Vanunu Again In and Out Of Solitary

Mordechai Vanunu emerged from three months in solitary confinement in early October, a few days before his 46th birthday, signalling a small victory in his increasingly bitter struggle with his jailers at Ashkelon Prison and their higher-ups in Jerusalem.

The nuclear whistle-blower’s diminishing prospects of early release mirrored the larger tragedy of Israel’s bloody suppression of a renewed Palestinian uprising rooted in the collapse of hopes for peace and justice in the Middle East.

Vanunu had spent more than 11 years in a six-by-9-foot isolation cell until March, 1998, when Israeli authorities, yielding to international pressure, allowed him to mingle with other prisoners while maintaining tight restrictions on his movements.

But early last June he was returned to his locked cell after guards briefly lost track of him after he strayed from his authorized walking path on the prison grounds. As punishment he was ordered to report every 15 minutes-a condition he refused to accept.

Prison authorities finally acquiesced after complaints by Vanunu’s attorney Avigdor Feldman and hundreds of his supporters in Israel and abroad. But his walking path was restricted to a smaller area.

Meanwhile, the international effort to free Vanunu and spotlight Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear weapons program has been eclipsed by renewed Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation in late September. Adding to this uncertainty was the apparent near collapse of the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, which over the past year has rebuffed efforts to raise the Vanunu question.

Vanunu campaign leaders here and abroad have called for continuing pressure on the United States and Israel to free Vanunu and cease nuclear weapons work. They have warned that the struggle for both objectives will be long and hard.