While Vanunu waits for his next court date, “about the restrictions on Oct’ 3. About canceling my Israel citizenship, we are waiting to hear from Interior minister. We are waiting for Israel to End this case, they must give me my Freedom Now!!!”
He is staying busy uploading video interviews he has given, beginning in 2004, after he was released from 18 years in a windowless tomb sized prison on his You Tube Channel: vanunuvmjc
He renamed what became the beginning of a series of interviews between us: Vanunu Speaking to Florida US,June 2005
The message was for the world and the interview was masterfully conducted by Artie, the founder of Monkey Fist Productions, who was on the trip to make a documentary for the non-profit Olive Trees Foundation for Peace; and the music in the back ground is from the good bye party happening on the patio downstairs at the Ambassador Hotel in east Jerusalem.
My conversation with Vanunu began after Artie’s and continued over the next few days:
What follows are some of those conversations that became a part of Chapter 11: 16 DAYS IN ISRAEL PALESTINE, in KEEP HOPE ALIVE, but as I was writing fiction in 2005, my experiences are told through Jack.
Ten interfaith friends from the U.S. branch of the Olive Trees Foundation for Peace arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday morning, June 12, 2005, at 3 a.m. Everyone else settled in their beds at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, but Jack was wide awake. After a shower, he wandered through the East Jerusalem streets in the dark, and reached the Western Wall just as the sun rose. He walked the empty Via Delarosa and wondered, “Where are all the Christians? I have seen videos of this place with packed streets, and this morning, I am totally alone.”
Jack wandered into the courtyard at the Anglican St. George’s Cathedral just before noon. He was staring at a statue of St. Francis in a winding, flower-filled courtyard, and thought, “Hmmm–Frankie–you remind me of Julianne. She always greeted everyone with ‘As Francis of Assisi said to Brother Dominic when their paths crossed on the road to Umbria: HI!’”
Jack lost himself in good memories before that Tuesday in September when everything changed. He shivered when he heard the snap of gum sound as loudly as Julianne’s ever had. He turned and saw a compact balding man of about fifty move by swiftly and enter the guest house. The man rang the bells everyday at noon, and had just descended the bell tower. Jack mused, I think that’s Vanunu. I had no clue he was so short.
When Julianne lost her life in a stairway of the Twin Towers that day in September, Jack fell off the wagon. While in rehab for the last time, he also began watching a lot of TV. He caught a show on the History Channel entitled “Sexpionage.”
It was all about Russian female spies and one from the Mossad. Jack had a faint memory of hearing the name Mordechai Vanunu in 1986, but everything else he saw that night was news to him. The show informed him that Vanunu had been a low-tech in the underground Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev. When Vanunu had a crisis of conscience about being a cog in the making of weapons of mass destruction, he copped the keys to the restricted areas and shot two rolls of film which proved Israel had gone nuclear. He resigned and left the country, but did not develop the film until nearly a year later. Vanunu had ended up in Sydney, where he was baptized a Christian and met Peter Hounam, a journalist for the London Sunday Times. Peter flew Vanunu to London and began to check out the story, which took more days than Vanunu had patience to bear in solitude. Out of boredom, Vanunu ventured out and met an American named Cindy. He had no clue she worked for the Mossad. After a week of movies and museums, he traveled with her to Rome, where her sister had an apartment. When Vanunu entered the apartment, he was hit on the head, drugged, bound, and flung upon an Israeli cargo ship heading home. The Times broke the story just as Vanunu disappeared.
The world did not know if Vanunu was alive or dead. They found out while he was being transported to his closed-door trial. Vanunu had been inspired to write “HIJACKED” on his palm, with the Rome flight number he had been on. His action agitated the Israeli government, and from then on, Vanunu was shielded from the world. Vanunu was sentenced to eighteen years for treason and was released in April of 2004, under house arrest and had been living in St. George’s guest house ever since.
The show also ran video from 1986 of Shimon Perez telling the world that Israel would never be the first country in the Middle East to go nuclear. Jack thought for a long time about whether he should approach Vanunu, who had set up his laptop underneath an umbrella table a few feet away. Jack never missed an opportunity.
“Pardon me; you are Vanunu, aren’t you?”
