What Americans Need to Know about Mordechai Vanunu

I’m not a traitor. I’m a man with a conscience who did what he did out of a deep belief after much thought and many doubts. But I knew that I had to do it, that I had no choice… somebody had to do it… I contributed my share by making public what the public ought to know and they shut my mouth behind the prison walls.

— Mordechai Vanunu

Mordechai Vanunu was released from Ashkelon prison to open air captivity in east Jerusalem on April 21, 2004 after 18 years-most all in solitary — on April 21, 2004.

In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu was clubbed, drugged, bound and kidnapped from Rome by the Mossad because he told the truth and provided the photographic proof of their clandestine 7-story underground WMD facility in the Negev.

In the case of Mordechai Vanunu, Americans need to know that the restrictions that have held him captive in Jerusalem come from the Emergency Defense Regulations which were implemented by Britain against Palestinians and Jews after World War II.

After WW II, Attorney Yaccov Shapiro, who later became Israel’s Minister Of Justice, described the Emergency Defense Regulations as “unparalleled in any civilized country: there were no such laws in Nazi Germany.”

During one of my seven trips to Jerusalem since 2005, I asked Vanunu, “If the British Mandate has expired why not the British Mandate’s Emergency Defense Regulations?”

Vaunu replied, “The reason given is security but it is because Israel is not a democracy unless you are a Jew. This administration tells me I am not allowed to speak to foreigners, the Media, and the world. But I do because that is how I prove my true humanity to the world. My freedom of speech trial began January 25, 2006 for speaking to the media, the same day as the Palestinian elections… When I decided to expose Israel’s nuclear weapons I acted out of conscience and to warn the world to prevent a nuclear holocaust.”

In 1963, Peres was Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense when he met with President Kennedy at the White House. Kennedy told Peres, “You know that we follow very closely the discovery of any nuclear development in the region. This could create a very dangerous situation. For this reason we monitor your nuclear effort. What could you tell me about this?”

Peres replied, “I can tell you most clearly that we will not introduce nuclear weapons to the region, and certainly we will not be the first.”

In 2005, Vanunu told me, “President Kennedy tried to stop Israel from building atomic weapons. In 1963, he forced Prime Minister Ben Guirion to admit the Dimona was not a textile plant, as the sign outside proclaimed, but a nuclear plant. The Prime Minister said, ‘The nuclear reactor is only for peace.’

Kennedy insisted on an open internal inspection. He wrote letters demanding that Ben Gurion open up Dimona for inspection. The French were responsible for the actual building of the Dimona. The Germans gave the money; they were feeling guilty for the Holocaust, and tried to pay their way out. Everything inside was written in French when I was there, almost twenty years ago.

Back then, the Dimona descended seven floors underground. In 1955, Perez and Gurion met with the French to agree they would get a nuclear reactor if they fought against Egypt to control the Sinai and Suez Canal. That was the war of 1956. Eisenhower demanded that Israel leave the Sinai, but the reactor plant deal continued on.

When Johnson became president, he made an agreement with Israel that two senators would come every year to inspect. Before the senators would visit, the Israelis would build a wall to block the underground elevators and stairways. From 1963 to ’69, the senators came, but they never knew about the wall that hid the rest of the Dimona from them.

Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation. As a result, Israel increased production. In 1986, there were over two hundred bombs. Today, they may have enough plutonium for ten bombs a year.

On January 25, 2006, after nearly two years of speaking to hundreds of foreigners since his release from prison, Vanunu was convicted by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court of 15 violations of a military order that had prohibited him from talking to non-Israelis and because he attempted to “leave the state” by taking a cab from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to attend Christmas Eve mass at the Church of the Nativity in 2004. The original indictment included 22 different violations; Vanunu was charged with 19 and acquitted of four. He was acquitted of speaking to foreign nationals on the internet and via video and voice chats.

Just prior to the taping of 30 Minutes with Vanunu on March 26, 2006, Vanunu told me, “Many journalists come here to the American Colony, from CNN and NY Times. They all want to cover my story, but their EDITORS say no…CNN wants to interview me; but they say they can’t do it because they don’t want problems with the Israeli censor. BBC is doing the same thing. Sixty Minutes from the United States from the beginning they wanted to do a program, but because of the censor situation they decide not to do it.”

