Waiting for freedom
While Iran is being pressured to halt its nuclear weapon program, Israel’s nuclear weapon possession gets close to no attention at all. Though endagering his own freedom, Mordechai Vanunu felt he had an obligation to reveal that Israel possessed nuclear weapons two decades ago. For this he was abducted in Italy by Israeli Mossad agents, brought to Israel and sentenced to 18 years in prison for espionage and treason. Tommy Lapid, former-Israeli Minister of Justice, leader of the secular-centrist Shinui party, wanted him hanged.
On the 21st of April last year he was freed – after more than 6,500 days of imprisonment. But he is still not free. Since the realease he has twice been arrested by Israeli soldiers, and, more importantly, he is prohibited from leaving what he considers to be “Israel prison”.
IMEMC correspondent Kristoffer Larsson interviewed Vanunu about his deed and his hopes for the future.
Kristoffer Larsson: First of all, thank you very much for taking your time to participate in this interview.
Mordechai Vanunu: (nods his head)
KL: Let’s start from the beginning. You were born in Morocco in 1954. Why did your family migrate to Israel?
MV: In 1963 my family emigrated to Israel, like most the Moroccan Jews.
KL: Did Judaism play a big role in your life?
MV: Oh, yes, I was born in a Jewish religious family and sent also to Jewish little school. But at a young age I started rejecting and criticizing Judaism.
KL: Could you say a little about your childhood?
MV: I lived in a very poor city at that time, Beer Sheva, in a poor neighbourhood of Jews who immigrated from Morocco. It was a very poor life, not much activity. I used to play football with the children.
KL: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
MV: I have a big family, we are eleven brothers and sisters, I am the second. I used to help my mother and father to raise all these children. I used to be a very good student in those years. At the age of 18, in High School, I lived at a boarding school.
KL: What did you study later, at the university?
MV: I served in the army for three years. My job was to train new soldiers. It was no military activity, just training soldiers. It was near Gush Etzyon in Betlehem. After that I went to study at the university. I finished my bachelor and went to study one year physics. After that I stopped and went to work at the Dimona nuclear center for nine years. During my time of working there, I also studied philosophy and geography at the university.
KL: How did you get employed at Dimona?
MV: I just applied, because they published an add in a newspaper that they wanted young people to come and work at Dimona nuclear center. So I followed the information in the newspaper and went to the office in Beer Sheva. They advised me to come, gave me papers to file, and that’s it.
KL: What did you know about Dimona at that time?
MV: I knew that maybe they were involved in nuclear weapons, but nothing more. They used to write in the newspaper that maybe they have atomic weapons, but that’s all.
KL: Did any of your colleagues know that they had nuclear weapons?
MV: Those who worked in this place?
MV: In the place that I worked, in that building, they absolutely knew. Because they produced the material for nuclear weapons, plutonium. So anyone who has a little bit of understanding about this knows that plutonium is for nuclear weapons. And also, this place is very secret, which means that they are involved in some weapons production. So those who work in this place knows exactly that they are producing atomic weapon, even if they haven’t see them. But they know that they are producing weapons.
KL: What was your job at Dimona?
MV: My job in the first years was to produce plutonium, to separate plutonium from radioactive materials and from uranium, and to pass the uranium to the next station. So the job every day was to produce plutonium, and we knew exactly how much we produced.
KL: When did you start questioning the acts of the Israeli government?
MV: I think that in the first years I had a mind of criticizing, asking questions. I wanted to know what they were doing there. And I knew that plutonium was being produced, so I knew how many atomic weapons they could have. And at the same time they lie to the Israeli people and to the world about what they had. So maybe I started criticizing this system since I realized how many atomic weapons they are producing and that I am a part of this lying, cheating.
KL: When did you start to consider revealing this to the world?
MV: Later I started becoming involved with politics at the university, supporting Palestinians. I also started criticizing Israel when they invaded Lebanon in 1982. I also maybe started becoming critical of Israel when they bombed the Iraq reactor in 1981. I was working in this place and saw how they bombarded Iraq and at the same time, here they are cheating.
So I decided to go and reveal the information maybe four or three years before leaving the place, but I didn’t have any particular plan, I was just thinking that I will go and speak.
KL: Do you believe that any of your colleagues at Dimona had the same thoughts, about revealing this?
MV: No. Most of them are very good Jewish Zionists and trust the Israeli government. Maybe they are some people who criticize it, but they don’t express it. They are not ready to do anything.
KL: And after this, you left Israel…
MV: After resigning from my job, I decided I was going to the United States, but I went to the Far East. So I went to Thailand, and Nepal, traveling in the Himalayan mountains there, walking, trekking. And then I went to Bangkok, Singapore and Australia. And I was baptized in Sydney.
KL: Why did you decide to be baptized?
MV: Because, as I told you, at the age of 16, I started criticizing Judaism and I decided that I wanted to leave this Jewish faith. So from the age of 16 to 30, growing, critizing, asking questions, rejecting, until I found myself free. I decided I’m not going back anymore to Israel. I wanted to start a new life, so I decided that I also wanted to be baptized.
KL: How did your family and friends react to your baptism?
MV: No one knew about my baptizm at that time, I didn’t talk to anyone. I know that they don’t like it. I only told one brother. But when they kidnapped me from Rome and brought me here, they found out about my baptizm and they didn’t like it. They tried to get me back to Judaism.
KL: Why did you decide to tell this story to The London Sunday Times?