Vanunu nodded and shook Jack’s hand, while Jack remained standing; Vanunu returned to his laptop. “I want you to know how much I admire you, for your courage and for speaking the truth. I am leaving for the Galilee tomorrow, but if our paths cross when I return to Jerusalem; I would like to invite you to dinner.”
Jack met Mordechai Vanunu at a seafood restaurant and as soon as they ordered, Jack asked, “So, what was your childhood like?”
Vanunu thought for a long time before he responded. “It was normal–it was normal–it was normal.”
“What is normal?”
“I was born in Marrakesh, on October 13, 1954. I was the second oldest of eleven; the first seven of us migrated from Morocco in 1963 after the Zionists came and convinced the neighborhood that Israel was the Promised Land. Instead of the land of milk and honey, we were banished to the desert of Beersheba.”
“Wait, I have never been to Marrakesh; tell me about it.”
“Did you ever see that Doris Day movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much?”
“Is that the one where she sings ‘Que sera, sera’?”
“That’s the one. The beginning is exactly where I grew up. I was about eight years old when I would wander all over the bazaar all by myself. I had a few friends at school, but always went to the bazaar alone. I preferred to be alone to observe; I was always watching everyone. I was always alone, but never lonely. We lived in a small neighborhood of Melah. It was a few hundred years old, with a wall and a gate just like the Old City. Some people painted their homes many colors, and the streets were narrow and had no names. I remember this very tall, black Muslim Arab, who would fill a sheepskin with water from the town well. He would carry it around his neck and sell water to those who did not want to fetch it themselves. My father ran a successful grocery store, and my mother was a seamstress. She would see a picture of a dress in a magazine and then would copy it for herself. My mother’s family had moved to Israel in 1956, and they sent me and my sisters and brothers clothes and things. We also got support from JOINT, a Jewish organization from the United States that sent us jeans and boots.”
“Did you have fun?”
“It was fun to watch the gymnasts perform at the bazaar; I would watch them for hours. I wouldn’t go home until after dark, and we lived in an apartment quadrangle. There were four families on each of the two floors, and we shared the rooftop and courtyard. There was no electricity, no running water, and no sewer. My very first memory is of when I was four years old and my mother had to run downstairs for a while. She told me to keep an eye on my newborn sister, and as soon as I was alone, I found out the difference between girls and boys. I was still four years old when I began wondering, What is above the sky? What is the end of the end?
“I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, but rejected it all by the eighth grade. When I went to the University, I became an existentialist. When I was eight years old I stole some money for the first and last time. My father would take my older brother Al and I to his grocery store whenever we weren’t in school. Al would always go into the back and play with boxes, but I stayed up front, and listened and learned. One Friday afternoon, my father told me to watch the register, as he had to run out somewhere. There was one hundred shekels in the money box, and I put it in my pocket as soon as he left. When he returned, the first thing he did was look into the box, and then he asked me, ‘Where is the money? Did you take it?’
“I saw no way out and, in my panic, I lied and said something stupid. ‘No no, I didn’t take it; go ahead and check my pocket.’ He did, and he found the money and began to beat me with a belt. He wounded me a little in my head. That was the day I learned not to steal, but it was not until the next day when I learned not to lie. The next day at school, the teacher demanded that we all uncover our heads. When I did, the teacher saw my wound, and he sent me to the principal, who asked, ‘What happened to you?’ I didn’t want to admit that my father beat me, so I told him some Arabs had beaten me up. He called the police and my lie made a lot of trouble for some innocent guys, and I have never lied since then.”
“So, you were always a good boy?”
“Yes, I was a good student and stayed out of trouble.”
“Have you always been stubborn?”
Vanunu thought for a very long time. “When I was thirteen years old, I got mad at my parents and decided I would punish them. I began my first hunger strike and it lasted three days. My parents acted like they didn’t care, and it was not until I got very weak that I got their attention. I also remember getting really mad at my mother before a Jewish holiday. I had new clothes I wanted to wear on Friday night, but she insisted that I wait until the next day. We locked horns, but she had the power and won in the end. I fumed the entire evening.”
“So, this was when you had been in Israel for about five years?”
