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.
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.