Report from Ashkelon
When Will They Let This Good Man Go Free?
by Mary and Nick Eoloff
The grim, grey walls and barbed wire fencing were
as ugly as before but the occasion was more joyful than ever when we entered
Ashkelon Prison in Israel on May 25th for our sixth visit with Mordechai
Vanunu, our adopted son. Trim, robust, and sun-tanned, he greeted us with
The prison had granted us a two-hour visit-twice
the customary stay. We made the most of our time.
After hugs and kisses with Mordechai and admonitions
from the prison to avoid discussing "certain matters," we took
our seats at a small round table in a trailer that serves as the prison
visiting room. Two guards, one of them an English speaker, stood by, ready
to catch our every word. We were forbidden to touch our son, let alone
discuss with him the circumstances that had made him a security prisoner.
Nevertheless, we were allowed to show Mordechai
the books we had brought him from supporters in New Zealand and an inscribed
volume from Howard Zinn, the historian and political activist, before the
guards took them away for inspection. Other gifts had been taken from us
earlier for inspection and subsequent delivery to the prisoner.
We talked about the prison's renewal of censorship
and lengthy processing of his outgoing mail, sometimes delayed for up to
four or five months. These new measures have been introduced by a new prison
commander, Yakov Alone, an army officer who never talks to Mordechai or
even acknowledges his presence. Under the new regime, Mordechai has occasionally
been punished by isolation in his cell for minor rule infractions.
We talked about a former prisoner, now paroled,
who had befriended Mordechai in defiance of the prison rules. We told Mordechai
that the former prisoner had spoken to us about the solitary confinement
conditions Mordechai had endured for more than 11 years. When Mordechai
started to respond a guard stopped him, saying it was forbidden to "talk
about the past." Mordechai has no inmate friends now.
We talked about Yossi Katz, a Knesset member who
visited Mordechai last spring and told him a release might be arranged
if he would recant and repent of his action in going public with the story
of Israel's secret nuclear weapons program. Mordechai reiterated his refusal
to apologize and also disputed Katz's report that he receives two thousand
letters a month. He said the total is more like one hundred, all of which
Mordechai's face lit up when we told him of a meeting
held by his supporters at the Knesset the previous day and of plans for
a large anti-nuclear protest rally the following day near the Dimona nuclear
weapons reactor, where he had worked for nine years before blowing the
whistle on the weapons program. He again expressed his hope that there
would soon be civil disobedience at Dimona.
We talked about food. Mordechai has given up eating
eggs, which are offered twice a day, and has developed a craving for chocolate,
which he buys at the canteen.
We talked about the future. We renewed our offer
to let him live in our home in Minnesota. He said he is thinking of settling
eventually in Washington, DC.
When the visiting time expired the three of us
and a guard walked down the prison street toward the first of two steel
doors. On past occasions our son had walked us to the door, but this time
he had to stop at a red line painted across the street half way to the
door. It was a line painted just for him.
As we took our sad farewells at the red line, the
prisoner's last words were thanks for the support that comes from around
the world and a hope that the letters will increase. And as we passed through
the gates of Ashkelon prison our thoughts were the same as before: Why
is this good man still in prison, and when will the system repent and let
him go free? This is our prayer.