“Yes, in 1963 the Zionists came to my village and encouraged everyone to migrate to Israel. There was no family discussion; my father just told us we were leaving, and six months later, we boarded the train to Casablanca and got on a World War II military ship. The ship kept going up and down, and everyone was crammed into an open space; people everywhere kept throwing up. After four days, we arrived in Marseilles. This was a great place, but we had to leave for Israel. The next boat was bigger and modern, and the journey was smoother. When we arrived in Israel, the Interior Minister assigned us to Beersheba, but all the rest of our family had been assigned to Nazareth, and we wanted to go there, too. We had no choice, and home was a small hut in the desert. There was nothing in it and we had nothing much with us. After a few days, my mother left for Nazareth; it was chaos, and we had nothing to do to occupy us.
“Outside, there was only desert, but I walked a few hours everyday so I could be in the Old City. I started exploring around a Mexican-looking town, never talking with anyone, but always watching everyone. Three weeks later, my mother returned, and then my uncle, Joseph, arrived and took us up north to see some more newly arrived family. We stayed for two months, and then moved into a new apartment in Beersheba. I went to the fifth grade and met a few friends, but they were strange people. They were Romanians and a lot of Middle Easterners, who used bad language and seemed cheap to me. Even the school supplies were inferior to those I had had in Morocco. Even the ice cream was not ice cream; it was just ice, and there was no Pepsi.
“I didn’t like it at all, and wondered why I had to be there. There were only Jewish people around; I never saw an Arab or Palestinian then, and the old mosque was uninhabited. My mother had babies every two years. I preferred to be alone, but I was never lonely. Even when I walked with my father on Saturday to pray, I didn’t talk, but I wondered about God and truth. My father became even more orthodox as I turned away. I couldn’t accept all the teachings and decided I would not accept any of them. At fourteen years old, I began to doubt, and by sixteen, I left Judaism for good. I didn’t know if God even existed, and I didn’t even care. I decided I would decide for myself what is good and what is bad; I didn’t need anyone telling me the rules. For me, it was about doing to others what I wanted them to do to me; I didn’t need any other rule. I was sent to Yeshiva, the Jewish boarding school in the Old City. I experienced a great disconnect from God. I didn’t talk to anyone about any of it. I kept everything within and continued to wonder about finding my way, my direction, and the purpose of my life. I have always searched for answers.
“I kept my mouth shut about not following the faith and excelled in secular studies. With everything else, I just went through the motions–in the eleventh grade, two friends and I were listening to the radio. It is a big sin and crime to use electricity on the Sabbath. The rabbi caught us and called my father to come get me, and when we had almost reached our house, I smelled that he was going to beat me, so I ran the five meters back to school without looking back. The next day, the rabbi sent me for an intensive week of Jewish studies. I was angry for the entire week. After that, I returned back to my boarding room. My two friends and I had become outcasts; we were forever ignored by the other students. The isolation became very comfortable, and I began walking in the desert alone every night without any fear. I would just walk around and imagine that I would find my way, and have some success.”
The Army and Leaving Israel
“I passed all my classes except for English and Hebrew studies. At eighteen years old, I had my mind and health checked by the Israeli army doctors and was assigned to be a pilot. But I failed the hand-eye coordination test and was assigned to the Navy, instead. Three weeks later, they sent me to the Engineering Unit, where I learned about land mines, bridges, and explosives. I started training with fifty others and was the most unenthusiastic of the bunch. I stood back from it all and saw it as if it were just playing stupid games. Mostly, everyone else was serious, but I just didn’t care; all I could see was the futility. The day I left home for the service, my mother walked me to the bus. She gave me all the Jewish stuff–you know, the phylacteries? The leather straps for the head and left arm? I put it all aside until I got my first leave, and then I returned it all home and never said a word about it. I never spoke with my parents about rejecting their faith.
“When I was in prison, my mother came to me and told me that I was suffering because I was a Christian. I know I caused them a lot of pain, and they have suffered because of my case. I forgive them, even though they rejected me and my Christian faith. I have always thought for myself and made up my own mind. As a young boy, I thought too many of the rules of Judaism were of no use–like the rule that says you can’t mix meat and cheese together. Well, the first time I did, nothing happened, so then I began turning on the lights on Saturday. I tried to experience everything that had been forbidden. That first Yom Kippur I didn’t fast, didn’t pray, and felt totally free for the first time in my life.”
“OK, so did you start having fun?”
