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2004-04-21

"You Cannot Break the Human Spirit": Israeli Nuclear Whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu Released After 18 Years

Guests

Aaron Glantz, Free Speech Radio News. Report filed from Baghdad.

Pratap Chatterjee, Managing director of CorpWatch.org: http://www.corpwatch.org. Speaking from Baghdad.

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On the morning that Mordechai Vanunu is released from prison after serving 18 years for revealing to the world that Israel had a nuclear arsenal, we go to Ashkelon to speak with his adoptive parents and a coordinator of the US Campaign to Free Mordecai Vanunu. [includes rush transcript]

Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was released from prison this morning in Israel after serving 18 years for revealing to the world that the country had a nuclear arsenal. For more than 11 of those 18 years, Vanunu was kept in solitary confinement.

He walked out of the Shikma prison in the coastal town of Ashkelon flashing a peace sign and waved to cheering supporters. At an impromptu press conference, Vanunu said he was proud of what he did and described what he called "very cruel and barbaric treatment" at the hands of Israeli intelligence and the military.

Vanunu said Israel’s Mossad spy agency and the Shin Bet security services tried to rob him of his sanity by keeping him in solitary confinement for nearly 12 years. He said his message to these forces was "You didn’t succeed to break me, you didn’t succeed to make me crazy." He said his case was proof that "you cannot break the human spirit."

Now that he has been released from prison, Vanunu faces what his supporters call draconian restrictions placed on him by the Israeli government. The restrictions derive from emergency rules inherited by Israel from the 1940s British mandate over Palestine. Among them:

Vanunu will have to register to live in an Israeli city of his choice, he will have to give notice to the authorities if he wishes to travel to another city, he will not be allowed to leave Israel for 6 months, a rule that could be extended indefinitely. Vanunu is forbidden to contact foreigners either by phone or in person and he will not be allowed to go within 100 meters of any embassy, visit any port of entry, come within 300 meters of any international boundary and he may not be allowed to worship in a church of his choice.

Here is some of what Vanunu said today right after he walked out of Shikma prison.

  • Mordechai Vanunu, Israel’s nuclear whistleblower speaking to the press just minutes after he was released from his 18-year prison sentence.

Mordechai Vanunu worked as a nuclear technician at Dimona, Israel’s secret nuclear installation from 1976 to 1985. He worked there at a time when Israel was insisting it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East. What Vanunu discovered is that Israel was secretly developing an extensive nuclear program, hiding its existence from the Israeli people and parliament, and the world.

The Dimona facility where Vanunu worked harbored an underground plutonium separation plant operated in strictest secrecy. As the years went by Vanunu grew increasingly troubled as he realized his work was part of Israel’s nuclear bomb program. In 1985, before leaving Dimona, he took extensive photographs inside the factory.

Traveling through Asia with the film in his backpack, Vanunu made his way to Sydney, Australia, where he converted to Christianity and joined an Anglican church social justice community where he shared the story of his nuclear background. The London Sunday Times, learned of his story and sent a reporter to Sydney. The newspaper then flew Vanunu to England, where his photos and facts were further checked by British scientists familiar with nuclear weapons. Vanunu’s story, published October 5, 1986, gave the world its first authoritative confirmation that Israel had become a major nuclear weapons power, with material for as many as 200 nuclear warheads of advanced design. But days before the story was published, on September 30, 1986, Vanunu was lured to Rome by a female Mossad agent, where he was kidnapped, drugged and put on an Israeli cargo vessel. In Israel, he was charged with treason and espionage. His trial was conducted in total secrecy and he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Here is some of what Mordechai Vanunu said today right after he walked out of prison.

MORDECHAI VANUNU: I am Mordechai Vanunu, the man behind the publicized article from October 5, 1986. The article was about Israel’s nuclear weapons. I was kidnapped in Rome, Italy, by Israeli spies the. I was brought to Israel, arrived at the prison on October 7. I was here — I am here in this prison from October 7, 1986 to today. I was in cruel barbaric conditions kept by the Israeli spies. This prison is guided and controlled by the shin bet. I’m proud and happy that I did what I did. I’m proud and happy that I did what I did. All of this blah blah blah about secrets is not the case. My case is the article that was published. There is no more secrets. The secrets are published in the hands of all of the world. All of the world, 187 city had the secrets. The secrets are revealed. I’m able now to start my life.

