VANUNU & ISRAEL NUCLEAR WEAPONS #history


Poucos conhecem a história de Vanunu, o dissidente israelita de descendência marroquina que em 1986 tornou públicas as provas da fabricação de bombas atómicas por parte do estado judaico.
Vanunu trabalhou em Dimona, a secreta estação nuclear israelita, onde conseguiu fotografar máquinas e componentes que provaram a implicação de Israel na construção de bombas atómicas.
Hoje estima-se que Israel tenha entre 100 e 200 bombas atómicas, embora isso não seja oficialmente assumido pela comunidade internacional. Nunca houve inspecções de organismos internacionais às instalações nucleares israelitas.

Pela sua denuncia Vanutu foi raptado por Israel, cumpriu uma pena de 18 anos, 11 em isolamento completo. 

Actualmente, em Israel, tenta a todo o custo sair do país e garantir asilo noutro local em que possa recomeçar de novo. Apesar de em liberdade, Vanutu é mantido sob fortes restrições: não pode sair de Israel, não pode aproximar-se de nenhuma instalação diplomática, é-lhe negado o acesso a qualquer tipo de meio de comunicação: telemóvel, telefone fixo ou internet; não pode conceder entrevistas e deve estar sempre a mais de 500 metros de qualquer posto fronteiriço.

O artigo que apresentamos é da autoria do falecido Sam Day, antigo coordenador do comité para a libertação de Vanutu e conta-nos em detalhe toda a trama.



ISRAEL´S ANTI-NUCLEAR PRISIONER-OF-CONSCIENCE 

In Israel's maximum security prison at Ashkelon, a place reserved for the state's most dangerous enemies, the tightest security of all surrounds a man whose crime was speaking to the press. 

Mordechai Vanunu, now approaching 43, has spent almost half his adult life in solitary confinement, locked in a small cell walled off from the rest of the inmate population. He eats alone in his concrete and steel cage. He walks alone in the empty prison exercise yard. Except for two or three brothers who are allowed to visit him occasionally and converse through a thick metal screen, his only human contact is with the guards who bring him his daily food. 

On September 30 Vanunu will complete 11 years in solitary confinement, longer than any other political prisioner in modem times, according to Amnesty International, which has condemned his treatment as cruel, inhuman, and degrading. 

With more than a third of bis 18-year sentence still to be served, supporters around the world who regard him as a prisoner-of-conscience grow increasingly concerned about signs of mental stress arising from his prolonged confinement. Fearing his jailers may be on the verge of driving him insane, they have launched an all-out drive for his release. 

Did his crime warrant this punishment? 

Underlying the human rights is sue in the Vanunu case is the larger question of the rights and obligations of citizens with regard to keeping national secrets, for the subject Vanunu discussed with the press 11 years ago was no ordinary one. 

As a former technician in an underground government factory in Israel's Negev Desert, he provided a British newspaper with incontrovertible evidence that his government, unknowns to its people or even to its legislature, had become a major nuclear weapons power. His disclosures made him a hero and a prophet to some, a spy and traitor to others. 


I

One of 11 children of a Moroccan Jewish family, young Mordechai played with Arab boys and girls in the streets and courtyards of Marrakesh. When he was eight the fami1y emigrated to Israel and settled in the town of Beersbeba, where the father, a deeply religious man, took a job selling artifacts and literature at a local temple. 

With his brothers and sisters he attended Beersheba schools. Drafted into the military, he served with distinc­tion as ao Anny sapper - an infantry engineer who builds trenches and fortifications. 
A young man with technical aptitude and an interest in the humanities, Vanunu went looking for work after bis discharge from the army. The job would pay his way through Ben Gurion University at Beersheba, where he planned to study philosophy, psychology, and religion. 

The job he found was at a large government factory near the town of Dimona, believed by the public to be a desalinization plant, a textile factory, or a nuclear rcesearch station. 

Its real function was a state secret. Vanunu signed the secrecy oath required of all employees and went to work as a trainee. It wasn't long before he learned that his work would be in the plutonium separation division of a nuclear bomb factory, helping to recover plutonium, the explosive ingre­dient of fission bombs, from the irradiated fuel rods of Dimona' s large nuclear reactor. 

The realization that he had unwittingly become part of a secret nuclear weapons program caused Vanunu no discomfiture at first. All that mattered to him was that the job provided steady employment at a good wage. 

But his attitude was to change as the young weapons worker, still in his early 20s, began making new friends off the job. At the university Vanunu fell in with Palestmian stu­dents, many of them politicized by the continuing Israeli occupation of Arab lands conquered in the 1967 war. In time, he openly identified with their cause, writing articles, giving speeches, carrying banners calling for freedom for the Palestinians. 

Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, unpopular even in Israel, heightened Vanunu's sense of outrage. His alien­ation from government policy reached such a point in the early 1980s that he began thinking about going public with the secret of Dimona. To that end, Vanunu was able to sneak a camera, wrapped in his towel and swimming trunks, into the factory one night and snap two rolls of film undetected. 

He realized that if he were ever to leak the story he would need some hard evidence to back it up. Toward the end of 1985, after nine years at Dimona, Vanunu was laid off, along with several dozen other workers. 

He decided to use his severance pay for a trip abroad -a trip that might help him sort out some troubling cros -currents in his life. He was in rebellion against the strict dictates of his father and his Jewish faith. And he was in torment over what -if anything - to do about the secret of Dimona. In to his backpack he tossed a few shirts, soaks, shorts and books -and the two rolls of film that had remained undeveloped on his closet shelf. 

For the next few months he traveled in the Soviet Union, through India, and into Southeast Asia. 



II

On a late May evening in 1986 Vanunu found himself in Sydney, Australia. Alone and friendless in that vast city and continent, he came upon a church in the Kings Cross area, a seedy part of town habituated by prostitutes, alcoholics and drug addicts. The door was open. He walked in. This chance encounter with St. John's Anglican Church of Kings Cross changed Vanunu and altered history. 

People were there despite the late hour because St. John's had an outreach program for the poor and the alienated of the neighborhood. Vanunu found himself a cup of coffee and a sandwich. He struck up a conversation with the assistant pastor who was on duty that night. It turned out that David Smith, only few years younger than Vanunu, had taken similar philosophy courses in college and shared Vanunu' s par­ticular interest in the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

The Anglican priest and the wandering Jew talked into the morning hours. Vanunu started hanging out at St. John's. He was taken in by the rector, John McKnight, a big, strapping man who believed in Christian service to the poor. He did odd jobs around the church, joined a Bible study group, and started sitting in on an adult discussion session delving into problems of peace and justice. When the subject turned to nuclear war, Vanunu men­tioned, innocently, that he had once worked in a nuclear weapons factory. 
He offered to tell bis story to the group, and then, with equal innocence, took bis Dimona film rolls to a photo processing shop and developed them for the first time. 

It wasn't long before word reached the news media that a man claiming to have helped build nuclear bombs for Israel was talking about it and showing photographs at church meetings in Sydney. 

One of the newspapers that took a special interest was the London Sunday Times, which had a reputation for roaming the world in search of major scoops. It was widely suspected in the mid-1980s that Israel might be trying to build nuclear weapons in secret, but no hard evidence of that had ever surfaced public1y. 


The Sunday Times flew Peter Hounam, a reporter with a science background, to Sydney to check out the story. In two weeks of intensive conversations with Vanunu, the reporter concluded that the story was real. "I had the impression that he was a sincere yet naive young man," Hounam said Later. 
"He didn't care about money; he just wanted to get the information to the people in Israel; he wanted to make sure we got the story right." 




In early September 1986, the reporter and his news source flew off to London for further interviews with other journalists at the Sunday Times and with nuclear weapons experts the newspaper had engaged to double­ check Vanunu and bis story. Vanunu told well-wishers at the airport he' d be back in a couple of weeks. He was never seen again in Australia. 

Meanwhile, two other events had occurred to seal the informant' s fate. On an afternoon in late July Vanunu reached the end of his spiritual journey at the baptismal font in St. John's Anglican Church. His conversion to Christianity may have given him the extra strength he needed to make his fateful decision. 

But the formal renunciation of his ances­tral faith would also prejudice his case among many Jews in Israel and beyond. (It would also cause his father and some of his siblings to disown him.) And, some time during the weeks preceding his depar­ture, word had reached the Israeli intelligence agency -the Mossad -that a former Dimona worker was talking to the press. The news incensed Shimon Peres, who, in addition to serving as prime minister at the time, also happens to be the father of Israel' s nuclear weapons program, a former diplomat who in the late 1950s per­suaded France to provide Israel with the key technology it needed to get started in nuclear bomb-making. 

Peres ordered the Mossad to do what it needed to bring Vanunu back alive, but to do so without complicating Israel's relations with the Thatcher government in Britain. The Mossad accomplished this by dispatching a SWAT team which included an attractive female agent, Cheryl Ben Tov (alias Cindy), who specialized in enticement. Posing as an American tourist, Cindy succeeded in catching Vanunu's eye in a London park. As the relation­ ship blossomed, she preyed on his frustration over what seemed to be endless delays in the publication of bis story. 

