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Freedom’s Half-Life
Israel’s Nuclear Whistle-Blower on Trial Again

[Jerry Levin was CNN Bureau Chief in Beirut in 1984 when he became one of the first Americans held hostage by Hezbollah. He was freed 11 months later. He is currently based in the Middle East as a full time volunteer, promoting non-violence with Christian Peacemaker Teams and writing regular reports on the effects of violence and non-violence in the OccupiedTerritories.]

HEBRON, West Bank, Palestine, January 26, 2006—Here’s a Palestine election day story that was probably not reported in your local, regional or national mainstream press outlets. It took place in a tiny but definitely not crowded court room in West Jerusalem where the second trial of Mordechai Vanunu got underway. Given the fact that the
trial began on the day when the attention of the entire international press corps stationed in Israel was concentrated in the West Bank and Gaza, it was virtually assured that the episode would pass by mainly unnoticed and unremarked. “At first, the judge arranged the trial for the 15 th of January,” Mordechai explained good naturedly while waiting
for the proceedings to begin. “But then he moved it, because the Israel government wanted it be on the day of the election.”

“Why?”

So all the attention by the public and the media would not be on Vanunu but on the elections. “But why that?”

“Because each time I am in the courts it reminds them of Israel’s atomic weapons. The Zionists want to keep hiding them and stopping the talk.”

Vanunu, of course, is the irrepressible whistle blowing former Orthodox Jew turned Anglican gadfly who back in 1986 at considerable risk revealed to a British newspaper the fact of Israel’s secret full speed ahead nuclear armaments program. After letting that particular cat out of the bag, he was kidnapped to Israel by secret agents and sentenced to eighteen years in solitary confinement for revealing that specific truth. Most First World governments still officially pretend that the little man on the stair he revealed is still not there…on the stair. The fiction allows them to resist seeking to curtail the program like they have been trying to do in Iran and North Korea.

After serving the full eighteen year term, Vanunu was released from jail, confined to Jerusalem and forbidden to give interviews to foreign journalists. He has observed the travel restriction scrupulously; but the minute he was released in April 2004 he launched a nonstop campaign of civil disobedience by talking to foreign reporters in English either in person or by electronic hook up. In fact he remains eagerly accessible to any one who cares to call him up to see if he is available. So after eight months of deliberately thumbing his nose at what he considers an intolerable infringement on his right to speak publicly and on the day when the attention of the international press was otherwise occupied reporting the death of Yassir Arafat, his room in the guest house of Anglican St. Georges’ Cathedral was raided by Israeli police. All of his materials: tapes, DVDs, notebooks, computers were seized; and he was taken away for hours of interrogation before being let go [See From The Inside Looking Out, Report-44: Mordechai, December 21, 2004].

“And this trial relates back to that raid over a year ago?”

“Yes, that was the beginning. They arrested me. They questioned me. And now we have this trial about how they want to continue to interfere with me. See, what I say to the reporters is only what I said in 1986. What I am doing that is new, now that I am out of
prison, is expressing my political views about what I found out then. I don’t know any new secrets. I told all I knew. So they are against my freedom of speech and movement. They don’t want me to talk against Israel making nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East. They don’t want me to say that they should be abolished because in 1986 they already had 230 atomic bombs and the hydrogen bomb. They don’t need all that for defense. Those are holocaust bombs. They are for extermination.”

The trial is taking place in the lowest tier of the Israeli court system; it’s called the Peace Court in the hopes that the disputants can come to some kind of agreement before a trial has to take place. “So, are you willing to make a deal with the prosecutor, like for instance, ‘you let me go and I’ll stop talking to the foreign press while I am here?’”

“Yes, that’s what I told to my lawyers when the government said, ‘We want to end this case by agreement, by deal.’ So, I said, ‘I am ready for that when you tell me when and how I can leave the country, to start a new life, to work, and to write my story for the record.’”

“So what did the prosecutors say when you said, ‘Just let me go?’”

“I’m still waiting to hear from them.”

“And,” I replied, “I’m still trying to get my mind around what they are prosecuting you for?”

“For doing interviews like we are doing right here in the court, in front of the Prosecutor.”

The first day was taken up with the introduction of evidence: snippets from recordings of more than twenty interviews with all the usual suspects: interviews by the likes of Amy Goodman, David Frost, lesser lights from the Australian media, and the kind of radio stations and websites that Bill O’Reilly et al love to bash: KPFA, KPFP, WBAI, etc. Each one contained his complaints and concerns about 1) what he had learned about Israel’s role in the small nation nuclear proliferation issue and 2) the infringement and circumscribing of his rights since leaving prison.

At one point an amusedly incredulous Vanunu nudged me in the ribs and whispered, “Can you believe this. They are doing my testifying for me?” A little later his lead lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, objected when the prosecution tried to introduce recordings of his phone conversations and transcripts of chat room discussion. The broadcast and website interviews were one thing being public in nature, but phone conversations and chat room chatter, being private, is another. The judge said he’d think about that. And after that, the proceedings turned a bit sinister when it was revealed that the several interrogations of Vanunu by the police had been secretly videotaped. Some were played in court. When the session ended, Vanunu said, “We don’t know what will be the outcome, verdict and maybe a sentence.” But, once again he reiterated what he darn well thinks it ought to be. Acquittal, of course. “This is about freedom of speech,” he said. “We have not committed any crimes. So I think really it is Israel’s democracy system that is on trial. Either there is freedom of speech for Vanunu or there is no freedom of speech for him. Because what I did since leaving the prison is just expressing my views; and that is my right to do.”

Trial as currently scheduled takes up again on February 9 and 12..


This is the sixty-fourth in a series of micro-reports, commentaries, or analyses that Jerry Levin is sending routinely from the Occupied Territories and other areas in the Middle East. If the information or ideas seem helpful, please feel free to forward them to others. To be added to Levin’s mailing, reach him at jlevin0320@yahoo.com. Levin’s more recent experiences in the Middle East have been collected in a new book, West Bank Diary. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please contact Hope Publishing House, Pasadena, CA at 1-800-326-2671 or via e-mail at: hopepub@sbcglobal.net.

To receive CPT Hebron’s weekly reports, news alerts and other messages concerning its violence reduction activities, send your request to be added to its E-mail list to cptheb@palnet.com. And to discover more about Christian Peacemaker Teams, please visit the website at: www.cpt.org.

 

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