by Christopher Bollyn
Mordechai Vanunu, Israel’s most famous dissident free after 18 years in prison, is ready to defy the severe restrictions imposed upon him by the Israeli military and tell the western media everything he knows about the Middle East’s largest secret arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Vanunu spent 18 years in an Israeli prison—11 and a half of them in solitary confinement—for providing evidence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal to a British newspaper in 1986. “I acted on behalf of all citizens and all of humanity,” said Vanunu.
In October 1986, Vanunu, a nuclear technician who had worked at the Dimona Nuclear Power Plant in the Negev Desert for 10 years, traveled to London and gave photographic evidence to The Sunday Times that Israel was secretly developing nuclear weapons. Two months earlier he had converted to Christianity while traveling in Australia.
Vanunu provided evidence and described how Israel had built an arsenal of over 200 nuclear bombs and neutron bombs. Before The Times’s story was even published, however, Vanunu had been lured to Rome and kidnapped by Israeli secret service agents. A secret trial followed, and Vanunu was locked in a tiny, windowless cell for more than a decade.
When Vanunu was released from an Israeli prison on April 21, the Israeli military authorities imposed severe restrictions on his freedom. He is banned from leaving the country, confined to an assigned residence and denied the right to be in contact with journalists or foreigners.
The human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) protested the restrictions imposed on Vanunu saying on April 19: “Vanunu must not be subject to arbitrary restrictions and violations of his fundamental rights on the basis of pretexts or suspicions about what he may do in the future.”
The restrictions on Vanunu’s movement, speech and association violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel has ratified and is obliged to uphold, according to AI.
While Israeli officials contend the restrictions are to prevent Vanunu from divulging information about Israel’s nuclear arsenal, AI sees it differently:
“Israel’s determination to curtail Vanunu’s freedom and contact with the outside world seem to be intended to prevent him from revealing details of his abduction by Israeli secret service agents 18 years ago in Rome in what was clearly an unlawful act,” AI said.
According to Jonathan Cook of The Guardian in Britain, Vanunu’s brother, Meir, who lives with him at St. George’s, says there is another motive for the restrictions and confinement of Israel’s most famous dissident: Vanunu’s release brings attention to Israel’s nuclear arsenal at precisely the moment when the justification for attacking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq—his possession of weapons of mass destruction—is shown to have been hollow.
“If Vanunu were free to talk, he might remind the world that the greatest threat to Middle East peace comes not from Baghdad but from Tel Aviv,” Cook wrote. “That is a message neither America nor Britain wants to hear right now.”
The same controlled U.S. media networks that sent embedded reporters into combat in Iraq and published false reports about that nation’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, are seemingly afraid to go to St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem and interview Vanunu, Israel’s most famous dissident and peace activist, for fear of crossing a line drawn by the Israeli military.
I, however, and the London-based Arabic language newspaper Al Hayat
have interviewed Vanunu recently from St. George’s, where he has sought
asylum in the Anglican church compound a short distance from the U.S. Consulate
in East Jerusalem.
BEHIND THE JFK ASSASSINATION
Comments made by Vanunu during an interview with Al Hayat’s weekly magazine Al Wassat, published on July 25, made headlines around the world but were completely ignored in the United States, where they could have caused immense political damage to Israel. As The Jerusalem Post’s article headline read, “Vanunu: Israel behind JFK assassination.”
Russia’s Pravda article of July 27 began: “Israel may be implicated in the biggest crime of the past century, which took place in Dallas in 1963.”
Iran’s Tehran Times, writing from Jerusalem, said: “In a startling accusation, nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu has alleged that Jerusalem was behind the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who was exerting pressure on the then Israeli head of state to shed light on the Dimona nuclear plant.”
Similar articles appeared in newspapers around the world, but in the United States this explosive news was only reported by wire services and in Jewish newspapers.
Vanunu’s comments that there are “near-certain indications” that Israel was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy support the thesis of Michael Collins Piper, presented in his book Final Judgment, that Israeli agents played a key role in the murder.
I asked Vanunu to explain his comments about Israeli involvement in the murder of President Kennedy.
“My view is that Kennedy was assassinated because of his strong opposition to [Israeli prime minister] Ben Gurion,” Vanunu said.
