The Vanunu Story

Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician, is serving an 18-year sentence in an Israeli prison for blowing the whistle on his government's secret nuclear weapons program. Captured by Israeli agents on September 30, 1986, he spent more than 11 1/2 years in solitary confinement. One of 11 children of Moroccan Jewish parents who emigrated to Israel in 1963, when he was aged 9, Vanunu served in the Israeli army and then went to work as a young man in the Dimona nuclear "research center" in the Negev Desert near his home at Beersheba. The facility harbored an underground plutonium separation plant operated in strictest secrecy. As the years went by he grew increasingly troubled about his work in the nuclear bomb program. In 1985, before leaving Dimona, he took extensive photographs inside the factory in order to document the truth for his countrymen and the entire world.

Traveling through Asia with the film in his backpack, Vanunu made his way to Sydney, Australia, where he found companionship in an Anglican church social justice community with whom he shared the story of his nuclear background. In Sydney he also converted to Christianity and was baptized in July, 1986. A British newspaper, the London Sunday Times, learned of his story and sent a reporter to Sydney to check it out. The newspaper then flew Vanunu to England, where his photos and facts were further checked by British scientists familiar with nuclear weapons. Vanunu's story, published October 5, 1986, gave the world its first authoritative confirmation that tiny Israel had become a major nuclear weapons power, with material for as many as 200 nuclear warheads of advanced design.

Israeli agents got early wind of Vanunu's intentions. Even before publication of the story they had lured him from Britain, abducted him in Italy, and dumped his drugged body onto an Israeli cargo vessel bound for Israel. In the following months he was charged with espionage and treason and convicted at a closed-door trial. All legal appeals have been exhausted.

For the first 11 1/2 years of his imprisonment Vanunu was held in solitary confinement, denied human contact except with his guards, a lawyer, a priest, and the occasional visits of his siblings. This treatment was condemned by Amnesty International as "cruel, inhuman, and degrading."

In recent years, he has also been able to have occasional visits with Nicholas and Mary Eoloff, the St. Paul, Minnesota couple who adopted him in the fall of 1997. On March 12, 1998, he was released into the prison population but denied other privileges. Since then, he has been returned occasionally to solitary confinement due to minor rule infractions. He has also been denied parole or probation. There is growing concern about the effect of his prolonged isolation on his physical and mental health.