Mordechai Vanunu: prisoner of conscience

How many countries in the world are there where someone can be thrown in jail for talking to a foreigner? That was one of Mordechai Vanunu’s most recent “crimes” as a citizen in “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Having spent 18 years in prison — more than 11 of those in solitary confinement — after revealing to the world Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program, Vanunu is now back in solitary confinement.

Amnesty International has rightly declared that he is a “prisoner of conscience,” and called for his immediate release.

The state persecution that Vanunu has suffered for decades and other details provide reason to suspect that he may the individual who in a report several days ago was simply referred to a Mr X.

A June 13 report in the Hebrew edition of Ynet (translated by Didi Remez, h/t to Richard Silverstein) said:

Nobody knows who Mr. X. is. Ynet has learned that a man has been imprisoned for some time in wing 15 of Ayalon Prison but nobody knows who he is and what charges he is being jailed for. Nobody talks to him, nobody sees him, nobody visits him, nobody knows he is in jail. “He was placed in full and complete separation from the outside world,” said an Israel Prison Service official.

To enter the wing where the detainee is being held, you have to pass the jailers on the southern side of the prison and go through double iron doors. Unlike regular separation wings, where prisoners can talk loudly between the cells or see the goings-on in the corridors with mirrors, wing 15 has only one cell without neighboring cells and without a corridor, so that whoever is jailed in it is completely isolated from any living being.

“I don’t know any other prisoner or IPS detainee held in such severe conditions of separation and isolation,” said a Prison Service official. “There is confidentiality surrounding the detainee in wing 15 in every respect, including his identity and the crimes he committed. I doubt even the jailers in charge of him know who he is. There is too much confidentiality surrounding him. It is scary that in 2010 a man is imprisoned in Israel without us even knowing who he is.”

The official said, “it is simply a person without a name and without an identity who was placed in complete and absolute isolation from the outside world. We don’t know if he gets visits, if he gets the rights that every detainee deserves by law and if anybody even knows he is in jail.” The IPS declined to divulge who the person jailed there is. Its spokesman, Lt. Col. Yaron Zamir, said: “The IPS does not provide information about locations and names out of security considerations.”

Mr. X. is being kept in the wing originally built in order to jail Prime Minister Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir. Amir was jailed in the same cell under heavy security, with security cameras in the cell until December 2006, when he was moved to the separate wing at Rimonim prison in the Sharon district. The cell in wing 15 is relatively large and, in the case of Amir, his family met him in the cell so that he would not have to be taken out during visits.

Amnesty confirms that Vanunu is being held in Ayalon Prison.

Earlier this year, Rannie Amiri wrote on Vanunu’s “Nobel stand”:

“He [Vanunu] has written letters to us this year and last year also, where he stated explicitly that he did not want to be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. The reason he gave was that Simon Peres had received the Nobel Peace Prize, and Peres he alleged was the father of the Israeli atomic bomb and he did not want to be associated with Peres in any way.” – Geir Lundestad, Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, 24 February 2010.

For the first time in the history of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a preemptive request to withdraw a nomination—by the nominee—was made.

It was revealed last week that in a letter to the Committee, Mordechai Vanunu had asked for his candidacy to be rescinded. It was unusual enough for Geir Lundestad to acknowledge that a nomination had even been received, let alone publicly disclose Vanunu’s request. But for Vanunu—a man who should have been awarded the Peace Prize long ago—it was in full keeping with the dignity, integrity and uncompromising nature of one to whom the world owes a great debt.

Mordechai Vanunu – more than just a whistleblower

Vanunu worked as a technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev Desert from 1976-1985. In a 1986 interview with The Sunday Times, he courageously exposed, for the first time, his country’s clandestine nuclear activity. A week prior to the interview’s publication, he was lured by a Mossad agent from London to Rome, where he was apprehended and whisked off to Israel. In secret proceedings, Vanunu stood trial for treason, was swiftly convicted, and sentenced to 18 years behind bars. He spent more than 11 of them in solitary confinement.

Vanunu was released from Ashkelon’s Shikma prison in April 2004, unapologetic and unrepentant. “I am proud and happy to do what I did,” he said.

As for enduring nearly two decades of incarceration?
“I said to the Shabak [Shin Bet], the Mossad, ‘you didn’t succeed to break me, you didn’t succeed to make me crazy.’”
Conditions of his parole prohibited him from speaking with journalists, supporters, or non-Israelis of any kind. He was restricted from travelling within the country and barred altogether from leaving it.

In 2007, Vanunu was found to be in violation of his parole, in part for attempting to travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and it landed him in jail for another three months. Being a convert to Christianity and an advocate for Palestinian rights did not help his case, but only served to increase the scorn heaped upon him by his countrymen.

Although the term “whistleblower” is usually appended to Vanunu’s name, the description is weak and understated. He was more like the “siren” that alerted the world to Israel’s undeclared nuclear bombs and the introduction of weapons of mass destruction to the Middle East.

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  1. On 24 April 2004, Uri Avnery wrote:

    “Everybody understands that Vanunu has no more secrets. What can a technician know after 18 years in jail, during which technology has advanced with giant steps?