MV: Because, as I told you, Israel is lying, cheating and also, through my work, I knew Israel was producing more than 40 kilograms plutonium each year. It’s enough for ten atomic weapons each year. I decided that this was to much, Israel had many, many atomic weapons and they could be used by Israel in the next war at that time, against some Arab states. I wanted to prevent the use of atomic weapon.
KL: Did The Sunday Times believe your story?
MV: I brought them photos, I took secret photos in this place, I gave them all the information on how they produce plutonium. I was asked questions by a nuclear scientist, and he accepted what I said, but they wanted to check it more and more.
KL: How long time did it take them?
MV: About one month. But before it was published, Israel kidnapped me from Rome. They published me a few days before I was kidnapped.
KL: How did you meet ‘Cindy’, the Mossad spy?
MV: I met her in the streets of London. It was night, I was walking, I asked her ‘How are you?’ and then we started talking and meeting.
KL: And then the two of you went to a trip to Rome.
MV: We flew to Rome and then they immediately attacked me
KL: Were you surprised that the world didn’t react when they kidnapped you?
MV: Yes, I was very disappointed that the world didn’t do anything, from Rome to Washington, from London to… Stockholm. No one cared, no one spoke on my behalf. It continues to work like this still. None of the governments speak about me and my case, all of them keep quite.
KL: Why do you think they are so afraid of criticizing Israel?
MV: I think they have a problem with Israel, what to do and what to say. Because now Israel has these atomic weapons, and they feel very strong, and they don’t care about what any government will say. No one can tell them what to do.
KL: Which leads us to another question: Do you think that Israel is prepared to use its nuclear weapons?
MV: Israel, I think, was ready to use them. But now, since my publication and the whole world knowing about this, the world will not allow them to use their weapons.
KL: A former Mossad director revealed that Israel considered killing you, but they didn’t “because Jews don’t kill Jews.” Anyhow, they sentenced you to 18 years in prison. Where you surprised about the sentense?
MV: Yes. They sentenced me as a spy and a traitor, but I wasn’t a spy. I gave information to The Sunday Times, so they should sentence me as a man who speaks to the media. But the judge sentenced me as a spy and gave me a very hard, long-time sentence.
Israel didn’t kill me because “Jews don’t kill Jews,” but because they didn’t know what to do in this case. This Jewish spy Mossad, they kill many Jews themselves. When they want, they kill them. Some of them they kill in secret, some of them they call ‘heart-attack’. They, the Mossad, even were behind the assassination of Rabin. So it’s bullshit that “Jews don’t kill Jews.”
KL: Did you feel that you got a fair trial?
MV: Not at all. It was closed door, no one was allowed to enter there. Only me and my lawyer were there. And the judge was not allowed to hear anything from the government, to explain to the court why Israel has 200 nuclear weapons, why they’ve started producing hydrogen bomb. I told all this to the court, but the court was not allowed to ask questions. We asked for Shimon Peres to testify, we wanted to ask him why he says that Dimona was for peace, why it has 200 nuclear weapons. There is no justice if the judge cannot ask any questions.
KL: How did you feel when they announced thay you would have to spend 18 years in prison?
MV: I felt very bad. Strong anger, I was upset. I couldn’t believe it was 18 years. It feels like if they had sentenced you for killing someone you didn’t kill. Like taking a man from the street and sentence him as a murderer, but he didn’t kill anyone. No one believe in him, so what can he do? They judge decides that he has killed, but he didn’t kill anyone.
KL: You had to spend two thirds of the time in solitary confinement. What kept you alive?
MV: My strong belief in my act, it was very, very strong. I decided I must be strong. And I wanted to defeat those who kidnapped me and sentenced me wrongly and unjustly. I decided I wanted to survive and to get out and to speak. So this wish to come back again gave me the strenght to all the time continue.
KL: Did you ever, during this time, think that maybe it wasn’t worth it?
MV: No, I never had any doubt about what I did. My wonder was why I should have to suffer. That this was something I had to do was ver clear to me. Because I had the information, I felt obligated to publish it. That should have been done, someone had to do it. I think I also saw how the world had been changed. The world ignored my story, but the world has in fact been changed since I revealed it. The Cold War has ended, the nuclear race stopped.
KL: How did your family and friends react to your revelation that Israel has nuclear weapons?
MV: My family don’t like it. They don’t want to be in the public. I don’t know about any of my friends, because they kidnapped me and put me in prison for 18 years, and I didn’t have any contact with anyone, so I don’t know. But most of them saw me as a traitor and a spy.
KL: And the Israeli public?
MV: The Israeli public is under psychological brainwash by the Israeli media. They tell them that I’m an enemy of Israel and a traitor, and also my Christianity is used to prove that I’m an enemy. Because most Jews don’t accept Jews who convert to other faiths.
KL: How have you been met by the world for what you have done, outside Israel?
MV: I received a lot of sympathy and support by individuals, by peace activists, by organizations, but not by governments. I have a lot of support and sympathy all over the world.
KL: Is there anything you’d like to add?
MV: I’m still here waiting for my freedom. I would like for the world to ensure my full freedom, to leave this country and to enjoy freedom, I’ve suffered enough – 18 years, and now more years in Israel prison. I need to enjoy my freedom, liberty, to contribute to peace in the world. The world should be courageous and intervene to support me and criticizing Israel. I hope some state will wake up, especially from Scandinavia – Sweden, Denmark, Norway, they are very good supporting human beings. They should demand from Israel to give me my liberty.
KL: Where would you like to go, if you could choose?
MV: I would go to Europe or the United States
KL: Thank you very much.
MV: (nods his head)