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Vanunu still seeking freedom

July 12 2004
by Fredrik Heffermehl

(Jerusalem:) Sunday, only 3 months after his release from 18 years of jail in Israel, Mordechai Vanunu, Israel´s nuclear whistleblower, was back in his country´s judicial system. This time to demand his full freedom and the lifting of restrictions imposed upon him by the Israeli authorities, restrictions that bar him from talking to foreigners, in particular journalists, and from leaving the country.

Vanunu actually never gave away secrets, he just warned against a self-inflicted holocaust for Israel. When, in 1986, he handed over photos from his workplace, the Dimona nuclear reactor, he brought common knowledge in military and foreign affairs circles known to the general public. The probably worst part of it was that he blew Israel´s policy of nuclear ambiguity, and broke a taboo and a strict tribal demand of loyalty in the Jewish state.

We talked with him Sunday, after the hearing in the Supreme Court of Israel:

-- This state has a strange concept of justice, Vanunu said, the court was open 12 minutes in the beginning, and 15 minutes in the end. In the intervening almost 2 1/2 hours, the three judges listened to the state´s presentation in camera of secret evidence and witnesses, so secret that neither I nor my lawyers were permitted to attend.

In a closed 15 minutes session with Vanunu and his lawyers only, the focus was on a notebook Vanunu wrote in prison in 1991, containing recollections on Dimona. - This was only mental training to keep and train my mind during years of total isolation, says Vanunu, but the State is making a big point of the fact that I can reproduce information on Dimona any time. What they fail to admit is that what I can reproduce is no secret and cannot harm Israeli national security. Therefore it cannot be the basis of continuing restrictions, says Vanunu. They are punishing me for their own fantasies of what I might do in the future. I have no secrets, and would not publish them if I had. The state knows my intentions and motives.

- - Should the judges go along with the reasoning of the State, the consequence would be that I cannot be given my full freedom before I have lost my mind and memory, a preposterous idea of justice. And meaningless as well, because I am already in my present life seeing so many people - if I had had any secrets I could reveal them. I have made my point, why should I give details on Dimona today? It could not serve anyy purpose. Quite on the contrary, the State has been able to see who I am and what I stand for. It was my studies of moral and philosophical issues that led me to an act of consciousness, they have read my letters for 17 1/2 years - I may not have followed blind loyalty to my superiors, but my motive was to protect Israel and the world from immense harm, potential total destruction. I would like to challenge the government to show an example that I have acted in disloyalty or to harm Israel.

Since, under international law, Israel was obliged to give Vanunu full rights as a normal citizen when he had served his sentence, except if there was a "national security" issue involved, the judges in Sunday´s first short session, rightly, pointed out that the question of secrets was a key factor in the case.

Both foreign and Israeli experts hold that today Vanunu has no secrets of interest. He was a subordinate technician and what he had to give to the Sunday Times back in 1986 was photos. If a state wishes to envoke national security, it has to specify and explain such reasons and a relevant secret cannot be something which is already published and in the open. Much more information on nuclear weapons than Vanunu ever knew is today available on the Internet.

-- I should like to see a new whistleblower from Israel´s security services come forward and reveal that they are making up this story of me as a dangerous person and State enemy number one, says Vanunu.
If the judges should go along with depriving Mordechai of his rights on the basis that he has a good memory, this situation will be the same in 2 weeks, 2 years, 2 decades. So, the decision now is crucial for his future.

The good thing is that the high Court took a full hearing now and did not postpone its decision untill a later hearing, but announced that it will come with a verdict soon. Vanunu, having waited for 17 1/2 year to regain the freedom.

Mordechai feels proud to have set an example which many have followed since. What has happened recently is that whistleblowers come forward much faster, they do not wait for decades before they offer their knowledge. The Iraq war is steeped with examples of whistleblowers who have brought considerable embarassments to US president Bush and British PM Blair. My question what inspired Vanunu to blow the whistle produces a surprising answer:

"Holywood! I saw movies on nuclear devastation like "The China Syndrome" and "The Day After", and an example of moral integrity enacted by Meryl Streep in the film on Karen Silkwood. In 1986 we also had the Chernobyl disaster. All these impulses, together with my academic pursuits in philosophy and ethics, made it a matter of conscience for me to warn people and try to raise a public, democratic debate on the nuclear danger," says Mordechai Vanunu, who has seen the nuclear debate picking up in Israel in the months around his release - and who thinks it is high time the State thanks him, rather than go on punishing him forever.

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