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The Maddening of Mordechai Vanunu Israel’s Whistleblower: A Man who knew too Much
By Eileen Fleming
On Monday in Orlando, I was visiting Palestinian friends from Majd Al Krum and recalled many memories of my life altering trips to the Holy Land that began nine years ago.
It also resurrected my most poignant memory of the first time I maddened Mordechai Vanunu into silence.
On the first evening of summer in 2005, a friend and I wandered into St. George’s Cathedral in east Jerusalem just as Mordechai Vanunu, Israel’s Nuclear Whistle Blower was on his way out. A few minutes a difference and we would not have crossed paths at all.
I met Vanunu for the first time a few hours after my excruciatingly painful day in Hebron [hell on earth if you are Palestinian] which was six days before I returned to the USA from my first 16 days in Israel Palestine.
I had no desire to leave my room at the Ambassador Hotel that evening and only because a friend from Ramallah happened to be in Jerusalem [illegally by Israeli standards] and phoned my hotel room [I did not carry a cell-phone at that time] the very moment I stepped out of the shower; did I venture out again.
As we walked up Nablus Road towards the Old City and neared St. Georges Cathedral where Vanunu had been living, I asked Tony if he knew about Israel’s nuclear whistle blower.
Tony recalled hearing about Vanunu’s release from prison in 2004, but he did not know Vanunu was a Christian convert who had grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home and had rejected the faith of his Fathers at 14 years old.
As we entered the courtyard, Vanunu was on his way out to a meeting and with a few minutes difference, we would have missed him completely.
Instead, I was startled by Vanunu’s physical presence, for I had imagined Vanunu to be dark eyed and much bigger than I am at 5’4″ hovering around 120 pounds. Up until that day, the only images I had seen of Vanunu were those I had viewed in April 2005, when I turned on the television that had last been tuned onto the History channel.
They were broadcasting a show called, “Sexpionage” all about Russian female spies and one from the Mossad.
The very first grainy clip that ran before my eyes was of Vanunu being transported to his closed door trial depicting his inspired move to write upon his palm: “HIJACKED” and the Rome flight number he had been on.
Next a clip of a shady Shimon Peres followed claiming, “Israel will not introduce nuclear weapons to the region, and certainly we will not be the first.”
Then, a black and white photo of a bearded, unkempt and disheveled Vanunu filled the TV screen and his eyes looked as black as a starless night.
Turns out that Vanunu is not much taller or heavier than I, but what knocked me for a loop was how the setting sun illuminated his eyes to a light green-blue that immediately reminded me of the eyes of an old woman I met in 1998-who also irrevocably changed my life.
Her name was Bernice and I crossed paths with her for the first time just a few weeks after I began visiting a local nursing home where a parishioner at a church I had been attending was now living.
As I walked down the hallway, Bernice called out, “Help me. Help me.”
I had been a registered nurse for twenty-five years and whenever I hear someone ask for help, I am compelled to do something- or at least try!
All Bernice wanted was for me to change her position, for she was completely paralyzed.
From a distance I thought Bernice’s eyes looked like coal, but as I approached her, I was startled at how light green-blue they were.
That day began my ten-year nursing home ministry, because in that moment, I sensed/experienced the presence of The Other: that mystery we call God, for lack of a better word.
Crossing paths with Bernice was the first time I had experienced a visceral sense of the presence of God within another.
It happened for the second time in 2005, on the first evening of summer in the courtyard of St. George’s Cathedral during my ‘chance’ crossing of paths with Vanunu-who also irrevocably changed my life!
During our third meeting, Vanunu was telling me about growing up in Marrakesh, Morocco and he asked me if I had ever seen the “DOROTHY Day” movie, “The Man who Knew Too Much” because the beginning scenes were shot where he grew up.
