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Vanunu - an Israeli problem that wishes to go away

(a letter to Haaretz and the International Herald Tribune)

"State seeks to prove that Vanunu still has classified data" is the title of your July 12 report from an oral hearing in the Supreme court. The high court is soon to decide on the legality of the restrictions imposed by the government on nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu´s freedom of speech and movement.

Even if Vanunu still should have secrets, this in itself cannot automatically justify restrictions. Having attended the court session as a foreign lawyer I wish to offer some observations.

It is hard to say what actually happened in court, since everyone, including Vanunu and even his lawyers, were excluded from all but 25 minutes of the 3 1/2 hour long hearing. Independent experts, however, are adamant that Vanunu has no secret knowledge that today could be used to harm Israel. And would Vanunu use such secrets to harm. Considering his motive and purpose, what purpose could it serve?

One who has served his sentence is entitled to his full rights and freedoms, just as any other citizen. This is a fundamental rule of civilized justice and prescribed in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, True, there is an exception related to national security, but all measures taken have to be necessary for such purpose. Facts that are not able to harm, or are already in the open, will not do.

As far as his motive is concerned, Vanunu always said that he wished to warn against a devastating nuclear Holocaust. He went to a newspaper, to inform the public, not to an enemy (a democracy cannot consider the media as an enemy).

The Israeli government has read and censored Vanunu´s letters for almost 18 years and KNOWS what his concerns are. Even a limited nuclear disaster could make Israel, with its small territory, uninhabitable). Vanunu used his free time to pursue philosophical and ethical themes at the university. And he was influenced by movies like "The Day After", "The China Syndrome" and Meryl Streep as "Karen Silkwood". When, in 1986, Vanunu contacted the Sunday Times, it was only 5 months after the Chernobyl disaster had spread radioactivity to many countries.

One cannot punish a person for crimes he might commit in the future. For the court to accept further restrictions for Vanunu would have daunting consequences. Shall this go on until Vanunu loses his mind and memory? Knowledge does not go away. The thieves and wife molesters are not continually punished for the fact that they continue to have hands.

Vanunu has succeeded with what he wished to achieve - to have awareness and debate of the nuclear threat. After 18 years in jail he wishes to rest and rebuild his life elsewhere. He is one problem for Israel that only wishes to go away.

-Fredrik S. Heffermehl


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