Vanunu released to life of 'internal exile'

From the archive (legacy material)

Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem | The Independent | 18 April 2004

Mordechai Vanunu, the man who first revealed that Israel had nuclear weapons, is “demoralised, worried and angry,” as he finally prepares for the end of his 18-year prison sentence this week.
In one of the more grudging and unusual prison releases of recent times, Mr Vanunu, 49, is due to walk out of jail on Wednesday at the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon and into a series of heavily confining restrictions, amounting to a form of internal exile.
Mr Vanunu, a former technician at the Dimona nuclear plant, spent almost 12 years of his sentence in solitary confinement after he was lured to Rome in 1986 and then drugged and kidnapped by Mossad agents after talking to The Sunday Times in London about Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme. According to his brother Meir, Mr Vanunu feels subdued and frustrated after warnings by the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet that he will be subject to tight controls on his movements. These were laid down in emergency legislation imposed during the British mandate in 1945 and never revoked by Israel.
Meir Vanunu, who will be among more than 100 friends, campaigners and well-wishers outside the Shekma prison, says in The Independent on Sunday today that two months ago his brother was “excited about coming out, saying ‘they didn’t break me!’ Now I fear for him. There are still plenty of people who regard him as a traitor.”
His supporters say the restrictions – which they intend to challenge in the High Court – bar him from talking to foreigners, including by telephone, fax or even email, and from going within 100 metres of a foreign embassy and within 300 metres of ports, airports, or border crossing points.
Mr Vanunu will be allowed to live in a town or city of his choosing but will be forbidden to leave its limits unless he first reports to local police. If he adheres to the restrictions they will be reviewed after six months, but a separate order by the Ministry of the Interior forbids him to travel abroad for at least a year. He has indicated he wants to emigrate to the US and become an American citizen.
Rayna Moss, a campaign member, said yesterday: “These are ludicrous restrictions, which only serve to show that Israel has been in a state of emergency for 50 years. They are doing it as a warning, telling people: if you tell the public the truth, this is what will happen to you.”
Adopting a doctrine of “nuclear ambiguity” – which campaigners say was fatally undermined by Mr Vanunu’s revelations – Israel has never officially admitted to having nuclear weapons. But the CIA has estimated that it has between 200 and 400 of them.
Mr Vanunu, born in 1954 into a family of religious Moroccan Jews who emigrated to Israel in 1963, spent three years in the army before being honourably discharged and going to work at Dimona. While there, he also studied philosophy at Ben Gurion University and came to the attention of the security services after becoming increasingly disenchanted with Israeli policies, and forming a radical group with other Jewish and Arab students.
He began to take photographs in secret inside Dimona. But after being fired in 1985 he travelled to Australia and converted to Christianity. During a discussion on peace and nuclear arms at his local church in Sidney he was heard discussing some of his activities at Dimona by a freelance Colombian journalist who later approached the press.
After he had been interviewed by The Sunday Times – but before the article appeared – he met, and was attracted to, a woman called “Cindy”, apparently an American tourist. She persuaded him to accompany her to Rome. He was then kidnapped by Mossad and transported to Israel by sea, confronted with the by now published exposé, and convicted in a closed court of treason and espionage.