Nuclear Foes Cast Eyes on
New Coalition Follows
Up on Vanunu Revelations, Vows Closer Watch
Breaking a decades-old taboo, a grass-roots coalition
has come together in Israel to challenge the government’s clandestine nuclear
weapons program on grounds of disarmament, public safety, public health,
environmental impact, and secrecy.
Spear-headed by Bat-Shalom (Daughter of Peace),
the organizers planned a May 24 rally at the Israeli Knesset (Parliament)
in Jerusalem (marking the International Women’s Day for Disarmament) and
a May 26 demonstration within sight of the Dimona nuclear reactor in southern
Israel’s Negev Desert, where the government has been secretly producing
nuclear weapons for more than a third of a century.
More than a dozen Israeli organizations have joined
Bat-Shalom in the planning. They include the Israeli Committee to Free
Mordechai and for a Middle East Free of Nuclear Weapons, Israeli members
of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Green Action,
and an assortment of other groups representing women, environmentalists,
and organizations concerned with disarmament,human rights, nuclear, and
Formation of the coalition got underway in early
April, barely two months after the Israeli Knesset, under threat of a court
suit, permitted its first public debate of the government’s nuclear weapons
program-a raucus affair that drew international attention. The debate in
turn prompted warnings from scientists that the aging reactor posed a growing
environmental and public safety threat.
The February 2 debate, initiated by Palestinian
Knesset Member Issam Makhoul, grew out of a public furor arising from the
government’s release of a censored transcript of the 1987 secret trial
of Mordechai Vanunu, sentenced to 18 years in prison for leaking information
about Israel’s nuclear arsenal to a British newspaper. Spurred by the Israeli
Committee to Free Vanunu and for a Middle East Free of Nuclear Weapons,
with allied groups in other countries, the nuclear weapons issue gradually
has worked its way into the Israeli public consciousness in recent years.
Rallies by Vanunu supporters near the Dimona reactor have occurred periodically
since 1993. In 1998 an attempted “citizens’ inspection” of the reactor
brought the arrest and brief detention of ten demonstrators.