Our Visits With Mordechai

by Nicholas & Mary Eoloff

We were granted two visits with Mordechai on succeeding days, January 17 and 18. After the usual search, we saw Mordechai standing at the red (no-cross) line, arbitrarily painted half way down the road in the open garden area. As we approached him, he crossed the line by several steps, much to the displeasure of an accompanying guard. We embraced, hugged and then proceeded to the visitors' room in a nearby shelter.

Mordechai appeared physically fit, always clean and well shaven, but wearing the same old clothes. We asked about the letters and packages that we sent, to determine if he is receiving everything. We learned that the clothing we and others have sent are kept "in storage" for him, and that he is not allowed to receive clothing that might give him human dignity and respectable identity.

The first day's visit was more somber and serious in tone than previous visits. After the exchange of pleasantries, we talked about release prospects. Mordechai has little personal hope for an early release, and repeated the April, 2004 release date he had been given. He is totally driven and determined to see this crisis in his life through to the bitter end. The stifling, ever-present boredom and loneliness of daily prison life continues to discourage him. He maintains a daily routine of exercise and walking within the limited space authorized for him. He remains guarded about his dietary needs, and unfortunately, he continues to eat alone.

Mordechai treated us with slices of chocolate roll, coke and mineral water that he was able to buy in the prison canteen. We were moved by this act of kindness.

He is now out of isolation, a punishment for, among other things, disobeying prison rules regarding daily muster calls. He considers these small violations to be acts of "civil disobedience" and he continues to feel compelled to engage in them. He does not mingle with the Israelis imprisoned there and is never permitted to even see the Palestinian prisoners.

Mordechai remains concerned about spy conspiracies in international relations with Israel, as well as the ongoing spying of guards within the prison. As in the past, our conversations were monitored by an English speaking guard who sits within earshot, continuously taking notes and making sure we steer clear of "forbidden" topics.

He remains current on the political climate and violence in Israel and the occupied territories through magazine subscriptions. When we asked about the upcoming Israeli elections, we were surprised to hear him say that he thinks his chances for early release are better with Sharon than with another Barak government. He told us that he had received a letter from the prison officials indicating that he cannot renounce his Israeli citizenship until he has acquired other citizenship.

Mordechai continues to talk about nuclear weapons as the stumbling block to peace in the Middle East, and asked that we remain steadfast in our efforts to bring about nuclear disarmament. When he uttered the word "Dimona", the female English speaking guard cut him short. We changed the subject. Mordechai's face begins to glow whenever we talk about the letters, cards and tapes that he continues to receive from his faithful friends and supporters. These items from the outside world sustain him and help to relieve boredom. His outgoing mail continues to be held up for months before it is released into the Israeli postal system.

Our visit the next day was more upbeat. Mordechai again treated us to chocolate roll and coke. We joked a little about his physical regimen, since he claims that he can do 50 pushups! He actually smiled on several occasions. He knew that Mairead McGuire, Nobel Laureate from Belfast, North Ireland, had nominated him for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. We brought with us a copy of the "Humanist Award for 2000" awarded to him by the Church of Humanism of New York. All these laurels give him hope.

Again we talked at length about a Gandhian response to the evils of prison life and about prison workers who obediently "do their jobs and obey authority" to dehumanize him. He vows to continue to endure and actively resist whenever possible.

Our second meeting was cut short and as before, Mordechai crossed the red line to take leave of us. We told him we loved him, and that we would see him again. He continued to stand at the red line until we exited the steel door.

Nicholas and Mary Eoloff, Mordechai Vanunu's adoptive parents, live in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is the 5th time they've travelled to Israel to visit their son at Ashkelon Prison.