who is afraid for their life. In the course of the drive he asked for chewing gum," he said.

The interrogator Yehuda testified that while driving from the beach Vanunu said several times: "I want to say nothing until I see a lawyer."

Yehuda: "I told him: You can remain silent, that's true, but you wanted to publicize things, you wanted to let it out, so now you remain silent?!"

Yehuda also testified: "At some stage Vanunu said: I want to meet with the ambassador of the country from which I was brought. I told him: No way! Then he said: You have violated the sovereignty of another country and I want to complain about your behavior. I told him that he would not get that [request]."

The transcript also revealed a simple but efficient interrogation trick: the Shin-Bet made it clear to Vanunu that it was in his interest to cooperate "because the prime minister is personally handling this affair."

Alon said that he spoke with Vanunu about the motive for revealing the nuclear secrets: "I told him," he testified, "that I believed that he did not do it for the money."

And what was the real motive?

Alon testified: "His action combined a leftist tendency, hooking up with Arab students and a fantastic perception of the Arab-Israeli struggle from the Arab side plus a sense of discrimination... On one hand thoughts, ideas, ideals and a life philosophy, and on the other hand, a work place that in his mind, produced atomic bombs."

Another Shin-Bet interrogator testified: "He kept saying: People, you don't really know what is going on here, and the whole scandal that is taking place here in this area, and it is important for the world to know, it's important for the world to know.'"

Alon stated in his testimony, that in the course of the interrogation Shin-Bet agent Yossi Genosar, who was identified as "Joe," suddenly came into the interrogation room: "A person appeared, a supervisor, a senior official in the office, and he asked to meet with the defendant in order to understand what was the motive. He sat in my presence for several minutes and asked the defendant - 'Why did you do it?' The defendant told him exactly what I said in my testimony. He did not ask him any questions beyond that."

Defense attorney Feldman asked the interrogator whether Vanunu had complained to Genosar "about the tiny cell in which he was placed."

Alon: "He was not in a tiny cell... He was held in a Shin-Bet detention cell, with a mattress, blankets, he received meals, he ate with me. For example, we made sure that he had bright lighting in his cell, so that he could read books."

The following are additional excerpts from the testimony of the Shin-Bet agents.

Feldman: "What was your impression of him in prison?"

Alon: "An intelligent guy, who understands things, alert, well aware of events."

Feldman: "Very cooperative?"

Alon: "reasonably... He would sink into silence from time to time, clam up and I would circumvent the silences by [raising] personal matters. The interrogation was very personal."

Feldman: "Were his silences disconnecting from the situation?"

Alon: "No, no disassociation or anything of the sort. He would look at me, close his mouth, like that, stare for two minutes. Sometimes he's give a smile and then continue talking. I would smile, then he wasn't able to help himself. He would smile and we would resume the conversation."

Feldman: "Did he speak about what had happened to him before he reached you?"

Alon: "On the first day he spoke about having been aware of the danger when he went to talk [about the reactor]. He was aware of the outcome, he was aware of the fact that he might be caught, he said that he was afraid of an attack on his life."

Alon spoke at length about his personal connection with the detainee: "The relationship had a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes I would sit with him in his cell and he would make me a cup of tea. I think that with everyone who handled him, including the guards, a connection was established. I also brought him books and showed an interest in his field of study, which drew him into a sort of relationship... I did not lie or trick him. I did not internally show a lot of love for him... I created an artificial interest beyond my real interest."

In his cross-examination the interrogator stated: "He said that I was a fine person. I said goodbye and he said to me: 'You were just fine."

The testimony of the interrogator "Yehuda":

Feldman: "Under what circumstances did you see the defendant?"

Yehuda: "It was close to 7:00 a.m., we waited for him and he was brought on a stretcher. He was completely alert. He was brought from somewhere on the sea shore, he was brought in a boat to the place where we were waiting and he was taken from the boat to us on a sort of marine stretcher. He was taken from the boat to a vehicle, where he was released from the stretcher. He was completely alert and he conducted a free conversation with us. On the same day, when we arrived at the prison, I immediately sat down and wrote a report on the conversation that we had conducted en route. He asked whether it was a conversation or an official interrogation. I explained to him that I was from the Shin-Bet and that I was there in the framework of my job, not to conduct friendly conversations. He asked me what would happen to me and I explained that a trial should be expected with very serious charges and that it could be expected that he would be convicted and would be imprisoned. He asked whether he had the right to see an attorney, and why was he arrested. I clarified that he was arrested on the basis of a policeman's order. On the way I asked him why he did what he did."

In the course of the interrogation it was found that the Shin-Bet did not know how much money Vanunu had received from the British newspaper. Interrogator Yehuda: "I said to him: You were willing to sell out the State for £100,000? It was only $100,000. He said that he wanted to expose the true face of the State of Israel, a crazy state. I asked him: If you thought that what was going on there was insanity on the part of a few madmen, why didn't you contact the proper authorities? And he replied: 'I am not certain that they are not mad, as well.'"

A conversation developed between Yehuda and Vanunu concerning the reasons for the treason:

Yehuda: "It was the act of a person who was willing to sell out everything, partially for money, partially for status, partially to solve frustrations and partially in order to decide that he was someone. In the vehicle he said: 'I don't know what I am, I want to start everything over, from a vacuum. I replied that even if he were a Buddhist monk in Nepal, he couldn't have forgotten the Sabbath blessing at his father's table, even if he became a Christian in Australia, he wouldn't be able to erase his past. The first time I met him I thought: Here's a person who felt frustrated, who wanted to build himself some status, and if it was possible, also to make 100,000 dollars at my expense. Not bad."