Inside Looking Out:
Hebron, West Bank
(East Jerusalem, January 10, 2005) On April 21st, Mordechai Vanunu will have been out of prison for a year, but not out of Israeli custody or jurisdiction. Then at that time the one-year ban on travel outside the country ends.
Like the administrative detentions of thousands of political prisoners in Israeli prisons—Palestinian and Israeli—his circumscribed conditions outside of jail could be extended. In official (and unofficial) circles, there still is amongst Israelis great resentment of his lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding Israel's nuclear weapons program nineteen years ago. And, even though he says he revealed all he knows about the program back in 1986, there is the worry that, if allowed to fly the coop, his denials notwithstanding, he will begin sharing as yet unrevealed secrets that will bring activities at Israel's Dimona nuclear facility into a new and still unwelcome glare of international scrutiny.
And, if that happens, this time the Israeli state probably would not be able to pull off the kind of caper that resulted in his kidnapping, secret trial and long-term incarceration. This time, like Salman Rushdie, he would probably be well protected from an Israeli-style fatwa. But even if all he knows was revealed in 1986, a Vanunu on the outside indefatigably pointing out the relationship between the Israeli nuclear program and its territorial designs on Palestine could be dangerously infuriating to Israel's land hungry hawks.
"During the cold war," he says, "when I saw how many weapons they are producing--more than one hundred, two hundred--I worried that if I do not publish, this very small state, Israel, could use the atomic bomb. So I was concerned to prevent that and to contribute to peace by publishing those nuclear secrets."
That concern was and remains closely linked to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. "I make it known to the world that because Israel is so powerful, there is no reason to keep the occupation and not give the Palestinians their rights. That was the real target in my trying to publish about Israel's nuclear weapons."
If you hadn't gone public, what do you think might have happened?
I think the direction was toward Israel to use the atomic bomb. My view is there was a long time conspiracy to try to use it. After Hiroshima there was no one who used atomic bomb against citizens; and I think some governments were trying to find someone to do it. And Israel was ready to use it. So these people think that if Israel do it, all the world will understand, all the world will accept them to do it because of Jewish history. That history, they would say, gives them the right. But then I come out of Israel and prove that just because of their holocaust history they should not have the right to bring holocaust on others.
You really thought they would use it?
"Yes, yes. That was the scenario during the cold war: to start a nuclear war here."
"Yes. There was behind Israel Christian fundamentalists who want Armageddon here. And they tried to have Israel bring it."
Can all this, if true, be blamed on the Christian right wing?
"No. But Israel is happy to use them. When Europe Jews came about one hundred and fifty years ago to this Arab Palestinian region; they say they are a super race, the chosen people race. And they say the Palestinians are inferiors and not equal. But even more than that superior feeling, the people in the regimes of the Israeli people were believing that they are also in all ways superior to the west, superior to Europe, and superior to the United States. And they still believe it."
But you also talk about Israeli paranoia. Can there be both?
"Yes, of course. At the same time, they have this paranoia feeling that the world is against them. And they should always be standing against all the world. When they established the Jewish state in 1948 it was after the Second World War. It was after the holocaust: the persecution of Jews. But since 1945 the world has been changed and we have many minorities in Europe: Vietnamese, Turkey, Africans, and Asian people. There is no such thing as the kind of persecution of the Jewish minority as it used to be in Europe. And Israel should understand that in this modern age of democracy and human rights it is gone."
But that's not the Israeli official line, is it?
"No. And as you know, I also found out in 1986 that they are starting to produce a hydrogen bomb. That is a very strong nuclear bomb. There is no justification of a hydrogen bomb." And he adds ruefully, "So if Israelis come to take this land by God, then let God do this for them. Not do it by weapons. They should be destroying their nuclear weapons."
There are Jews in Israel and elsewhere in the world that are helping you.
"Yes. There are a very small group of them who have supported me. Very, very few.
And there are some Israelis on the left who have been working on your behalf with whom you still have serious disagreements.
"Yes. There are a lot of people from the left who are working for the Palestinians. They are against the wall, against the occupation. But their basic ideology or understanding is not like mine. If these people from the left want peace, they should also accept that the Palestinian refugees have the right to return.
"And there are others on the left who are supporting the atomic bomb. Some of them speak of peace, but at the same time they say they want the atomic bomb: like Shimon Peres. They also say they don't like the Palestinian refugees to come back. But if you are for peace, it is contrary to say this."
But to be fair, there is also a small group of Jews in Israel who are against the atomic bomb and who do support the right of return.
"On the issue of the atomic bomb, you can find some people in Israel who are ready to be antinuclear weapons; but they are afraid to speak because of their work, because of the people around them: their neighbors, their friends who always are telling them, `Because of the holocaust, how can you be against the atomic bomb? We are survivors of the holocaust; and now all the Arab world wants to destroy our Jewish community.' So with that pressure they don't say, `No, we cannot use the atomic bomb.'"
If you had your way, and could go anywhere you want and do what you want, where would you go and what would you do?
"We have applied for scholarship to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or Harvard to be in an academic institution, to do some research in history, to write my book, and to spread my message to young students. I want the young students to know and learn from my case. I want them to learn and to know that it is important to spread the message of peace, to abolish nuclear weapons, and to challenge democracies that won't do it. I want to teach them to fight for this kind of freedom.
Any response from MIT or Harvard?
"We only made the application in December (2004). And the application is for the next school year: 2005 September."
Who is helping?
"In London we have a big campaign, and in the United States, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, everywhere."
And right now you are still a guest at St. George's.
"I am staying here [in East Jerusalem] at Anglican Cathedral St. George. I am the guest of the Bishop here in the guesthouse. So I don't have a lot of expense. People bring me many of the things I need. Clothes. The guesthouse gives me breakfast. Dinner is the only big expense."
So that's why you are happy to accept dinner invitations?
"Yes, but it's also that I am not alone. It is good to have dinner often with friends and journalists who are coming to visit."
Not everyone knows you have to take care of dinner. Has there ever been an evening when you didn't have a dinner invitation?
"Yes, of course. Then I go and buy very cheap food: take away. Shawarma or Falafel. And I eat it by myself. I could do that for eighteen years in prison. I can do that now."
After eighteen years in prison do you have any resources of your own?
"I don't have a lot because I spent a lot on the trial and the lawyers. Some people said I should ask money from the newspapers for interviews; but I am not doing that. The campaign in the United States sends me $300.00 each month. So that helps me. And if I can get to MIT or Harvard I have an award of $50,000 from Yoko Ono waiting for me in the United States. So, when I can get there, I can start my life with it."
When asked, what if someone wants to help out?--his reply, as always, is unembarrassed and direct, "If people want, they can send directly to me or to the campaign in the United States. I have an account here in Jerusalem."
As my interviews with Mordechai Vanunu came to a close, I decided to end as we began by seeking one more set of insights into the meaning he has derived from his acquired faith: meanings which drove him, he has said, along the lonely and too often repudiated path of the whistleblower. Whistleblower can, of course, be a synonym for prophet.
"It was the new way of Jesus Christ teachings," he said, "his way of teaching for peace; especially his way of teaching nonviolence. It's hard to understand. It is very hard to follow. I even tried to follow: if they slap you on one side, give to them the other side. But that is how people should live in peace: forgive those who are enemies. That is the way we can live together."
To discover more about Christian Peacemaker Teams, please visit the website at: www.cpt.org