His “crime” was to have alerted the world to Israel’s nuclear weapons programme, which he had discovered following his work for nine years at the Dimona nuclear research centre in the Negev desert.
He took a stand, and released extensive photographs and accounts of the underground plutonium separation plant, estimated to be capable of the production of over 200 advanced nuclear weapons. This was too much for Israel to tolerate.
We met Mordechai Vanunu in St George’s Hostel in East Jerusalem, where he has been offered sanctuary from the Israeli authorities. They are still bent on breaking the man who had the courage to speak out against Israel’s weapons of mass destruction.
He is very welcoming to all visitors. If anything his resolve has been strengthened by his experience in prison. We were very fortunate to be granted an interview, as Vanunu has been officially banned from speaking to the media.
Vanunu told us, “They have put a restriction on me not to leave the country for one year, and not to speak to foreigners. The Israeli government don’t want me to speak to the foreign media, but I am speaking because I have nothing to reveal.
“All I am doing is just repeating the same secrets that I revealed to the Sunday Times 18 years ago.
“I think I have the right to express my views on politics and to demand my human rights—the freedom of speech and the freedom of movement.”
It is clear that Israel still holds Vanunu in contempt for daring to question its military programme. Despite his release Vanunu is still fighting to be a free man.
“I want people to listen to my case, and to force Israel to let me go, and have my total freedom.
“Israel’s spy organisation kidnapped me from Rome and brought me to Israel,” Vanunu tells us, referring to his capture in 1986 when he was drugged and dumped in a cargo ship bound for Israel.
“After a secret trial they sentenced me to 18 years, and to total isolation for over six years. Now I have come out of prison. I’m staying here at St George’s. And I continue to raise the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons.
“Hopefully I can leave Israel and go to meet many other people all over the world, especially England where there is a big campaign for my release.
“I want to tell people about my story, my experiences in Israel’s prisons, and to try to encourage people to start acting much more seriously to abolish nuclear weapons in Israel and around the world.”
There was huge grassroots international support for Vanunu during his time in prison, which pressured the Israeli government to release him. This support has continued with Vanunu’s fight against movement restriction.
Vanunu says, “My campaign in London is trying to do as much as it can to raise my case. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, supported me by sending me an invitation to come to London to speak there. He invited me to come and speak.”
We asked Vanunu whether any other British figures were supporting his campaign. He replied, “People approached the British government, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
“He approached the foreign minister, Jack Straw, who said that he knows about my case and is very carefully following the case, but it is very sensitive.” Jack Straw is “yet to do anything” to support Vanunu.
“My campaigners in other states try to ask for asylum for me, or a passport for another state, like Norway, Finland, Ireland, Canada. But no one did anything because they have the problem of how to force—or convince—Israel to let me go.”
Vanunu is not simply fighting for his own release. He has also been vocal in his opposition to Israel’s horrific treatment of Palestinians.
“Last Friday I took part for the first time in a demonstration. It was about the prisoners’ conditions. They are on hunger strike in all the prisons.” The Israeli media showed Vanunu on the demonstration.
He said that he understood the horrific conditions that the Palestinians were forced to endure in the prisons:
“The situation in Palestine now is very, very bad, especially in the last three years. Israel became much more aggressive, including using military action like assassinating leaders, demolishing houses, shooting children and foreigners, including two Britons who have been killed.
“Israel’s wall is being built, presenting a symbol of no real peace, a fear of peace. The wall is presenting aggressiveness against any movement by the Palestinians. It is a hard life for the Palestinians, separating the cities, villages, families, workers.
“It’s very, very bad, and I hope the world will wake up and demand Israel abolishes this wall. The big wall is an obstacle for peace, and the message is that Israel doesn’t want peace. Israel is afraid of peace.”
Vanunu’s main drive is still for international nuclear disarmament. He was keen to speak to British campaigners about the importance of pushing governments to act on the issue.
“I want to send my message to British people and all the students in British universities, that we in this age—post Cold War, in this new century—can live without nuclear weapons.
“We don’t need nuclear weapons—not in Israel, not in France, not in the United States. England too should not have nuclear weapons. England does not have any enemies. There is no real justification for nuclear weapons in any state.”
“The Cold War, which gave a justification for nuclear weapons, has now disappeared, so we the people can demand from any government the abolition of nuclear weapons, the banning of nuclear weapons in every state.”
He encourages the peace movement in Britain to continue the fight against these weapons of mass destruction.
“I hope the British people, with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, can go and raise the demand that the British abolish nuclear weapons.”
Referring to Trident nuclear submarines, a target of the British peace movement for many years, Vanunu tells us that they “have no justification to go along in the oceans.
“I hope the British people follow me. We must keep campaigning until we see the world a nuclear-free zone.
“I’d be glad to come to London, and everywhere in the United Kingdom, all the universities. I’d like to meet people, to tell them about my story, how my story began, why I went to publicise Israel’s nuclear weapons, and what the result of that act was.
“I want to talk about all my suffering and how I survived 18 years in prison.” In closing, Vanunu tells us, “I hope, as soon as possible, I can come to meet you—anyone in London—who’d be glad to hear me and follow this case.”
If you would like to offer Mordechai Vanunu support, or invite him to speak in Britain, write to him at St George’s Cathedral, 20 Nablus Road, PO Box 19122, Jerusalem 91191 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org