    “But gradually it becomes clear what the security establishment is really afraid of. Vanunu is in a position to expose the close partnership with the United States in the development of Israel’s nuclear armaments.

    “This worries Washington so much, that the man responsible in the State Department for ‘arms control’, Under-Secretary John Bolton, has come to Israel in person for the occasion. Vanunu, it appears, can cause severe damage to the mighty super-power.

    “The Americans, it seems, are very worried. The Israeli security services have to dance to their tune. The world must be prevented by all available means from hearing, from the lips of a credible witness, that the Americans are full partners in Israel’s nuclear arms program, while pretending to be the world’s sheriff for the prevention of nuclear proliferation.”

    In 2005, Vanunu told me:

    “President Kennedy tried to stop Israel from building atomic weapons. Kennedy insisted on an open internal inspection.

    “When Johnson became president, he made an agreement with Israel that two senators would come every year to inspect. Before the senators would visit, the Israelis would build a wall to block the underground elevators and stairways. From 1963 to ’69, the senators came, but they never knew about the wall that hid the rest of the Dimona from them.

    “Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation. As a result, Israel increased production. In 1986, there were over two hundred bombs. Today, they may have enough plutonium for ten bombs a year.”

    Listen to Vanunu speak for himself in 2005, 2006, 2008 and learn all about hia Freedom of Speech Trial in the ‘democracy’ of Israel @
    THE VANUNU SAGA 2005-2010!

    Eileen Fleming, Producer “30 Minutes with Vanunu” and “13 Minutes with Vanunu”

  2. Correction to Typos:

    Listen to Vanunu speak for himself in 2005, 2006, 2008 Video Interviews and learn all about his Freedom of Speech Trial in the ‘democracy’ of Israel @
    THE VANUNU SAGA 2005-2010!

    Eileen Fleming, Producer “30 Minutes with Vanunu” and “13 Minutes with Vanunu”

  3. “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’

    “But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’

    “And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”-Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Message RE: Mordechai Vanunu to President Peres and all of US Congress @

  4. One would have to go back to 1670 to find a comparable case of official paranoia and psychotic government behavior — when the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned. I suppose it comes from having a code of ethics set down long before ethics and justice were recognized.

  5. “All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth. I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians. All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth.”-John Lennon, 1971.

    In 2004, Yossi Melman wrote for Haaretz:

    “This is the secret that hasn’t yet been told in the affair: the story of the security fiasco that made it possible for Vanunu to do what he did, and the story of the subsequent attempts at cover-up, whitewashing and protection of senior figures in the defense establishment, who were bent on divesting themselves of responsibility for the failure.

    “The 18-year prison term to which Vanunu was sentenced is almost exactly the same period as that in which Yehiel Horev has served as chief of internal security in the defense establishment [who has been] involved in the affair as deputy chief of security at the Defense Ministry, and also after Vanunu’s abduction and arrest, as a member of an investigative commission.”

    Melman described Horev as devoted to duty and bland, petty and acutely suspiciousness, but also a man of personal integrity with a desire to expose corruption and failures coupled with a penchant for vengefulness.

    “The affairs of the secrets that leaked from the two places considered Horev’s holiest sites – the Biological Institute, which produced a senior spy in the person of Prof. Marcus Klingberg, and the Dimona nuclear plant, about which secret information was revealed through Mordechai Vanunu – were formative events in the development of his world view. Shortly after taking office as chief of security at the Defense Ministry, Horev began to take punitive measures to hobble Vanunu. He is responsible for the harsh conditions in which Vanunu was held, which included years in solitary confinement, and the sharp limitations on the number of visitors he could have…[and has fought] a rearguard battle to prevent Vanunu from leaving Israel and to place him under supervision and restrictions that will be tantamount to house arrest. Horev has always been considered the strictest of all the security chiefs in Israel, especially in regard to the protection of institutions such as the Dimona facility and the Biological Institute. He is apprehensive that if Vanunu goes abroad, he will continue to be a nuisance by stimulating the public debate over Israel’s nuclear policy and the nuclear weapons he says Israel possesses…all the hyperactivity being displayed by Horev and those who support his approach is intended only to divert attention from what has not yet been revealed: the security blunders and their cover-ups.”

    In 2003, BBC documentary Peter Hounam stated, “Vanunu told the world that Israel had developed between one hundred and two hundred atomic bombs [in 1986!] and had gone on to develop neutron bombs and thermonuclear weapons. Enough to destroy the entire Middle East and nobody has done anything about it since.”

    Doing Something @ THE VANUNU SAGA 2005-2010!

  6. Eleonora says

    It is always nice to see the Israeli “democrazy” in full swing and action.

    The (political) USA keeps pressuring the Palestinians to release Gilat Shalit. It forgets the more than 10’000 Palestinians of which some 500 are children (!) who are in Israeli prisons without due trial.

    The (political) USA keeps pressuring Israel to keep Mordechai Vanunu in jail – no surprise.

    They equally pressured Egypt to release Ibrahim Saad El Din and Ayman Nour – forgetting about the tens of thousands of other political prisoners who suffer in the various dungeons.

    This tells us what ? … other than that 1 IDF soldier’s life who is a PoW is more valuable than tens of thousands of political prisoners, incarcerated by “friendly” regimes.

    Simple! Simple?