He meant to say Doris Day, but in that moment I realized my childhood desire to be a Brenda Starr [a comic book muckraker] had matured, for Vanunu’s slip of the tongue was the catalyst for me to begin to imagine following in the footsteps of Dorothy Day, the 20th century socialist muckraking agitator who became a Christian and a voice for the voiceless in her newspaper “The Catholic Worker” which persists today.
Photo of and quote by Dorothy Day graced this cover of The AGITATOR:
Over dinner with Vanunu, I blurted out, “Do you want to be healed?”
Vanunu snapped back, “I am healed” and his visage turned to stone so I shut up knowing I had maddened him.
WHY that question popped out of me was because on my very first day in Jerusalem on the 12th of June 2005, while all my traveling companions slept, as soon as the sun rose I began to explore the Old City, which was eerily empty.
I stumbled into the site of the Pool of Bethsaida and experienced a déjà vu, which was more real than imaginary.
Before THAT DAY we call 9/11, I was a first year student in the Episcopal Diocese of Orlando’s Formation Program for Spiritual Directors.
I knew going into the program I would never be hanging out a shingle as a Spiritual Director and I was there for other reasons. I was drawn to the program because of the curriculum and to deepen my prayer life.
During that year all the students attended three weekend retreats and on the second night of the second retreat, we had a guided meditation based on the story of Jesus at the Pool of Bethsaida.
There were seven of us in the class and we were instructed to close our eyes, listen to the story and allow our imagination to lead us to the character that resonated most deeply within.
Our leader prefaced the story from John 5:1-6, by telling the legend of the angel from heaven who would descend and agitate the waters of the Pool of Bethsaida.
Only the first leper, blind, or invalid who made it into the water would receive a healing.
One day while Jesus was there, he walked by a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years.
Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?”
The man answered he had no friends to help him get into the water first.
Jesus asked him again, “Do you want to be healed?”
Our leader then went silent, but in my imagination I had been flying around on the back of that agitating angel since she mentioned it!
I had not thought of that experience until four years later when I found myself at the site of the Pool of Bethsaida.
What triggered the memory of the guided meditation was the recollection of a dream I had around the time the world experienced September 11, 2001.
In my dream I had stood at the edge of a dried up pool where crumbling stone columns were overgrown with vines and weeds and scores of doves and pigeons nested and flew.
To my right was a large shade tree, but to my left I saw a few square squat dwellings with large satellite dishes attached to them.
The moment I woke up from that dream I thought, “what a strange place it was” but then quickly forgot all about it UNTIL four years later, when I found myself standing at the edge of a dried up pool where crumbling stone columns were overgrown with vines and weeds and scores of doves and pigeons nested and flew. To my right was a large shade tree, but to my left I saw a few square squat dwellings with large satellite dishes attached to them.
What a strange place I thought, how could it be that I had seen this scene in a dream a few weeks after that day we call 9/11?
Another time I maddened Mordechai Vanunu was after writing an article likening him to the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah and in an email Vanunu shot back: “DO NOT CALL ME THAT!”
But in the spirit of freedom of conscience, speech and the PRESS, I do!
I also contend that a prophet does NOT predict the future as much as they point out impending doom, are never esteemed by their own;
But a prophet will provoke those so inclined to think about God: to THINK!
Vanunu pointed the way to Israel’s 7-story underground weapons of mass destruction facility in the Negev desert in 1986.
The ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah spent much of his life under house arrest in Jerusalem, for being a truth teller and we know more about the personal life and struggles of Jeremiah than any other Hebrew prophet.
Literally translated, Jeremiah means “The Lord throws”-as in hurling.
Jeremiah had few friends and is considered primarily a prophet of doom.
Jeremiah was intensely introspective, self-critical, timid by nature but honest and open about his feelings. Jeremiah never married and began prophesying in Judah from 604-586, a time of storm and stress when the doom of entire nations-including Judah itself-was being sealed.
