Fourth quarter of 2002


Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu awaiting parole hearing after 16 years of imprisonment

WISE-Paris, 18 October 2002

[Posted 18/10/2002]

Imprisoned Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu is to face a parole hearing on 29 October 2002 after he spent 16 years in jail. Vanunu worked as a technician at the Dimona nuclear site in Israel from 1976 to 1985. In 1986, he decided to reveal information about the extent of Israel's nuclear weapons program to the world, through the London-based paper, Sunday Times. On 30 September 1986, a few days only before the Sunday Times published his revelations, Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome by Israeli agents and sent back to Israel to be tried. In 1988, charged with “treason” and “espionage”, he was sentenced in a closed-door trial to 18 years imprisonment.

Although the conditions of his trial and imprisonment have been repeatedly condemned by many organizations and institutions, such as Amnesty International and the European Parliament, the five-time Nobel Prize nominee spent the first eleven and a half years in solitary confinement. (1) In March of 1998, he was released into the general prison population but denied other privileges.

On 22 April 1999, responding to a letter from 36 Members of Congress asking the President to intervene in this case, Bill Clinton wrote that he shared their concerns about “the conditions under which he is held [and] the Israeli nuclear program”. (2) On 1 June 1999, 58 Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) from over 30 countries met in Salzburg, Austria signed a petition that stated:

We are teachers, scientists, rural workers and activists for peace and social justice in all continents and we hereby unanimously call on the government of Israel to:

• release immediately the political prisoner Mordechai Vanunu, who is our fellow RLA Laureate;
• approve the organisation of a regional conference under the auspices of the United Nations to consider the feasibility and potential benefits of a project to make the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction.

Successive Israeli governments (like many others) have equated weapons with security and therefore believe that more weapons mean more security. But what if they are wrong? What if the possession of more nuclear weapons equals less security and actually poses an increasing threat to the country by provoking others to enter the arms race?

In the following days a delegation of three Laureates, including WISE-Paris director Mycle Schneider, brought the petition to officials, media and NGOs in Israel. (3)

More recently an Early Day Motion, introduced in the UK House of Commons by MP Llew Smith, (4)calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make all efforts, directly to the Israeli Government”, in support of his parole application. On 17 October 02, Llew Smith stated at the UK Parliament: “I want the Government to make all efforts to back this application from a brave man. It will not cost as much as two aircraft carriers or 150 state-of-the-art strike aircraft, but it would be worth so much more.”

Vanunu’s request to be put on parole is only a battle among others he has fought since he was imprisoned. In July 2002 for instance, he “lost a legal battle to meet British attorneys seeking to file a suit against Israel in a British court. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court judgment blocking prison visits by Vanunu's British lawyer and another ruling refusing a request for access to secret documents from his trial”. (5)

John Buell, a freelance journalist specializing in political economy, wrote: “None of Vanunu's supporters, […] denies that Vanunu violated Israeli law by breaking his oath of secrecy in divulging his government's secret nuclear weapons program. Nonetheless, at the very least the abduction, secret trial, and barbaric punishment of Vanunu raise humanitarian issues.
Even beyond the cruelty to Vanunu, there is another set of fundamental moral issues involved in this case [...] Is a citizen always bound to obey the edicts of his or her government? Does an oath of secrecy absolve one of the responsibilities to divulge violations of international law being conducted by one's government? Neither secrecy oaths nor the orders of governmental superiors provided absolution at Nuremberg. Israelis should be in the lead in honoring the Nuremberg precedents
”. (6)

Based on Vanunu's revelations (7) and photographic evidence, “experts concluded Israel had the world's sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. The CIA estimated more recently that Israel has between 200 and 400 nuclear weapon”. (8)

Israel continues to build up its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Recently, it has “acquired three diesel submarines that it is arming with newly designed cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads”. (9)

On the other hand it has always refused to confirm or deny it has nuclear weapons. “It is also real life that the Dimona nuclear weapons factory where Vanunu worked as a mechanic and the biological and chemical weapons factory in Nes Zion are still not open to international inspection. [ …] It is also real life that the politicians now threatening a military invasion if Iraq does not allow the inspection of feared Iraqi nuclear capacities have not demanded inspection of what are known Israeli nuclear facilities”. (10)

The race to mass destruction arms in the Middle East in the 1980s, established a fragile military and political balance in the area which threatens day after day to collapse. Seven Middle Eastern countries including Israel have missiles that can transport nuclear bombs from a 300 km to 2 600 km range. (11)No other area in the world concentrates more mass destruction arms than the Middle East: in a relatively limited area, all kinds of mass destruction weapons are present, possessed by countries, which, despite favorable developments, have had major conflicts with each others”. (12)

It is this very situation that Vanunu wanted to warn the public opinion against. Buell concluded: “Vanunu is rightly regarded as a hero by many peace, human rights, and religious activists. He neither received nor sought compensation for his revelations. He acted out of a deep concern for the threat that nuclear weaponry posed to the security of the entire region, including Israel.”


Notes:

  1. For further details on Mordechai Vanunu, go to:
    http://www.peaceheroes.com/MordecaiVanunu/mvanunu.htm
  2. More details at http://www.inesglobal.org/wn18_99.htm
  3. http://www.wise-paris.org/english/ournews/year_1999/ournews0000990607.html
  4. EDM number 1751
  5. Nuclear whistle-blower Vanunu loses fight to see British lawyers, Associated Press, 25 July 2002
  6. Human Rights and Nuclear Secrets, John Buell, 1999, The Progressive Populist http://www.populist.com/99.10.buell.html
  7. Vanunu knows no more secrets, Dr Frank Barnaby, in Voices for Vanunu, 1997, The Campaign to free Vanunu.
  8. Associated Press, 25 July 2002
  9. Israel Has Sub-Based Atomic Arms Capability, Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, 15 June 2002
  10. 16 Years for Telling the World, Hilary Wainwright, The Guardian, 3 October 2002
  11. Armes de destruction massive, Alain Gresh & Dominique Vidal, 1996,
    http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/livre/100portes/
  12. La prolifération des armes de destruction massive et de leurs vecteurs, Commission de la Défense Nationale et des Forces Armées, report presented by Pierre Lellouche, Guy-Michel Chauveau & Aloyse Warhouver, 7 December 2000

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