On July 2, 2007, Israel sentenced Vanunu to six more months in jail for speaking to foreign media in 2004. On September 23, 2008, the Jerusalem District Court reduced Vanunu’s sentence to three months, “In light of (Vanunu’s) ailing health and the absence of claims that his actions put the country’s security in jeopardy.”

On June 14, 2009, Vanunu told me, “The Central Commander of the General Army testified in court that it is OK if I speak in public as long as I do not talk about nuclear weapons.”

Vanunu’s restrictions will be reviewed again by the Israeli High Court after Dec. 21, 2009. On July 6, 2009, the Supreme Court stated, “pending a review of his conduct, Vanunu will be able to ask for the restrictions to be lifted and be allowed to travel abroad… The state’s representative noted that six months may be too short a time period to determine a change in Vanunu’s behavior and that the state will reconsider the restrictions based not only on Vanunu’s behavior but a host of other considerations, including the time that had lapsed since he divulged state secrets to the British paper.”

It will soon be twenty-four years since Vanunu “divulged state secrets” and as Vanunu told me: “All the secrets I had were published in 1989 in an important book, by [Nuclear Physicist] Frank Barnaby, The Invisible Bomb: Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East.”

Regarding Israeli behavior towards Vanunu, Americans need to know that in 1986, Israel kidnapped him from Rome but Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “No one shall he subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention”, including abduction of a person by agents of one state to another state.

Vanunu was charged with and convicted of treason and espionage. According to Section 99 of the Israeli Penal Code, treason is defined as “an act calculated to assist (an enemy) in time of war… delivering information with the intention that it fall into the hands of the enemy.”

Section 113 defines aggravated espionage as “deliver(ing) any secret information without being authorized to do so and with intent to impair the security of the state” and a sub-clause provides for a penalty of seven years for the unauthorized collection, preparation, recording or holding of secret information; if this is done with intent to impair the security of the state and then, the penalty is increased to 15 years.

Vanunu got 18 years and was also rendered defenseless when the court ruled that his motivations were not ideological and they refused to allow Vanunu’s own statements regarding his intentions to be considered in his defense.

A few days before Vanunu was lured from London to Rome, where he was clubbed, drugged and kidnapped by the Mossad, he spent three days being interviewed by Frank Barnaby.

Barnaby had been employed by the London Sunday Times to review the 57 photos Vanunu had obtained at various restricted locations in the Dimona and he also went to Jerusalem to provide expert testimony at Vanunu’s closed door trial.

Barnaby testified, “I found the fact that Vanunu was able to smuggle a camera and films into and out of Dimona and photograph highly sensitive areas in the establishment astonishing. I very vigorously cross-examined Vanunu, relentlessly asking the same questions in a number of different ways and at different times… I found Vanunu very straightforward about his motives for violating Israel’s secrecy laws; he explained to me that he believed that both the Israeli and the world public had the right to know about the information he passed on. He seemed to me to be acting ideologically.

“Israel’s political leaders have, he said, consistently lied about Israel’s nuclear-weapons programme and he found this unacceptable in a democracy. The knowledge that Vanunu had about Isreal’s nuclear weapons, about the operations at Dimona, and about security at Dimona could not be of any use to anyone today. He left Dimona in October 1985 and the design of today’s Israeli nuclear weapons will have been considerably changed since then… Modern nuclear weapons bear little relationship to those of the mid-1980.”

A total of 1,200 pages of transcript of that closed door trial have been released and Vanunu told the court: “I wanted to confirm what everyone knew, I didn’t want Israel to go on denying that it had nuclear weapons, and Shimon Peres to go on lying to (then US president) Ronald Reagan, saying that we didn’t have a nuclear arsenal. I also wanted controls to be placed on these weapons.”

Defense witness and the Sunday Times journalist who broke Vanunu’s story, Peter Hounam, stated, “It is clear that, as far as Vanunu’s accusers are concerned, the trial is not only about whether this decision to reveal the secrets of Israel’s atom bomb amounted to treason and espionage, it is also about whether his decision to become a Christian was at the root of his alleged treachery”.

Hounam also testified that “We did not pay him money, but only covered his expenses… Money did not motivate him.”