Jeremiah had been the king’s friend and confident, but soon entered into a dreary round of persecution and imprisonment, alternating with only brief periods of freedom, and he lived under virtual house arrest for speaking his conscience.
I cannot keep silent…Disaster follows disaster; the land lies in ruins…My people are fools; they do not know me.-Jeremiah 4:19
On April 30, 2007, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, convicted Vanunu on 14 [out of 21] counts of violating a court order prohibiting him from speaking to foreigners [meaning MEDIA] in 2004.
Vanunu was also convicted for attempting to travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to attend Christmas Eve mass at the Church of the Nativity, his first Christmas after being released from 18 years in jail [most all in solitary] on April 21, 2004.
On July 2, 2007, Israel sentenced Vanunu to six more months in jail for speaking to foreign media in 2004.
On September 23, 2008, Israel’s Court reduced Vanunu’s six-month jail sentence to three months:
In light of his ailing health and the absence of claims that his actions put the country’s security in jeopardy.
However, Israel’s Supreme Court returned Vanunu to solitary confinement on May 23, 2010, after refusing his counter-offer to do three-months of community service in Arab east Jerusalem- the only community he has known since emerging from 18 years behind bars in 2004.
The Court had insisted Vanunu must serve in west Jerusalem, which is 99% Jewish, but because Vanunu feared attack from angry Israelis who consider him a traitor, he instead endured 78 days back in solitary beginning on May 23, 2010.
The restrictions that have subjected Vanunu to virtual house arrest and 24/7 surveillance [his movements, phone calls and emails] for the last 10 years come from the Emergency Defense Regulations, which were implemented by Britain against Palestinians and Jews after World War II.
Attorney Yaccov Shapiro, who later became Israel’s Minister Of Justice, described the Emergency Defense Regulations as “unparalleled in any civilized country: there were no such laws in Nazi Germany.”
On June 18, 2010, Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East Programme announced:
Mordechai Vanunu should not be in prison at all, let alone be held in solitary confinement in a unit intended for violent criminals.
He suffered immensely when he was held in solitary confinement for 11 years after his imprisonment in 1986 and to return him to such conditions now is nothing less than cruel, inhuman or degrading.
Mordechai Vanunu is a prisoner of conscience.
The prison authorities might claim that he has been put in isolation to protect him from the risk of attack by other inmates, but if the Israeli government is really concerned for his safety it should release him without delay.
His re-imprisonment is both harsh and unjustified.
The restrictions on Mordechai Vanunu arbitrarily limit his rights to freedom of movement, expression and association and are therefore in breach of international law. They should be lifted and he should be allowed to start his life again as a free man.
When I last saw Vanunu in November 2013, I told him if Israel persists to deny him the right to leave the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ I would have to update Beyond Nuclear: Mordechai Vanunu’s FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and My Life as a Muckraker 2005-2010”;
Because I am a woman who knows too much from documenting the Vanunu Saga!
Being a woman of my word, I will do just that by the end of 2014;
IF Israel persists to deny Vanunu his inalienable human rights as defined in the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION of HUMAN RIGHTS-which the very Establishment of Israel was contingent upon upholding!
And I will do it in the spirit of Dorothy Day who wrote:
Writing a book is hard, because you are giving yourself away. But if you love, you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows. You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his sustenance and love.
Love is not the starving of whole populations. Love is not the bombardment of open cities. Love is not killing.
Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers.
My spin on the Sermon of the Mount HERE
Eileen Fleming established WeAreWideAwake.org in response to her first of 8 trips to both sides of The Wall as a public service. Eileen is the Administrator for FREE VANUNU and TNT/Telling Nuclear Truths. Follow her at TWITTER, read her fifth book as she lives it HERE
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Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" who founded WeAreWideAwake.org in response to her first of 8 trips to both sides of The Wall in Palestine Israel.
In 2012, Eileen ran for US House of Representatives District 5, in Fl.
Read her FREE eBooks and more at:http://www.eileenfleming.org/