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After 18 years - Released!

by Felice Cohen-Joppa

Long imprisoned nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu emerged from Ashkelon Prison shortly after 11 a.m. on April 21, welcomed to freedom by several hundred supporters from Israel and around the world who were gathered outside the prison gate. Moving deliberately past the throng of press just inside the prison compound, surrounded by assorted officials and guards, Vanunu walked to the gate. Holding both hands high with the signs of victory and peace, he stepped up onto the bars to acknowledge his supporters.

The just-released prisoner of conscience then made a statement to the international reporters, saying, "I am proud and happy to do what I did... I will continue to speak against all kinds of nuclear weapons, against all democracies' nuclear weapons."

Calling for the Dimona nuclear reactor and bomb factory to be opened to international inspection, he added: "I don't have any secrets. I don't want to harm Israel. I want a new life. I want to go to United States, to marry a wife and to start my life."

Asked about being a hero, Vanunu replied, "All those who stood behind me and who supported me for 18 years are the heroes. I am a symbol of the will of freedom. You cannot break the human spirit." Just behind me in the crowd outside the gate, a group of young Israeli anarchists loudly shouted slogans in Hebrew: "Mordechai Vanunu is a Hero" and "Vanunu - Yes, Nukes - No", effectively drowning out the screaming of a mob of extreme right wing Israelis who had invaded our gathering. Some of the mob shouted, "Kill Vanunu!", held black roses, and threw eggs and rocks at Vanunu's supporters. They ripped up and burned some of the posters we had printed for the occasion, large photos of Vanunu smiling, with the words "Thank You Mordechai Vanunu - Peace Hero, Nuclear Whistleblower".


Ben Inman (UK) plays his trumpet outside the gates of Ashkelon
Prison, in the hour before Mordechai Vanunu's release, April 21, 2004.
PHOTO BY ERNEST RODKER

A British supporter played We Shall Overcome and other songs on his trumpet, the clear notes breaking through the chaotic scene. Other supporters held flowers high, some tossing them as the car carrying Mordechai, his brothers Asher and Meir, and Meir's young son Luca exited through the prison gates.

An hour prior to Mordechai Vanunu's 11 a.m. scheduled release, supporters had released 18 white doves into the morning sky, one for each year of his imprisonment. Then, at that moment when Vanunu was driven out of the prison, several people watched one of the white doves fly out from inside the prison compound, and circle overhead. Overcome with joy, people began chanting "Vanunu is free, Vanunu is free."

Fulfilling Mordechai's first request, the Vanunu brothers drove straight to St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, so that he could pray and give thanks for his release. (He had converted to Christianity in 1986 at an Anglican church in Australia.)

However, Mordechai Vanunu's newfound freedom is seriously compromised. A package of restrictions based on 1945 British Mandate emergency regulations was delivered to Vanunu during his last week behind bars. Most significant, he is forbidden to leave Israel for at least one year.

An apartment in Jaffa had previously been quietly arranged for Vanunu. But two days before his release, the media publicized its location. With no privacy and public threats on his life, Vanunu was granted sanctuary by the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal.


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