“No, still no fun, but I finally met some secular Jews, traveled freely as a soldier, and served in the occupied territories near Bethlehem. I would make treks of fifteen miles through villages, and I felt how poor the people were under occupation and how they suffered without reason, except for the reason of injustice. In the 1970s, Israel built many fortresses and spent lots of money on equipment, but nothing on the people I saw, who were oppressed and under occupation. I got really mad and upset every time I thought about how much money they wasted, but I kept my mouth shut and kept it all to myself. After a year, I finished my training and was assigned to train more soldiers. For me it was all futility and waste; I saw these children become soldiers and thought, What a complete waste. When the Yom Kippur War broke out, I was home on leave. I returned the next day to my station near Ramallah. Soldiers with less than a month of training got called to go with me to the Jordan Valley. There weren’t enough trained troops, and we were lucky we didn’t see any fighting and got to return to base after three days. After a few months, we all went to Syria and the Golan Heights. When Kissinger coordinated the cease-fire, the Israeli army destroyed the area before leaving there. I was promoted to First Sergeant, and they wanted me to re-up. I said no.
“I began my studies at Tel Aviv University when I was twenty-one. I studied physics until the army called me up for thirty days’ reserve service. When I returned to school, I couldn’t catch up. I worked in a bakery at night and attended class all day. This was the first time I met Palestinians as human beings. I began attending political demonstrations inside the university. It was all about equal human rights and respecting all others. By the time I was twenty-three, I began working at the Dimona. It was suppose to be a textile plant, but I was hired for the control room. At the time, I had no idea what it was in control of.
“I really didn’t even want the job; I tried to get them not to hire me. On the application, they asked if I knew any Palestinians. As I had an acquaintance, I said yes, hoping it would disqualify me from employment. They accepted me anyway. I watched them as closely as they watched me. I began studying philosophy and geography, and read literature.”
“Did you listen to music? Did you know the Beatles and Bob Dylan?”
“Sure, but I prefer classical. And I began wondering more about life and politics. I decided to become a hermit and vegetarian. I lived alone, but never was lonely. It wasn’t ever fun, but I enjoy the quiet. I was never sad, but never happy, either. After a year, I got bored with the routine job at the Dimona and wanted to leave. I went to Beersheba University and studied economics for a year. I became involved in university politics and in student unions. I was all about protecting Palestinian students’ rights. I sided with Palestinians more and more, and was invited to help establish a group of Palestinian and Jewish students for peace and justice. This was also the time I found out that it was dangerous for me to speak the truth. I was being watched, but I continued to express myself anyway. After six months, I got called in by security at the Dimona, and they asked me, ‘Can you imagine why you are here?’
“I answered, ‘My university activity?’ They then questioned me about all my contacts and told me to stop, because I was in danger. I told them I would try, but I knew I would continue on, because it was the right cause and I would not hide my thoughts.
“After five months, they called me in again and demanded that I stop my activities. A few months later, the chief security man took me to the Tel Aviv Secret Room, where the Israeli army security officer grilled me. They told me I could get fifteen years in prison if I didn’t stop my university activities. I left the meeting and walked to a Palestinian bookstore, knowing they were watching me. That night, I wrote in my diary, ‘1/85. I should have finished this job at Dimona before now. Time to quit.’
“I finished the university with a BA in philosophy and geography, and made plans to leave Israel and begin a new life in America. In August of 1985, I was put on a list of people who should be dismissed from the Dimona. They were laying off 10 percent, but when they told me I was going, I confronted them with ‘Why are you dismissing me? I am a good worker; you are getting rid of me for political reasons, aren’t you?’ The union protected me, and after two months, they told me they were transferring me to a less secure area.
“I told them I would stay where I was, or else I would resign. They said, ‘Okay, resign.’ And I did. I had already shot the two rolls of film. I worked the night shift and had lots of time alone. I found the keys to the restricted areas in the shower room. I left the film in my locker for a few days before taking it out of the Dimona. I knew they were watching me. I left Israel in January of 1986, and went to search for someone to share my story with. I didn’t develop the film until six months later. I was waiting until I found a newspaper that would cover the story. I met a Canadian author on my way to Greece, but nothing came of it. I traveled to Athens, Bangkok, and then went to Russia. I was 32 years old in a Moscow hotel, wondering if I should tell my story to the Red Army. I decided to leave, instead. The reason I had arrived there was that before I left the Dimona, I had checked out the Palestinian Communist Party to see how the communists worked. I was curious and wondered if they would help me once I left Israel. But when I witnessed the poverty and nothing but military cars everywhere, I decided to get out of there.
