Inside Looking Out:
Hebron, West Bank
(East Jerusalem, January 8, 2004) Now that our visas have almost expired, my wife, Sis, and I will be leaving Palestine and Israel for a few weeks. That is more than Mordechai Vanunu can do, hemmed in as he is by official Israeli restrictions, which he ticks off one by one. "Number one: not to leave the country for one year. Number two, if I want to move in Israel, I should report every day to the police where I am going and where I am staying. But I don't want to go into Israel. I want to leave it.
"Number three: Even though, I don't have to report where I am going in Jerusalem, if I want to sleep in another house, even in Jerusalem, I have to report where each night. Number four: I am not allowed to go to the Palestinian territories." So Palestinian East Jerusalem is "home" for now, and the Anglican St. George's Cathedral guesthouse is his current address.
"Number five," he continues, "I`m not allowed to go to any foreign embassy or foreign consul, and I am not allowed to go to the airport."
And then there is, "Number six: not to speak to foreigners like you… especially the news media. And that," he says scornfully, "is a stupid restriction. Who can know--if you don't see the passport--if you are speaking to a foreigner? So I am trying to stand against this restriction. I am trying to tell the authorities they cannot put such a restriction on my talking."
So he doesn't pay any attention to number six. In fact he is surprisingly accessible: willing--in fact eager--to just chat non- stop or to be very intentionally interviewed at length. Anyone who asks (journalists; admiring Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals; authors of the humblest of blogs; or members of tour groups serendipitously fortunate enough to come across him as they move about East Jerusalem): all are encouraged warmly to come ahead.
But even though he is available to the news media and the curious, he refuses to speak in Hebrew during interviews or news conferences being covered by Israeli news organizations, especially radio and TV. "I am ready to tell my news in Hebrew," he says. "It is very important, because Israeli media are always telling the people a lot of distortions about my story; so I need to correct that. But I don't do it."
"Because I am ready to forgive but, he admits, not to forget."
And what he can't forget is an acquired wariness based on what he feels is the Israeli news media's long running "distorted" coverage of his kidnapping by the Israeli government back in 1986, his subsequent trial and conviction followed by eighteen years in prison (most of that in isolation), and the short leash he has been on since his release last April. Their handling of his story, he asserts, demonstrates how the "Israeli media have used propaganda to develop the minds of the people here to keep quiet about Israel's big secret, its nuclear weapons program, and also not to respect Palestinians. Nothing has changed."
There are those, however, who, although sympathetic with his ideals, courage, and long confinement nevertheless do part company with him on this specific issue. His thinking, they worry, is convoluted and counterproductive, a kind of self imposed catch-22. By standing the Israeli press in the corner, so to speak, when it comes to speaking Hebrew--especially on TV and radio--he is missing an opportunity to reach out more directly to more Israelis.
His answer, "The trouble for me is how can I fight the restrictions? How can I best do that? How can I best express my demand to receive full human rights: my freedom of speech, my freedom of movement? To do that I am giving the Israeli news media, who understand my English very well, a message to get the restrictions lifted. Then I will talk to them in Hebrew."
But the government makes the restrictions, not the press.
"The media helps the government with its propaganda to build the minds and the opinions of the people here. I think the media here are a kind of dictatorship. If the media would help me, that means the state would do it too."
Failing that, he says, help could come from another quarter but it has not. "I have to fight against these restrictions by myself, alone. But if other states would do something to fight Israel on this not respecting democracy, if they would help me, that would solve the problem."
But to do that apparently means solving a series of other catch-22s, beginning with his desire to jettison his Israeli citizenship. "Six years ago, I ask them to take my citizenship; and they said you cannot cancel your citizenship unless you have another citizenship. So I tried to find another country to give me a citizenship. I asked even Arafat about five or six months ago for the Palestinian authority to give me citizenship. But the only one to answer was Sweden.
"Sweden said, we cannot give you asylum, because you are still in Israel territory. When you are in a foreign territory, then you can ask. But then some people, who wanted to help me, told the Swedish that I am in East Jerusalem and that East Jerusalem is not part of Israel. It has been annexed; it is foreign country. But that has not convinced Sweden."
He said that he also has officially applied to Norway, Ireland, Canada, and France; and "indirectly to England and to the United States. But no one will even give those who are making indirect approaches for me the papers needed for asking for asylum."
What's your reaction to all those turn downs by so many bigdemocracies?
"It's very sad. The same thing happened during my eighteen years in prison. No democratic state demanded my release. So I am used to fighting by myself. And I understand, why, even when I don't understand it. I understand that no democratic state wants to risk the relationship with Israel for one man. But what I don't understand is the world was doing that during the cold war. All the democracies were fighting Russia for Andrei Sakharov and Natan Shransky. All of them were fighting this superpower Russia for Sakharov and Shransky: punishing it, fighting it, making sanctions against it for those two men who were doing what I am doing. But when it comes to the Israel state no one is ready to fight or punish for my human rights. So it's very strange and unacceptable that the western states are not doing this for me."
His take on why?
"It's a double standard by the United States and Europe. The United States has one standard for all the world and one standard for Israel. When it comes to other states, like Arab states, the United States is fighting nuclear proliferation. That is one standard. But with Israel, they don't want to know. They don't want to see. They don't want to speak. But they know exactly what's going on. Even more than that, they cooperate. They help each other. So I must keep on to ask, how can a democracy have one standard for one state and another standard for another?"
Is that a rhetorical question?
"Maybe the answer is: it is a nuclear conspiracy. Maybe it means that states in the west don't want to support a man who is fighting everyone's nuclear weapons, who is continuing to fight alone to report to the world against Israel's nuclear weapons and against foreign government who are actually helping the Israeli state to keep on doing this.. So maybe that is why they don't want me to come to their states, because I continue talking about this nuclear issue.
Why is it important for us to know as much as we possibly can about Israeli nuclear development?
"So that Israel cannot play any more games and think that they actually can be allowed to use the atomic bomb. They must be stopped because the atomic bomb is a holocaust weapon that is going to kill children…everyone. It will be genocide."
Are you a one-issue man or is their room for the issue of Palestinian human rights and freedom?
My case is one issue. But my story is part of the same issues for Palestine. The same as Israel is doing to Palestine they did to me. We are suffering from the same government policies.
"So I think, Palestinians can learn from how I stand and fight with nonviolence. They can fight with nonviolence too, not by condemning what Israel is doing to them and then doing violence back to Israel, but by standing very firm and demanding their rights always with nonviolence."
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