Sunday Times journalist Wendy Robbins wrote, “Mordechai never asked for nor received a single penny for his information… he blurted out the whole tale without first setting out any financial preconditions. Mordechai got nothing out of the whole episode. He never ‘sold’ Israel’s secrets — he told them.”

In the 80’s, Vanunu was transported to and from his closed door trial in a crash helmet, handcuffs and leg-irons, inside a van with blacked out windows that blasted noise to assure Vanunu would not communicate with journalists or supporters. During the court hearings, two Israeli security agents flanked him at all times in order to be able to cover his mouth if he began to reveal anything they deemed secret. The public, the press and all observers — even Amnesty International — were excluded from the hearings and the court’s judgment was censored before publication.

On January 25, 2006, the first day of a freedom of speech trial in Israel only two reporters from minor media showed up for Vanunu’s historic court case. Not one was in the court room on February 22, 2006, when it was revealed that Israel had gotten Microsoft to hand over all the details of Vanunu’s Hotmail account before a court order had been obtained by alluding that he was being charged for espionage.

Vanunu wrote, “Microsoft obeyed the orders and gave them all the details… three months before I was arrested and my computers were confiscated… it is strange to ask Microsoft to give this information before obtaining the court order to listen to my private conversations. It means they wanted to go through my emails in secret, or maybe, with the help of the secret services, the Shaback, Mossad… Sfard [Vanunu’s attorney] proved that the police had misled the judges who gave the orders to arrest me: to search my room, to go through my email, to confiscate my computers and that they misled Microsoft to believe they are helping in a case of espionage. The State came to the court with two special secret Government orders; Hisaion [documents or information that are deemed confidential by the government and kept from the court, the defendant, and lawyers.] This allows the prosecution to keep documents related to my court hearing secret. One was from the Minister for Interior Security and one from the Minister of Defense.”

Americans need to know that Vanunu’s secretly taped police interrogations, his 2004 Christmas Eve arrest for “attempting to leave the country” when he attempted to celebrate his first Christmas out of prison at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the confiscation of his private property by thirty Israeli Forces that stormed into his room at St. George’s Cathedral in 2004, according to Vanunu had all “been done… under the false and misleading statements to the courts of ‘suspicion of espionage’, and yet they are not charging me with spy crimes… and the fact is that I have not committed any crimes.”

After Vanunu next faces the Israeli Supreme Court, the world will know more about Israeli democracy and justice. Until then, learn more and see and hear Vanunu in 2005, 2006, 2008 video interviews freely streaming at the Vanunu Archives.

Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at ecumei@gmail.com. Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Joe said on December 15th, 2009 at 3:05pm #

    Thank you for this illuminating and mind blowing expose that the MSM doesn’t have the balls to report.

  2. Håkan Larsson said on December 15th, 2009 at 9:28pm #

    I have tried to follow the case of Mordechai Vanunu for many years. He is possibly the most consistently harsly treated political prisoner of our time. This may be the most comprehensive and enlightening article about him that I have ever seen. As a Ph.D. in cultural history I question myself whether an entity which perpetrates such a crime on a whistleblower and keeper of peace may call itself a nation at all. Its actions speak more of the transnational conglomerate which manueuvres above the confines of international political agreements and commonly accepted laws, reserving for itself the right to interpret and acting solely in its own entrenched interest.

  3. sybil e bondi said on December 15th, 2009 at 11:14pm #

    well,let’s face reality,eileen.
    in every other country in the middle east and most countries in the world,vanunu would have been executed as a traitor.
    apart from your obvious loathing of israel,why does vanunu deserve any sympathy from you?

  4. demize! said on December 16th, 2009 at 3:33am #

    Well I will take the liberty of answering for the poster in absentia. Because He or she is a human being not an obvious Zionist ideologue such as yourself. Does that clarify it at all for you? Because you cannot have it both ways my dear.Israel cannot be just like any other nation-state and be utterly unique at the same time. It is venal like all states, or “The light unto the Nations” if it is the latter then you would think they wouldn’t go around executing dissadent wily-nily. Now go suck an egg!

  5. Dave Silver said on December 16th, 2009 at 7:15am #

    Bravo Eileen

    Many liberals call me a self hating Jew when I portray Israel as racist
    and a State that has been committing crimes against humanitry.
    In solidarity.
    Dave a Marxist-Lewninist and Jewish kid from Brooklyn

    All the best

  6. Mary said on December 16th, 2009 at 8:07am #

    Yes well said Eileen. Mordechai is a very brave man. I am sorry to hear that his health has suffered.