At the time, Ben Gurion was working to create a nuclear arsenal for Israel.
The group that was involved with Ben Gurion in developing and protecting Israel’s nuclear arsenal “was behind the assassination of Kennedy,” Vanunu said.
As Piper documents in Final Judgment, Kennedy’s resistance to Israel becoming a nuclear-armed state led to increasing hostility between the two leaders until Ben Gurion resigned in June 1963. Kennedy had realized that the Israelis were producing illegal nuclear weapons from the nuclear reactor given to Israel in 1959 under the “Atoms for Peace” program.
In the Al Wassat interview, Vanunu said: “Israel possesses between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons, including a neutron bomb and hydrogen bombs, which are tenfold in their effect. If an atomic bomb can kill 100,000 people then the hydrogen bomb can kill a million.
“We do not know which irresponsible Israeli prime minister will take
office and decide to use nuclear weapons in the struggle against neighboring
Arab countries,” The Jerusalem Post reported Vanunu having said. “What
has already been exposed about the weapons Israel is holding [is that they]
can destroy the region and kill millions.”
A ‘SECOND CHERNOBYL’
Vanunu also warned of the environmental dangers of nuclear leaks at Israel’s antiquated nuclear facility at Dimona. An earthquake or nuclear accident at Dimona could result in the “leaking of nuclear radiation, threatening millions of people in neighboring countries,” Vanunu said.
Jordan, in particular, was mentioned as being in danger of nuclear contamination. “Dimona’s chimneys do not operate unless the winds blow in the direction of Jordan,” Vanunu said.
A Jordanian government spokesman, Asma Khader, responded promptly to Vanunu’s claim, saying, “The kingdom is free of radiation.”
Vanunu also criticized the recent visit to Israel of Mohamed El Baradei, head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“I am very disappointed by Mr. El Baradei because I expected him to go and inspect the Dimona reactor,” Vanunu said. “The job of Mr. Baradei is to go and see if what I said . . . if it’s true.”
Vanunu stressed to me his strong desire to speak with the media despite the restrictions, and provide them with information and his views on the need for peace—and a nuclear-free Middle East.
Asked if the U.S. media was interested in meeting him, Vanunu said “not one” American or British newspaper or television network had visited him at St. George’s since his release from prison.
“Why are they in silence?” Vanunu asked me about the U.S. media. “Why is the press not coming to see me? The media should bring my case to the people and the politicians. This case must be heard.”
Linda Rothstein, editor of the Chicago-based Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, however, showed little interest in Vanunu’s story, saying that Vanunu has his supporters and that the Bulletin is not an advocacy group.
Likewise, Kay Seok of Human Rights Watch said that there was nothing
they could do. “Nobody at HRW is working on Israel right now,” she said.
WANTS OUT OF ISRAEL
Vanunu desperately wants to leave Israel, where he is viewed as a traitor, and seek political asylum in the United States. Nick and Mary Eoloff of St. Paul, Minnesota, have formally adopted Vanunu and are ready to provide him sanctuary.
Mrs. Eoloff told me that Vanunu’s life is in danger in Israel.
“I want to go abroad and start my life as a free man,” Vanunu said after Israel’s high court upheld the military’s restrictions on his movement and freedom. “If Israel is a democracy, it should allow me to do it.”
Asked if he had been tortured during his 18 years in prison, Vanunu said, “Of course.”
He said he had been subjected to “mental and psychological torture” that was “cruel and barbaric.”
Because he had converted to Christianity he had received worse treatment than Jewish prisoners, he said. Vanunu said he had been treated like a Palestinian and that his captors had tried to “destroy” him.
“I am a symbol of the will of freedom,” he said. “You cannot break the human spirit.”
Asked about his supporters in the United States, Vanunu said: “I need their support to get me out. Americans should raise their voices with their congressmen and ask them in a loud voice to visit me and bring attention to my case.”
“My country is not Israel,” Vanunu said. “I want to be free and to leave Israel.”
“Israel does not respect my basic human rights,” Vanunu said. “I am denied the freedom of movement and freedom of speech—like all Palestinians. I want peace and freedom from all nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”
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