Israel has between 300 and 400 nuclear weapons. Iraq tried to build some, too, simply in response
MORDECHAI VANUNU, a former nuclear technician whose conscience propelled him to reveal Israel's secret nuclear weapons programs to the world, has endured solitary confinement for more than a decade.
Vanunu was a junior technician at Israel's secret nuclear bomb factory at Dimona, beneath the Negev Desert, for 10 years until he had a crisis of conscience and decided he could no longer contribute to the production of weapons of mass destruction. He smuggled a camera into the underground installation and snapped 60 photographs.
After resigning from his job, Vanunu travelled across Asia to Australia, carrying the photos. He confided in a few trusted souls, and word got through to the London Sunday Times, who brought him to the UK and published his story on October 5, 1986. Vanunu neither asked for nor received payment.
Prior to publication, Israeli Mossad secret agents lured Vanunu to Italy, where they abducted him and dumped his drugged body onto an Israeli-bound cargo vessel. In the months that followed, he was charged with treason and espionage, convicted at a closed-door trial, and sentenced to 18 years in solitary confinement.
"Mordechai Vanunu is a prophet and a hero," says Sam Day, coordinator of the US Campaign to Free Vanunu.
In Toronto, Hamilton and Burlington for a whirlwind speaking tour in November to help promote the Canadian solidarity campaign, Day said Vanunu "represents the supreme example of anyone speaking out against nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy."
Day has made dedicated efforts since 1992 to help gain Vanunu's freedom, and seems natural for the cause. Initially inspired by Albert Einstein's passionate writings about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, Day has been arrested in more than two dozen civil disobedience actions in the United States.
"Mordechai took a big risk; he's an example, and he challenges us Americans to take risks like him," said Sam who resides in Madison, Wisconsin.
Day's involvement in the campaign to free Vanunu began with his participation in the 1992 Walk for Peace in Israel, which marked the 25th anniversary of the 1967 War. Gideon Spiro, who coordinates the Israeli Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Middle East Free of Atomic, Biological and Chemical Weapons, encouraged walkers to stop by the gates of Ashkelon Prison, where Vanunu is an inmate.
Day has been centrally involved in two important events concerning nuclear secrecy. In 1979, he was a defendant in an historic First Amendment case in which the US Department of Energy tried unsuccessfully to prevent publication of an article in The Progressive debunking secrecy in the US nuclear weapons program even though all the information was gained from public records in libraries. The article, "The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It; Why We're Telling It," was published following a six-month court battle that attracted international attention. Then, in 1982 while on assignment for The Progressive, Day travelled to South Africa and became the first journalist to document that country's secret development of nuclear weapons a "scoop" confirmed eleven years later by the last of South Africa's apartheid governments.
"Nuclear weapons are enormously destructive and can wipe out civilization as we know it. It is certain they will be used, it's just a matter of when," Day, 71, says in a soft voice. "Nukes are a national anti-defence because they bankrupt the economy and are a terrible threat to the environment. We are slowly poisoning the world."
Having once spent 30 days in solitary confinement, Day believes Vanunu's incarceration represents a unique form of torture. Vanunu has spent more than 11 years deprived of human contact in a two-by- three-metre cell. His suffering is prolonged and unending and has resulted in paranoia and hallucinations.
"The Israeli nuclear-state obviously hopes Vanunu will go crazy and lose his credibility as a nuclear whistle-blower," Day says. "It is amazing Vanunu has with-stood it this long."
During his southern Ontario tour, A Day spoke to more than 80 supporters at public forums and to a wider audience through media interviews.
"It is a terrible folly to have introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East," Day says. "Israel has between 300 to 400 nuclear weapons but has never democratically discussed their nuclear weapons in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). Iraq attempted to build nuclear weapons simply in response to Israel's."
Day says the international campaign has been perceived as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic by the pro-Israel lobby but is anything but that.
"We are trying to bring about justice and an end to the scourge of nuclear weapons everywhere," Day says. He adds that Jews comprise the largest number of supporters of the US Campaign, together with Catholic peace activists like Daniel Berrigan.
"Vanunu is not a spy, he's a whistle-blower who simply informed the Israeli public and media about what needs to be known," Day asserts. He agrees that Vanunu's actions were in breach of Israeli law and in violation of the workers' oath at Dimona. However, he considers 18 years of solitary confinement a grotesque punishment.
A strong Canadian Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu will strengthen the International Campaign, Day says, encouraging Canadians to pressure political leaders.
"Canada has a history of peacemaking as a small but moral superpower which can play a broker's role," Day says. While Israeli authorities need to hear public outrage, Day believes Canadians must also protest their own government's subsidiary role in assisting US nuclear weapons programs. He offers Cruise missile testing, participation in the nuclear first-strike NATO military alliance and Trident missile exercises at Nanoose Bay off the British Columbia coast as examples of Canadian complicity m international nuclear weapons activity.
Like the prisoner whose release he seeks, Day has "crossed the line" in his vigorous opposition to nuclear weapons. He has been arrested repeatedly for acts of civil disobedience and resistance. Ironically, Day is scheduled to appear in court on February 18 for refusing to leave the sidewalk while protesting for Vanunu in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC on September 30,1997, the anniversary of Vanunu's kidnapping.
"The nuclear threat has not gone away," Day says. "It has just gone under-ground. We have been extremely lucky to have avoided a nuclear war in the last 50 years, and we need to get the genie back m the bottle with a rigid system of international inspection imposed. There are 80 to 90 industrial countries that could build nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons are part of US strategy through to the 22nd century."
While expressing optimism, Day says he would consider his visit to Ontario a failure if it weren't to lead to increased support for the campaign. While visible actions are crucial, Day also encourages supporters to write to Vanunu in prison, because "letters are the oxygen that keeps him alive." Letters can be sent to Vanunu care of Ashkelon Prison, Ashkelon, Israel.
Stephen Dankowich is Director of the Oakville Community Centre for peace, ecology and human rights, and a consultant to the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland. To get involved or to receive more information about the Canadian Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu please contact the author at the Oakville Community Centre, 148 Kerr Street, Oakville, ON L6K 3A7, (905) 849-5501, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.