Monday, April 19, 2004

April 19, 2004

Mightier than the government of Israel. One man.

He has been incarcerated for almost 18 years, 12 spent in solitary confinement, yet he remains freer than his tormentors could ever hope to be - the government of Israel, which continues to languish in the prison of its singular cowardice.

His name is Mordechai Vanunu, whistleblower extraordinaire and the world's first independent nuclear inspector. On April 21 - the day before Earth Day, a fitting occasion - Vanunu will walk out of Israel's Ashkelon Prison with his conscience intact and his motive no less urgent.

The prisoner of conscience is a family hero, an icon of the global peace movement, a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize and a citizen of the world. If only for the message that Vanunu continues to carry and the example of his sacrifice, the Philippine government should be sending a peace keeping force not to Iraq but to Israel. To receive Vanunu. To embrace him. To provide palpable support to a man who best embodies what is presumed to be a collective aspiration of the world - the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

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 learned of and documented Israel's secret production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

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. Photographs that revealed 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.

Vanunu's 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 and drugged - five days after the Sunday Times published his interview - and shipped to Israel to be sentenced in a secret trial to 18 years' imprisonment

Israel started the nuclear arms race in the Middle East yet today it remains the only country in the Middle East that is not party to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Israel is the world's sixth largest nuclear power yet the Dimona nuclear weapons factory, which Vanunu exposed, and Israel's biological and chemical weapons factory in Nes Zion remain closed to international inspection.

Vanunu. The man who diagnosed what was wrong with the world in a poem he wrote in 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."

"What we should be most concerned about is not some natural tendency toward violent uprising, but rather the inclination of people faced with an overwhelming environment of injustice to submit to it," said the historian Howard Zinn. "Historically, the most terrible things - war, genocide, and slavery - have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience."

Vanunu chose disobedience, chose to obey his conscience instead, and was forced to spend the next 18 years of his life behind bars. Was it worth it? For this giant of a man, the answer is an emphatic yes.

"We've succeeded in overcoming this long time of silence ... You were my voice, my conscience - you kept all these issues of secret nuclear weapons in the center and followed my path, " wrote Vanunu recently to his supporters in the US. "We'll not rest until we see a new international agreement to ban, abolish all kinds of nuclear weapons ... We believe it is possible and we can witness it in our lifetime ... The end of nuclear weapons is possible."

"The dreams men dream in sleep are mist and shadow," said Barrows Dunham. "The dreams men dream while waking can become the substance of a world." True.

"I won. I'll be free. The gates and the locks will be opened. They didn't succeed in breaking me," wrote Vanunu, to his brother Meir last February.

Giant, how do we repay you?

We are all caught up in the thousand and one things that life imposes daily, but we will try. For starters, this Wednesday, on April 21, at the Embassy of Israel in Makati City, a small Filipino family will bring a garland of flowers to welcome you.

And all of you who are free - especially this Wednesday - come and join and break bread. Tell Israel that it must get rid of its nuclear weapons and that it must sign the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaty. Send your letters and flowers to Israel's embassy at Trafalgar Plaza, H.V. dela Costa Street, Salcedo Village.

Each flower stem will serve to welcome Vanunu and each petal will symbolize the abolition of a nuclear missile.

* * * * *

Dr. Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped nearly 18 years ago in a terrorist act of the Israeli government and he should not have spent even one day behind bars and yet, as if all these were not enough, the Israeli government still intends to enforce barbaric restrictions on the Nobel Peace Prize nominee after his release from prison on April 21. Another display of the moral bankruptcy of a government all too often erroneously called "the only democracy in the Middle East."

Vanunu will be forbidden to leave city limits unless he reports his intentions to the local police force; he will not be allowed to approach any border terminal, including Ben-Gurion International Airport, the country's ports, or borders with the Palestinian Authority; he is forbidden to be in contact with foreigners - whether in face-to-face meetings or by telephone, fax, or email - including foreign citizens residing in Israel; he is not allowed to approach foreign embassies and divulge details to anyone regarding the Dimona plant where he worked or the circumstances of his being kidnapped and transported to Israel; and he will not have passport privileges, and therefore, cannot leave the country.

Vanunu has formally asked to renounce his Israeli citizenship as a way to prevent the government from confining him to the country after his release from prison.

Send your messages of concern regarding the inhumane restrictions on Vanunu to H.E. Yehoshua Sagi, Ambassador of Israel, at fax number 894-1027 and via email at

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