Report from the Free Vanunu Gathering in Washington D.C., September 26-28

by Felice Cohen-Joppa

After a noon hour rally on September 28 across from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., nine activists crossed the road onto embassy property to demand the immediate release of Mordechai Vanunu and nuclear abolition. Before their arrest on charges of "incommoding," the five women and four men were joined in songs and chants of "Free Vanunu" in English and Hebrew by more than 40 supporters across the street. On this day before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, they also offered new year's greetings to security guards and other embassy workers on the other side of the fence, and spoke to them about the dangers of the aging Dimona nuclear reactor.

There had been no response to a letter sent in August by the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu requesting a meeting with embassy officials.

Arrested were Kathy Boylan, Washington, DC; Cynthia Banas, Vernon, NY; Felice Cohen-Joppa, Tucson, AZ; Gail Vaughn, Ferryville, WI; Sandra Kay Warren, Iola, KS; Sam Day, Madison, WI; Bill Frankel-Streit, Goochland, VA; Art Laffin, Hartford, CT, and Barry Roth, Brookline, MA. While in custody, the group, all wearing "Free Vanunu" t-shirts, encountered many questions and expressions of support from both jailers and jailed. They were released the next day after arraignment with a January 18 court date.

The rally and action concluded the three day Washington Gathering to Free Vanunu, marking the 14th anniversary of the Israeli nuclear whistleblower's kidnapping and imprisonment. At an all day conference on September 26, people heard from speakers including Rabbi Phillip Bentley, Elizabeth McAlister, Mary Miller, Daniel Ellsberg, Vanunu's adoptive American parents, Nick and Mary Eoloff, and representatives of campaigns to Free Vanunu in Canada, England, and Norway.

On September 27, several dozen people participated in a dawn to dusk vigil at the Israeli embassy, and many also spent time lobbying members of Congress during the day.

Vigils and other events commemorating the September 30th anniversary of Vanunu's incarceration took place in cities around the world including Toronto, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Sydney, London, Salisbury, Wellington, Stockholm, and Oslo.

In a recent and sobering development more than 3/4 into his 18 year sentence, Mordechai Vanunu has not been allowed out of his 6' x 9' cell since June. At that time, jail staff were unable to find him for an hour, and afterwards demanded that he report for count every 15 minutes, which he refused to do. As a result, he has been back in solitary confinement ever since. Vanunu spent the first 11 1/2 years of his prison term in solitary confinement.

Mordechai has expressed how much he appreciates receiving letters, and would like people to write to him even though it is difficult for him to reply to everyone. He does receive his mail, although his outgoing mail is censored and usually takes 4 - 6 months to reach its destination.
Please let Mordechai know you are thinking of him, and also remind the prison authorities that you have not forgotten he is there, by sending letters (or a slightly belated card for his October 13 birthday) to Mordechai Vanunu, Ashkelon Prison, Ashkelon, Israel.