    Two more brave men brave the lions’ den.


    Tea, biscuits and ethnic cleansing – inside the Jewish National Fund
    conference – Bob Williamson and John Goss – International Solidarity Movement London

  7. eileen fleming said on December 16th, 2009 at 8:07am #

    All the best back to all!

    I phoned Vanunu yesterday a few hours after his day back in court and he said he is “very OK” and expects to hear the Supreme Court decision in a few more weeks.


    14 Dec 2009: Vanunu: “Obama should demand MY freedom now”
    Monday, 14 December 2009, 11:16

    Atom whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, petitioning in the High Court hearing, said that “everyone knows that Israel has atomic weapons, if Obama wants a world without nuclear weapons HE needs to strive for freedom.”

    “United States President Barack Obama should demand my freedom. He wants a world without nuclear weapons”, he said today (Monday) after his case was heard before the Supreme Court.

    Vanunu appealed through his lawyers, Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard, against a sentence of three months of community service imposed on him after he violated orders prohibiting him from speaking with foreigners.

    Feldman claimed the govt refuses to debate Vanunu service jobs in West Jerusalem, where he fears harassment and violence towards him, and can not perform community service in East Jerusalem because he said he was informed community service can be performed “only in Israel”. He claimed the emergency order issued against Vanunu belongs to “the most archaeological layer as the essence of our life now” because they were issued by British High Commissioner in 1945, allowing anyone to impose restrictions on military civilians.

    Everyone knows that Israel has atomic weapons,” Vanunu said after the hearing.


  8. eileen fleming said on December 16th, 2009 at 8:27am #

    Dear Mary,

    When I saw Vanunu in June he looked healthy and was walking 2 1/2 hours a day and playing volleyball weekly.

    When I phoned him regarding that statement by the court about his “ailing health” Vanunu said they were alluding to his psychological health.

  9. jon s said on December 17th, 2009 at 11:25am #

    What bravery! Two guys crashed a JNF event! What unimaginable danger…
    To their credit , I don’t think the two guys themseves took their prank very seriously ,especially since they kept in mind to make it to the pub in time for the Arsenal game..

  10. Mary said on December 17th, 2009 at 11:57am #

    I’ve seen the JNF in action and I would not like to enter a room full of them especially when they were so angry about Zippee’s non- attendance.

  11. Maryb said on December 29th, 2009 at 6:03am #

    Not content with preventing the convoy of vehicles carrying vital aid from arriving in Gaza and stopping the more than 1,000 marchers crossing the Rafah gate with the collusion of the thugs of the quisling Mubarak, the Zionist thugs have re-arrested the noble and brave human Mordechai Vanunu. He is of course described as a traitor in this mouthpiece of the USUKISNato gangsters-in-charge.


    Israeli police arrest nuclear whistleblower Vanunu

    Tue Dec 29, 2009 5:28am EST
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police on Tuesday arrested nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu for violating a ban on speaking to foreigners, a police statement said.

    Vanunu was jailed as a traitor in 1986 and served an 18-year sentence after discussing his work as a technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor with a British newspaper, an interview that led experts to conclude the facility had produced fissile material for as many as 200 atomic warheads.

    After his release from jail in 2004, Israeli defense authorities barred Vanunu from traveling abroad, alleging he has more details on the Dimona atomic reactor to divulge.

    The restrictions, upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court, have been condemned by international human rights groups.

    Vanunu denies he poses a security risk but says he will pursue anti-nuclear activities and wants to live abroad.

    In 2007, Vanunu was sentenced to six months in jail for violating the ban on contact with foreigners.

    Israel neither confirms nor denies having the Middle East’s only atomic weapons under a policy of “strategic ambiguity” billed as warding off enemies while avoiding arms races.

    Vanunu, a Jewish convert to Christianity, argues that by refusing international inspections at Dimona, Israel inflames regional tensions and risks a “second Holocaust.”

    He has also said that the Jewish state has no right to exist, and there has been little public sympathy for him in Israel.

    (Writing by Ori Lewis)