February, 1998. He had been warned. The prisoner, after serving more than eleven years in solitary confinement, was about to meet his adoptive parents. And he dare not bring up certain delicate issues, breath certain words. Or else..!
Mary and Nick Eoloff, an elderly couple from St. Paul, Minnesota, fatigued from their long journey overseas, pressed closely to the bars. They tried to speak of cheerful things.
Then it happened. Mordechai Vanunu said one of the outlawed words, said “kidnapping”. The prison visit was promptly terminated. Back to isolation. Back to a windowless cell measuring 2 meters by 3 meters. The request by the Eoloffs’ for a second meeting was denied.
An outcry went through the world’s press: why was a man who had received the Right Livelihood Award, a man on whose behalf such people and organizations as Bishop Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Amnesty International, and the European Parliament have spoken out, why was such a man being treated so inhumanely?
One of eleven children, Mordechai Vanunu was born in Marrakech, Morocco, on October 13, 1954. His father was a Jewish rabbi. When Mordechai was nine the family immigrated to Israel. Though his parents were poor, he received a good, traditional Jewish education at home and at religious schools. Mordechai served three years in the military; after his honorable discharge he worked towards a degree in physics, but was forced to break off his studies owing to financial reasons. He was hired as a nuclear technician at the Dimona “research center” in the Negev Desert.
“It is not we who are opposed to nuclear arms who break the law but the governments which have chosen to create this greatest threat against humanity.”
As his career at Dimona advanced, Mordechai began taking courses in philosophy at Ben Gurion University. At the same time he was learning more and more about ethics and its metaphysical base, he was also learning more and more about how the Dimona facility had been clandestinely modified to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. He began taking pictures, photos proving that Israel, with a stockpile of some 200 nuclear warheads, was the world’s sixth largest nuclear power.
The story proceeds like a cheap espionage thriller. Five days before The London Sunday Times published Mordechai’s explosive account, he was lured by a female Israeli agent from London to Rome. She told him that he would be safe at her sister’s flat from Israeli retribution. He wasn’t. At her sister’s flat he was immediately captured by the Israeli Mossad, beaten, drugged, bound in chains, kidnapped, and placed as stowage on a freighter for his secret trial back in Israel. He was sentenced to eighteen years.
Mordechai Vanunu is a deeply religious man who blew the whistle on the covert Israeli nuclear program because he believed that it was his ethical duty to Israel and the world. He writes: “It is not we who are opposed to nuclear arms who break the law but the governments which have chosen to create this greatest threat against humanity. The struggle against these weapons is not only a legitimate one, it is a moral, inescapable struggle.” He writes: “Take my message. Judge for yourselves. Ease my burden. Share my burden. Carry it on. Stop the train. Get off the train. Next stop nuclear holocaust…”
Why was Mordechai Vanunu returned to solitary confinement for breathing the word “kidnapping”? Because the Israeli government denies that such ever happened. Oh, and they don’t have any nuclear weapons either.