-from Anton Kuerti
"I have heard the voice of my conscience. And there's nowhere to run..... Stop the train. Get off the train. The next stop is nuclear holocaust."
Those words are from a poem by Mordecai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician whose conscience, deeply tormented by Israel's development of nuclear weapons, pushed him to blow the whistle and tell the world. (full text of poem: www.toysatellite.com.au/babel/vanunu/poem.html) Ed. note: the poem is also printed in the archives of this site, at I Am Your Spy.]
As a result of his 1986 revelations to Britain's Sunday Times, the Mossad (Israel's highly secret and successful covert spy and commando agency) arranged for a voluptuous young agent to approach Vanunu in London and lure him to Italy, where he was drugged, kidnapped and transported to Israel. There, at a secret trial, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, the first 12 of which were spent in solitary confinement.
The parallel between Vanunu and Florestan, the hero of Beethoven's opera "Fidelio" is striking - and ever so poignant. Florestan, too, is confined in solitude to a dungeon where no ray of light penetrates, nor any glimmer of hope that justice might eventually prevail. He sings: "In the springtime of my life, my happiness has fled. I bravely ventured to tell the truth, and these chains are my reward....my heart's sweet solace is that I have done my duty."
Compare this to Vanunu's 'aria': "I did what I did from a deep internal conviction and I would do it all again.....I was the only individual who ever stood up to the entire Israeli establishment to say what I believed. I acted out of concern for this society even though Israel likes to portray me as public enemy number one... The most difficult thing was not being able to talk to anyone, I could talk only to the walls and I longed for human contact..." What a distressing example of life imitating art; Mordecai Vanunu is now in his 15th year of incarceration.
Having previously compared these two prisoners in some articles and speeches, I sent Vanunu one of these, together with some of my CD's. A few days ago, to my astonishment, I received this handwritten, touching response from Ashkelon Prison (slightly abridged, and spelling corrected):
Dear Mr. Anton Kuerti
Thank you very much for your letter and 2 CD's - good and wonderful to hear from you, and enjoyed very much to hear you performing Beethoven. I like your piano play, and I have heard a lot of classical music, especially opera here in prison, especially "Fidelio" and of course it was like Beethoven wrote it especially for my case, but I am here 15 years waiting for that great wonderful, heavenly 'Finale' - still to come. So I heard it many times, and felt like it is happening already. By overcoming all the harassment and torture ... during very long time in isolation and psychological war, so Beethoven without the 'Finale' helped me here to stand firm and strong by his great strong music "Fidelio".....
Yes classical music is a very wonderful instrument I used in this total isolation and Beethoven really gives good music to describe this dark life in prison and the Israeli savage war to try to kill me in prison, but no-one entered this prison to save me, only Beethoven himself with his music.... You [mentioned in your speech how the warden would say to me that the prisoner] in this cell before you committed suicide, so each time I heard such message my immediate answer is Beethoven with very loud strong music into my ears, my head, that was the guarantee here is another very different prisoner.
"The son of Beethoven" is here, will never give up, and even when I fight back for surviving I should do it very good because my enemies are very sophisticated with all the modern science fighting me....
Well it is wonderful to know that you had [been] supporting me long time ago and spoke on my case, demanding my release, [and] agree with my act against nuclear weapons and my belief we are winning this war and nuclear weapons going to be destroyed [and] abolished, and know very well you the musicians have much more power influence on world politics by your music, and if more musicians will take such very strong clear stand against nuclear weapons they will succeed in this mission.
My act was for this target, to inspire you and many others in many fields, to use your society status for ending nuclear weapons....
Integrity sometimes requires betrayal on one level to avoid a more profound betrayal. A recent example is Vermont Senator James Jeffords, who betrayed his party in order not to violate his conscience on environmental, economic, social and military matters that may decide the future of this planet. In Toronto, Nancy Olivieri was an inspiring recent example, when she chose fidelity to the Hippocratic oath over loyalty to her employer and the drug company financing her work.
Vanunu, with no reward beyond the unburdening of his own conscience, and without revealing any information that could help others in their weapons development, betrayed his country's secret in order to help prevent the crowning catastrophe of human history.
His disclosure was that, despite his country's oft-repeated pledge "We will not introduce nuclear weapons into the region; certainly we will not be the first to do so (Shimon Peres)", and despite the fact that its nuclear policies were never debated by the Knesset, Israel had already created a considerable stockpile of the evil devices.
It should be clear that Vanunu's (and my) position is not against Israel but against nuclear weapons, whose very possession is itself an act of terror that dwarfs even the despicable events of Sept. 11. No matter who creates, deploys or ignites them, they represent an intolerable threat to mankind that trivializes any evil they are meant to "protect" us from. Indeed, the only hope for Israel's long-term survival is to negotiate the total removal of nuclear (also chemical and biological) weapons from the entire mid-east, for no country is nearly as vulnerable to a murderous nuclear assault as the tiny Jewish State.
Brandishing this mother of all big sticks not only entices others to create even bigger ones, but the gruesome chimera of security it provides is also bound to increase the recklessness of one's own political and military adventures. In this respect, the grotesque, utterly overwhelming amount of military power currently being used by the greatest military power ever to exist, against a tiny, nearly defenseless country of starving peasants just creates further motivation for other nations who fear similar devastation - particularly Iraq - to persevere in their quest for nuclear status.
Vanunu's conviction that nuclear weapons will eventually be eliminated (and that we musicians can play an important role in this crusade) reveals the extraordinary fervor of his dedication, but lamentably this will surely prove to be wishful thinking. Just as in Greek tragedy, the ineluctable labor of fate plows on, disdaining even the most heroic human efforts to alter it.
Still, one must never stop hoping that Agamemnon will not really slay Iphigenia. It may be Quixotic, but we can do no less than emulate Clytemnaestra who, until the very last instant, implores her husband not to commit that irrevocable, abominable deed.