On September 30 Cindy and Mordechai flew to Rome for what she promised would be a romantic weekend in the apartment of her sister. She led him to a place where waiting Mossad agents knocked him to the ground, drugged him, and bound him up for transportation to a waiting freighter which would return him to Israel. Five days later, on October 5, the London Sunday. Times spread Vanunu' s story and photographs over three pages, reporting that tiny Israel had become a major nuclear weapons power, with 100 to 200 warheads of advanced design. The story made headlines around the world, inc1uding Israel, where the media is forbidden to originate news of nuclear weapons activity in Israel but is free to report what foreign publications say. 

Mordechai Vanunu had achieved his self-appointed goal of telling the truth to his people, but he had done so at an awesome cost to himself. 

III

Returned to Israel in chains, Vanunu was charged with espionage and treason and convicted at a closed-door trial. The court found him guilty, even though he had worked for no foreign government and had requested and received no pay for bis information. It ruled Vanunu's motivation for violating state secrecy was irrelevant, as was the truth or falsity of his disclosures. 

In government statements and in the Israeli media Vanunu was vilified as one who exposed Israel to attack by its enemies, even though the story revealed little not already known by outside intelligence agencies. Although Vanunu had intended to open up public debate about Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal, the effect of his conviection and imprisonment was to strengthen the self-imposed taboo which had long cloaked the subject. 

While accept­ing the government's unspoken assurances of the need for nuclear weapons as an ultimate defense of the state, few in Israel felt inclined to confront the impact of Israel's unacknowledged introduction of nuclear weapons into the volatile Middle East. (Fearful of triggering the application of a V.S. Jaw which would cut off billions of dollars it receives annually in economic and military aid, Israel has carefully main­tained a policy of ambiguity with regard to acknowledg­ment of its nuclear arsenal.) 

In the United States the official reaction to Vanunu's revelations has been much the sme. Official Washington had known of Israel' s nuclear arsenal almost since the beginning but had declined for political reasons to chal­lenge it, even though the Israeli program clearly violated this government's professed stance against the secret proliferation of nuclear weapons. 

Elsewhere, however, the imprisoned nuclear whistle­ blower has found growing support. Campaigns calling for bis release and for a nuclear-free Middle East have spread from Israel to Britain, Norway, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Spirited at first, the campaigns flagged after 1990, when the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the conviction and Vanunu lapsed into a four-year silence behind the walls of Ashkelon, cutting himself off from bis closest supporters. 

Early in 1995, prompted by an appeal from British actress Susannah York, who has campaigned tirelessly for his release, Vanunu emerged from his shell and resumed writing letters which, while eloquent in their appeal for nuclear disarmament, have become increasingly becloud­ed by what appears to be a paranoid preoccupation with world wide espionage conspiracies, even among his own supporters. 

Nevertheless, the campaign has picked up in recent years, buoyed by the support of scientific, cultural, and religious leaders. Vigils and occasional sit-ins have be­ come commonplace at Israeli embassies and consulates. United States senators and members of Congress have begun to raise questions about Vanunu's prison treatment. Israeli officials in Jerusalem have been bombarded with letters and petitions. (The Israeli Ministry of Justice contends that Vanunu must be kept isolated so he won't reveal more state secrets. 

His supporters say he has no more nuclear secrets to tell. They suspect his long solitary confinement serves as a warning to other nuclear weapons workers to avoid talking to the press.) 

British physicist Joseph Rotblat, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for a lifetime of anti-nuclear advoca­cy, brought fresh fuel to the campaign with his call for the release of Vanunu and passage of laws protecting such whistle-blowers.

Last fall he chaired a conference in Tel Aviv in which the Israeli mass media for the first time gave attention to major international figures who are calling for a fresh look into the Vanunu matter. Since then more cracks have appeared in what had been the monolithic media stereotype of Vanunu as arch-spy and traitor. A sympathetic one-man play, "Mr. V.," played to appreciative audiences in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

An hour-long documentary, "I Am Your Spy," by Israeli filmmaker Nissim Mossek opened in Israel in July. Physicists are circulating a Vanunu petition at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Teenagers at an Israeli kibbutz have formed a Vanunu support group called "No More Hiroshimas. " It's a start. 

Confident of his ultimate vindication, the prisoner writes from bis isolation cell, "I fully believe that the truth about my action will be revealed and that the Israeli public will ask for my forgiveness. The day will come." 

Sam Day, a freelance writer and politicaI activist based in Madison, Wisconsin, is coordinator of the V.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, 2206 Fox Avenue, Madison, WI 53711.