AMY GOODMAN: Mordechai Vanunu, holding his news conference as he walked out of prison today after 18 years. He worked as a nuclear technician at Damona, Israel’s secret nuclear installation from 1976 to 1985. Mordechai Vanunu worked there at a time when Israel was insisting that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. What Vanunu discovered was that Israel was developing an extensive nuclear program, hiding its existence from the Israeli people, the parliament and the world. The Damona facility where Vanunu worked had an underground plutonium separation plant operating in strictest secrecy. He grew troubled as he realized his work was part of Israel’s nuclear bomb program. In 1985, before leaving Dmona, he took extensive photographs inside the factory. Traveling through Asia with the film in his backpack, Vanunu made his way to Sydney, Australia, where he converted to Christianity, joined an Anglican church and social justice community where he shared the story of his nuclear background. The London "Sunday Times" learned of his story and sent a report to Sydney. The newspaper flew him to England where his photos and facts were checked by British scientists familiar with nuclear weapons. Vanunu’s story published on October 5, 1986, gave the world its first authoritative confirmation that Israel had become a nuclear — major nuclear weapons power with material for as many as 200 nuclear warheads of advanced design. The days before the story was published on September 30, 1986, Vanunu was lured to Rome by a female mow sad agent where he was kidnapped, drugged and put on an Israeli cargo vessel. In Israel, he was charged with treason and espionage. His trial was conducted in total secrecy and he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. As he walked out of the prison, he was met by his adoptive parents, Nick and Mary Eloff. Mary joins us on the phone from Israel. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

MARY EOLOFF: We’re thrilled to listen to your program.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you tell us — can you describe the scene when Mordechai Vanunu walked out of prison, your adoptive son?

MARY EOLOFF: The scene was that at once joyous and at once hideous, because there were many, many, many Jewish hecklers there that were screaming and taunting and saying vicious, vicious things to him. They were next to the prison gate, and we, with all of the supporters of Mordechai were behind the fence. We had to stay behind the fence. We were — a man was blowing a trumpet and people were saying, peace, Shaalom and I love you, Mordechai. There was a lot of good, good noise coming across, but right in front of the police were the hecklers.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe who the supporters were, who the supporters are?

MARY EOLOFF: Yes, there were supporters from at least ten countries, Japan Germany, England, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Holland, the United States of course, were there in great numbers. They did a wonderful job of bringing people to the prison. People came from Jerusalem and Nazareth in buses. It was just a glorious, glorious thing.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is Mordechai Vanunu right now?

MARY EOLOFF: He’s in Jerusalem. The bishop has given him sanctuary.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is he?

MARY EOLOFF: He’s the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem. His brother really felt that he was not secure. Israel leaked the address of the place where he was going to live. It was in the front page of the newspapers yesterday. You can imagine that, that they — that the atmosphere in this country that they would reveal the address of the place where he was going to live? We felt he couldn’t possibly go there, so, he asked Bishop Ryan and the bishop agreed to give him sanctuary.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Eoloff, how did you come to be Mordechai Vanunu’s adoptive mother?

MARY EOLOFF: It was the leader of the U.S. Campaign to free Mordechai and he had written an article in the Progressive magazine in Madison, Wisconsin. I read the story and I thought, it couldn’t be, it had to be the dark ages. There was a 6 by 9 windowless cell and there was a plastic barrier. I discovered that he was a hero, that he had revealed that Israel had been — had a nuclear reactor at Damona. At the end of the article, Sam said, you could write to him. We began a correspondence in 1995. Then out of frustration, because the political process wasn’t working, all of the thousands of petitions that went to President Clinton were never answered, Nick and I felt, we’ll adopt him and bring him to the United States, even if he has to be in prison, that’s a way to get him out of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Then what happened?