“I went to the Far East and met some people who had run away from Chernobyl, and I told them about the Dimona. Two weeks later I arrived in Sydney and stayed for six months. I went to St. John Anglican church and became friends with the people I met there. I got a job driving a taxi and met a freelance journalist named Gervevo; I told him my story, and he was enthusiastic to help me get it out. He thought I wanted to make money on it, but I told him I just wanted to prevent a nuclear war and contribute to a positive change in the Middle East. Then I met Peter Hounam.”
Baptism by Fire
“I really had no clue what I was doing by getting baptized a Christian; I just felt like I had to do it. It was my way to become a new being. It wasn’t until after my trial that I started to read the New Testament. While I was in prison, I would read aloud for a half hour, twice a day. I would read the entire New Testament and begin it again when I finished the Book of Revelation. I did this for myself, as well as for my captors–not so much the prison guards, but the ones who watched me on camera twenty-four hours a day. Once I covered up the camera that spied on me and was punished with one month in solitary, without any books or radio; no contact with anyone anywhere was allowed. It was just them, watching me, constantly watching me.”
“Who are they?”
“The Shen Beet, you know, like the FBI and the Mossad, like your CIA— they were watching me. They tortured me by keeping a light on in my cell constantly for two years. They told me it was because they were afraid I would commit suicide, and the oppressive camera was for my safety. They recruited the guards and other prisoners to irritate me. They would deprive me of sleep by making loud noises near my cell all night long.
“I chose to read them 1 Corinthians 13, instead.”
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with THE TRUTH! It always protects, it always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails.
“For the first five years, twice a day I would loudly pray by reading Bible verses. I would also read the Anglican service from the Book of Common Prayer. I did it twice a day, everyday, for five years. I began to see I had become like a machine. I knew if I continued I would lose my mind. So after that, I only prayed in silence. Although I knew I was driving them nuts with my loud praying, it was driving me nuts, too. I changed my routine. I was allowed outside every day for two hours; I had been jogging around in circles for the two hours, but now I changed my routine. I began to alter that and all my routines so I would not be like a machine. I refused to eat when they brought my food in. I would decide everyday what time I would eat and what I would eat. I chose a different time everyday to do anything. The camera was there to learn my behavior so they could manipulate me. I knew I had to constantly change my routine. I began reading more books about health, nutrition, history, philosophy, and literature, and kept my prayer life quiet.”
“When you were baptized in Sydney, just a few months before you were abducted and tried, you took the name John Crossman. Was that because of St. John of the Cross and his The Dark Night of The Soul?
“I haven’t read him.”
“Not many have, and even fewer understand what he was talking about. John of the Cross was a Spanish poet and mystic who wrote about the contemplative life and the divine union of the soul with God in this life. He was an ardent disciple of Theresa of Avilla’s reforms, which greatly agitated the church hierarchy during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He received a great deal of abuse for his thoughts and spent a lot of time in prison, writing.”
Vanunu went silent again. Jack wondered if he stirred up too many bad memories, but asked, “Tomorrow is my last day before I fly home to upstate New York. Now I have to get to Notre Dame for the Interfaith Peace Conference. Will you take a hike with me up to the Mount of Olives tomorrow evening and tell me exactly how you became a Christian?”
Vanunu agreed, and Jack paid the tab, said goodbye, and walked to Notre Dame Cathedral for the satellite-linked interfaith conference for peace. Dan Rather moderated from D.C. as Jack sat in the audience in Jerusalem. The interfaith panel comprised moderates attempting to reclaim the battlefield of ideas from extremists on both sides. Rev. Theodore Hessburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame began the evening with a pledge: “The peace of the world begins in Jerusalem.”
Dr. Tsvia Walden, of the board of directors of the Peres Center and Geneva Initiative, offered a plan: “There is a need for a third party in the negotiations that could enable both sides to trust each other. There are more people in this region interested in making concessions; they all want peace so desperately.”
The coordinator of World Bank emergency services to the PA, Rania Kharma, commented, “We all need to be the bridges to our leaders and carry the message that only justice, equality, and human rights will bring peace. Give people justice, and they will reward you with peace.”
