Last Friday, on the eve of Christmas, soldiers at an Israel Defense Forces checkpoint close to the Gilo neighborhood in southern Jerusalem discovered nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu in a car bearing the markings of a foreign television station that was about to enter Bethlehem. On the seat beside him was a Santa Clause hat, the publications said.
Vanunu was arrested, taken for questioning at the Petah Tikva police under suspicion of violating the terms of his release, and eventually released on bail and placed under house arrest at his temporary residence, the Anglican hostel in East Jerusalem.
Since his release from prison more than eight months ago, Vanunu has been systematically violating the restrictions imposed upon him. The restrictions are stringent ones: He is not eligible for a passport for a period of one year; he is banned from leaving Israeli territory, and even the boundaries of his location of residence; he may not approach border crossings or foreign embassies; and he is not allowed to speak to foreigners.
The restrictions, as stipulated on his release, are intended to prevent him from committing additional offenses that could compromise state security or undermine the state's public relations efforts.
Doubts with regard to the need for these restrictions were raised at the outset, after Vanunu had spent 18 years in prison and had already spilled all he knows to London's Sunday Times. The explanations about the damage he could cause if the restrictions were to be lifted appeared exaggerated. Now he is trying to be provocative and to show that his spirit has not be broken, hence the frequent interviews he gives to the international media.
Vanunu is recycling information he had about Israel's nuclear secrets that he publicized some 20 years ago, and he is criticizing Israeli policy in this context.
His behavior often appears somewhat strange: He has become a devout Christian, wearing a prominent cross around his neck; and he refrains from speaking to the media in Hebrew so as to demonstrate his sense of alienation toward the State of Israel. On at least one occasion, he has sought political asylum at one of the foreign embassies in Israel, and was turned down. And he has become surrounded by an odd, cult-like coalition comprising a small number of politicians, extremists, pacifists, a few media figures, and a fair number of devout Christians, all of whom view the restrictions imposed upon him as a sign that he is being persecuted by the Israel security establishment.
The more time that passes since his release, the stronger the doubts with regard to the restrictions imposed upon him become. What and whom are they serving? Certainly not Israel's public relations and security interests; after all, Vanunu frequently violates the restrictions and becomes the hero of the hour and a martyr in various places around the world. Even if the two matters are different, the State of Israel, which seeks the release of Jonathan Pollard, does itself damage by failing to lift the restrictions off Vanunu and not allowing him to leave the country.
It has been suggested more than once that the restrictions imposed on Vanunu are the fruits of the desire for vengeance on the part of the Israeli defense establishment against the person that dealt it a harsh blow. Whatever the case may be, Israel should simply leave him alone. Vanunu wants to leave the country, and it would be best for him to do so - and absolve us of the nuisance of the repeated stories of restriction violations.