MARY EOLOFF: Well, what happened was that we went to parole hearing after parole hearing in which they said he still had secrets. Mordechai was only a technician. He wasn’t a scientist. Everything that he could reveal, the secrets that he had were the forms that they — they couldn’t let him go. They wanted to break him.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the telephone by a coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to free Mordechai Vanunu. You, too, were in Eschkelon?

FELICE COHEN-JOPPA:That’s right. I was there today and actually was near the gate when Mordechai was released, and was able to see him when he did allow a huge number of press people in for this conference and watched Mordechai give his press conference. Then he was allowed to come up to the edge of the gate. He flashed peace signs to the crowd on the outside. When he got in his car later on with his brothers and his nephew and drove out, he pressed his palm against the glass, which is of course, how in 1986 he let the world know that he was kidnapped from Rome by writing a message on his palm on the way to court in the back of a police van. It was really very moving.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the most famous picture of Mordechai Vanunu putting up his hand at the back of the police van. Can you tell us what it said at the time?

FELICE COHEN-JOPPA:It gave the information that said Kidnapped and it gave the flight number from Rome — from London to Rome, which when he was lured by Cindy, this mossad agent and they flew together to Rome, no one knew for a month what happened to him. His family thought perhaps he had been killed because they knew he was taking this risk. That was the first inkling, really, that we had that he had in fact been in custody in Israel for that month.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to ask you both to stay on the line for one minute as we take our break. We’re talking to Felease Collin-Joppa, talking about the U.S. Campaign to free Mordechai Vanunu, and Mary Eloff, the adoptive mother of Mordechai Vanunu who has been just released from prison after 18 years. This is Democracy Now!, and Democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! And Democracynow.org, The War and Peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. We broadcast over more than 220 radio and television stations around the United States, as well as radio stations across Australia and Canada, broadcasting video and audio streaming at Democracynow.org. We are traveling around the country in an "Exception to the Rulers" book and media tour, celebrating independent media. Tonight we will be in Los Angeles at the Emmanuel Presbyterian church at 3300 Wilshire Boulevard looking forward to seeing listeners of KPFK, celebrating the second Pacifica station. As we continue now on Mordechai Vanunu for just a minute and then we’ll talk about the latest in Iraq. Mary Eloff, adoptive mother of Mordechai Vanunu released today after 18 years in prison. What are his plans?

MARY EOLOFF: He would like to lead a quiet life. We saw him Monday morning and he said, "I’d like to get married and just be part of society as an average person, able to walk down the street." Monday, he was really in the depths. He said my heart is broken. He thought that freedom would mean that he would walk out and be free like the rest of us walking around here. I pray from this restriction for him is shortened. The attorneys are working on that as wells at Supreme Court. I would ask his supporters around the world to continue to send him energy and prayers and thought. I’m convinced that it has given him strength. I would personally like to thank all of us with him today.

AMY GOODMAN: Felice Cohen-Joppa, the restrictions now are —

FELICE COHEN-JOPPA: We hear, some of them are being lifted, such as we believe that now he will be able to meet with foreigners, so the international delegation will be able to meet with him. Amy, it’s really important for us to realize that Israel by imposing the restrictions are building a special prison just for this one man it’s an outrage and injustice that’s not befitting for a democratic nation and we need to continue to do what Mordechai, you know, began, and gave so many years of his life for and that’s continue to struggle for the abolition of nuclear weapons not only in the Middle East, but of course, the United States has more nuclear weapons than any other country. We need to abolish nuclear weapons around the world. For those of who you are in New York or watching — or in Washington, D.C., listening in Boston, there are vigils all over the world, including in U.S. Cities in New York. If you go to www.vanunu.com, you can find out more information there.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Felice Cohen-Joppa as well as Mary Eloff, on today, the day that Mordechai Vanunu, the Damona technician has been released from prison after 18 years for spilling the secrets of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

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