Sheik Imad Falouiji warned, “Religions must go back to their origins. God commands us to love each other and live together. This Holy Land was given to all people. This land is on fire. There is an occupation that must be removed. The language of peace cannot succeed without justice for all.”
Jack remembered President Bush’s second inaugural promise: “In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without liberty…All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.”
The bishop of Jerusalem, Rt. Rev. Riah Abu Assal, recaptured Jack’s attention as he stated, “Peace is an act. Blessed are the peacemakers, not the peace talkers. Peace is possible in the Holy Land. The root cause for the lack of peace since 1967 is the occupation. For peace to make progress in the Middle East, we need to deal with the root cause. Religion was not meant to bring death. All those involved in searching for peace should commit themselves to work for justice and truth.”
After the conference, Jack walked alone to the Ambassador Hotel and wondered, These past fifteen days have changed me. I learned more in this short time through experience than from years of reading. I don’t know what I am going to do with this knowledge, and I don’t have a clue if You want me to do anything at all. The words of Thomas Merton keep coming to mind:
“Oh God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not necessarily mean that I actually am. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will always lead me by the right road, although I may know nothing about it, and I will not fear.”
The next afternoon, Jack met Rev. Attek at the Sabeel office, but Jack did most of the talking. “I have been reading the Sabeel Documents about morally responsible investment and nonviolent response to the occupation. This is exactly what we American Christians should be discussing, instead of continuing the debate over the mystery of love and marriage. Surely everyone knows Bishop Robinson isn’t the first gay bishop; he’s just the first honest gay bishop. What we really need to seriously consider is where we lay down our money, and who we really serve. Just this morning, I read an Internet report from one segment of your opposition on the divestment issue vilifying you. Money talks and you have really hit a nerve–good job, Reverend.”
Rev. Ateek smiled and shrugged as he autographed Jack’s worn copy of Justice And Only Justice.
At 5:40 p.m., Jack met Vanunu at the American Colony. They both walked as fast as any New Yorker and maintained silence. It was not until they had scaled the high hill to the Mount of Olives and the stoned tombs of many Jews came into view that Vanunu spoke. “Those are the Jews expecting to be resurrected first when the Messiah comes.”
Jack retorted, “When I was in rehab, I got hold of a very bad book. It was called Left Behind. What got left behind was the gospel of peace and love. These books are bad theology and poor literature. Did you know that in America there are Christians who actually want Armageddon? They believe they will escape the nuclear holocaust because they are now the new chosen ones. They think they will be raptured; they think they will be lifted out of the world. They believe a theology of escapism and they ignore that Christ promised that ‘The peacemakers shall be called the children of God’ and that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.”
Vanunu replied, “The time has come for the United States to see the truth of Zionism. It began as a secular nationalist movement, not a religious one. Then some Christians believed that when Israel became a nation, it was the beginning of the second coming. They are deluded if they believe peace will come through atomic weapons. Atomic weapons are holocaust weapons. Christians should be the first people against them. The Christians in America should be helping the Christians here. America needs to wake up to this fallacy that Jesus will come back by nuclear war. America needs to wake up to the fact that the Palestinian Christians here have no human rights. Aren’t Christians supposed to be concerned about other Christians? Aren’t Christians supposed to be concerned about all the poor and oppressed?”
Jack had become agitated. “It is non-negotiable: all of that stuff Jesus said about doing for the least and the oppressed. It is non-negotiable for Christians; we must forgive our enemies, and we must love those who hate us. Whatever we do or do not do, we do it unto God. Every time I went through a checkpoint, saw the wall, or heard a story of oppression, I wondered how God can stand this situation. I can’t.”
At the summit of the Mount of Olives, there is a lot of pavement, but not many trees. Jack found one cradling a few stone steps and sat down while Vanunu wandered about. When Vanunu appeared, Jack immediately asked, “How was it–being crucified for telling the truth?”
“My human rights have been denied me because I am a Christian. When I was on trial, I was treated just like a Palestinian: no human rights at all, and cruel and unusual punishment, all because I told the truth. The government spread slander about me, that I was a homosexual, that I hated Jews, that I wanted fame and money. What I did was sacrifice my life for the truth. In prison, I really began to feel like Jesus and Paul. When Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, it was like me in Dimona, exposing the Israelis’ dirty secrets. I felt like Paul, being thrown in prison for speaking the truth.
