Nuclear Foes Cast Eyes on Israeli Secrecy
New Coalition Follows Up on Vanunu Revelations, Vows Closer Watch at Dimona

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 health issues.

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.