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Out of Prison, Vanunu Celebrates with International Supporters

Apr 23 2004

As he walked out the prison door Wednesday morning, April 21, the thumping beat of a police helicopter overhead, the shouts from the press and the cheers and jeers of demonstrators just outside the massive gate may have prevented Mordechai Vanunu from hearing the flutter of eighteen white doves taking flight.

These living symbols of peace, one for each year of his life lived behind bars, were set free by the international gathering of supporters to celebrate this Peace Hero's freedom.

Following the brief, dramatic press conference, Mordechai Vanunu got into a car, and headed for St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. The gates opened, and the car was besieged by a vengeful mob.

Supporters closest to the gate, and police on foot, struggled to surround the sedan as it slowly gained speed, deflecting fists and boots and eggs until the unrepentant convict's ride had outrun this visceral expression of the dangers facing Vanunu as long as he is forced to remain in Israel.

The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, along with bishops and clergy from England, the USA and Australia as well as local Christians, welcomed Vanunu.

"The Eucharist was offered in thanksgiving for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in prayers for Mr. Vanunu, his family and friends in the hopes that he can live a normal life from now on," reported Bishop Riah.

To supporters watching on television, it seemed Vanunu had already defied the reported prohibition on contact with foreigners when he spoke with the international media at the prison.

But within the hour, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told the BBC World Service that the government had relented, at least for now. "He is allowed to speak to foreigners and to the media, but not allowed to speak of his work at Dimona."

Supporters on the ground had prepared to fete Vanunu in private rooms at a restaurant that evening. For a few days, it looked like the group would have to dine without him. Then the address of the restaurant appeared in the media, distressing the anxious owner.

Quietly, arrangements were made to move the event to St. George's, where Vanunu could safely meet the international delegation.

"I could not believe my eyes and ears," says Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian peace activist who has corresponded with Vanunu for 16 years and nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in the last 15 years. "I had expected to see the sorry remains of a mentally exhausted fellow who would be uncomfortable, surrounded by so many people. Mordechai looked well, tanned and related to everybody in two speeches. He circulated at ease and talked with visible pleasure with everybody. Everybody.

"He took meticulous care to identify as many as possible of the friends he had only met by mail and thank them. It was not a little exaggeration when he said that his supporters were the real heroes in this case.

"It must have taken an extraordinary stubbornness and survival instinct to get through his ordeal alive. An absolute determination not to give the system the joy of succeeding to break him, seems to be the core factor in his rescuing his sound mind. When I commented on his strength in facing the world and the waiting world press, he said.

"The strength of 18 years in prison." Israeli campaigner Rayna Moss writes, "We laughed, cried, drank champagne, hugged and kissed Mordechai. We thanked the Bishop for coming to Mordechai's aid and he replied 'It's our duty and an honor.' Mordechai was eager to keep talking, to meet everyone - he actually recognized our names and knew who everyone was once they introduced themselves... For him, we were very real, although we had never met. "Among the impressions of Mordechai that people shared: dignified, defiant, unbelievably strong, warm, elegant and just wonderful."

At this time, Mordechai Vanunu remains in sanctuary at St. George's through Sunday.

It is not known whether or when he will move into the Jaffa apartment initially arranged for him, now that its location has been widely publicized.

Concern for his personal safety is not exaggerated: an internet poll early Friday on the website of one Israeli daily, Ma'ariv, shows one in three respondents chose "killed" as the answer to the question, "What should be done with Vanunu?"

Both Israeli and American officials say they are watching Vanunu closely because they are certain he has damaging secrets yet to tell.

But his safety matters not. "He's surrounded by at least 100 radicals who are worshiping him so I'm sure they'll take care of his safety," said Justice Minister Tomy Lapid. No special security measures are planned for Vanunu's benefit, he added.

Vanunu yesterday directed a special appeal to Norway to give him a passport on humanitarian grounds, since Israel will not at this time.

--Jack Cohen-Joppa

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Jack Cohen-Joppa
Associate Coordinator, U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu
POB 43384 Tucson, AZ 85733
Phone/Fax 520-323-8697

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