“The only real way to worship is in loving one’s enemies. It was not easy to love my tormentors; it was only because I felt so much like Jesus crucified on the cross, and as if I was crucified in prison, that I could do it. It was not ever easy. I have forgiven but not forgotten anything, and I never will. In Israel, a life sentence is twenty-five years. Even murderers go free after seventeen. They imposed the same restrictions on me that Palestinians receive: no human rights at all; no phone; no visitors, except family, and only through an iron grill; no vacation; no holidays; and no gifts. Even murderers get out for vacations! I was locked up for eighteen years and still cannot go on vacation; I cannot leave, and that is all I am asking for, just to leave here. For eighteen years in prison, they even attempted to control my thoughts on paper. I would write exactly what I wanted and they would censor words like kidnapped and atomic bomb. They would show me how they chopped up my letters, but I continued to write exactly what I wanted. They held my body, but never my spirit or mind.”
Jack asked tentatively, “Have you ever considered the idea that the anti-Christ may not be a man at all? I keep thinking how nuclear weapons are promoted by governments as instruments of peace, but they only bring destruction. I can’t imagine that God intended for man to blow up this planet, but instead, to learn how to share it.”
“The only way to peace is peace; the only way is nonviolence. The only answer to Israeli nuclear weapons, their aggression, occupation and oppression, and the wall and refugee camps is to answer them with truth and a peaceful voice. When I became the spy for the world, I did it all for the people of the world. If governments do not report the truth, and if the media does not report the truth, then all we can do is follow our consciences. Daniel Ellsberg did, the woman from Enron did, and I did. The United States needs to wake up and see the truth that Israel is not a democracy, unless you are a Jew. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where America can right now find WMDs. America can also find where basic human rights have been denied Christians: right here in Israel.”
“In America, we are assured inalienable rights. That means they are God-given rights that governments cannot take away, such as the right to worship where and how we choose. When I read that you were not allowed to go the few miles on Christmas Eve to celebrate mass at the Church of the Nativity, I wondered, what kind of democracy is that? I cannot understand how a democracy could haul anyone to jail because they wanted to go to a church in the next town. American democracy ensures citizens the right to think and to speak out the truth as we see it. American democracy understands that everyone has the right to a life and to liberty–which means freedom from captivity and any arbitrary controls. Last night, at the Interfaith Conference, I remembered what President Bush promised at his second inauguration, and wondered if he had thought about Palestinians when he delivered it. He promised, ‘There is no justice without freedom. There can be no human rights without liberty…All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.’”
The men went silent as they descended the Mount of Olives, and then climbed up three flights to a rooftop restaurant where they served the fish with skeleton and head intact, and fries on the side. After a while, Vanunu spoke and blew Jack’s mind.
“Did you know that President Kennedy tried to stop Israel from building atomic weapons? In 1963, he forced Prime Minister Ben Guirion to admit the Dimona was not a textile plant, as the sign outside proclaimed, but a nuclear plant. The Prime Minister said, ‘The nuclear reactor is only for peace.’
“Kennedy insisted on an open internal inspection. He wrote letters demanding that Ben Guirion open up the Dimona for inspection.
“The French were responsible for the actual building of the Dimona. The Germans gave the money; they were feeling guilty for the Holocaust, and tried to pay their way out. Everything inside was written in French, when I was there, almost twenty years ago. Back then, the Dimona descended seven floors underground.
“In 1955, Perez and Guirion met with the French to agree they would get a nuclear reactor if they fought against Egypt to control the Sinai and Suez Canal. That was the war of 1956. Eisenhower demanded that Israel leave the Sinai, but the reactor plant deal continued on.
“When Johnson became president, he made an agreement with Israel that two senators would come every year to inspect. Before the senators would visit, the Israelis would build a wall to block the underground elevators and stairways. From 1963 to ’69, the senators came, but they never knew about the wall that hid the rest of the Dimona from them.
“Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation. As a result, Israel increased production. In 1986, there were over two hundred bombs. Today, they may have enough plutonium for ten bombs a year.”
The two walked back to St. George’s Cathedral without speaking, then said goodbye at the gate. Jack continued on in the dark, alone and silent
1. Thomas Merton; Thoughts In Solitude