Monday, October 06, 2003


Last September 30 was a day that marked many things.

It marked a day in 1955 when the rebel without a cause, James Dean, died from a car crash.

It marked the day when the magnificent Muhammad Ali collided with Smokin’ Joe Frazier for the third time. The Thrilla in Manila. September 30, 1975. Ali would survive the mighty Frazier’s threshing-blade punches and retain his heavyweight title via a 14th round TKO and claim the huge golden trophy donated by Ferdinand Marcos. The dictator was still one of America’s golden boys then.

Many things happened on September 30. On that day in 1946, 22 Nazi leaders were found guilty of war crimes in a trial which established “as a matter of international law that planning and launching an aggressive war was a criminal act.”

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes,” said Robert Jackson, the lead US prosecutor at Nuremberg in 1946, “they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Some anniversaries exist so that we may not forget. Like September 30, 1986, when Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped by the Mossad in Rome. Vanunu was the world’s first independent nuclear arms inspector, and had he been Iranian, Iraqi or Korean, imperial America would still be throwing rose petals at his feet.

His only crime was to warn the world of the madness that had caused the leadership of his country, Israel, to stockpile up to 200 nuclear weapons. An act of conscience for which Vanunu would be kidnapped, drugged and shipped to Israel to be
sentenced in a secret trial to 18 years’ imprisonment.

For ‘treason’ and ‘espionage’ even “though he had received no payment and communicated with no foreign power.” A prisoner of conscience.

The first 11 years of his incarceration he would spend in complete isolation. Israel’s Justice Ministry -- a misplaced name -- would allow Vanunu to mingle with other prisoners only in 1998 -- when the ministry decided -- after 11 years -- that “extended isolation would damage his mental state.”

He will soon walk free when his abominable sentence ends on April next year -- unless the vile Sharon government comes up with another reason to keep the brave man behind bars.

According to his supporters, despite this possibility, “Vanunu’s opposition to nuclear weapons remains steadfast and his cruel punishment has not broken his spirit.” A spirit elevated by the desire for peace.

“His story reads like a tragic thriller. But it’s real life,” said Hilary Wainwright of the Guardian. Indeed.

From 1976 to 1985, Vanunu had been a technician at Dimona, Israel’s nuclear installation in the Negrev desert. It was at Dimona where he would learn of Israel’s secret production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. And it was at Dimona where he would document Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal.

The world learned of Israel’s clandestine armory when the London Sunday Times published Vanunu’s interviews and photographs as its banner story on October 5, 1986. Five days, tragically, after Vanunu was abducted by the thugs of the Mossad.

Vanunu’s photographs would reveal nuclear weapons devices, neutron bombs, deliverable warheads and “the underground plutonium separation facility where Israel was producing 40 kilograms annually.” In 1986. When America was still in bed with Saddam.

How time flies. Or does it? Who can tell?
The world is still hurtling to ward greater conflict -- courtesy of the American government’s bungling and hubris; the Bush administration is now hunting down erstwhile family friend Saddam; and, Israel remains America’s Middle East gendarme, as strong and arrogant as ever.Israel started the nuclear arms race in the Middle East, yet today it is “the only state in the Middle East region that is not party to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.”

Israel is the world’s sixth largest nuclear power yet neither the Dimona nuclear weapons factory, which Vanunu exposed, nor Israel’s biological and chemical weapons factory in Nes Zion, are open to international inspection.

And yet America’s vaunted intelligence community continues to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and cackles at Iran to admit it has “a nuclear weapons program.”

How much would things have changed if the world had listened to Vanunu, the ordinary technician who brings to mind John Ruskin’s words: “The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes because of it.”

Vanunu. The man who diagnosed what was wrong with the world in a small poem he had written in Ashkelon prison: “I am the clerk, the technician, the mechanic, the driver. They said, Do this, do that, don’t look left or right, don’t read the text. Don’t look at the whole machine. You are only responsible for this one bolt, this one rubber stamp.”

A salve and slavery Vanunu would refuse.

He refused to be a cog in the machine and chose to tell the world of the horrible secrets his country was harboring. And for his simple act people lifted him to the place of honor alongside Rigoberta Menchu, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. A citizen of the world.

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