|'I am proud
and happy to do what I did'
Vanunu released by Israel after 18 years but fears for his safety remain
Duncan Campbell in Ashkelon, Israel
Thursday April 22, 2004
The hand that 18 years ago had the message "hijacked" scrawled across its palm was yesterday waving and making the peace sign as its owner passed through the blue and white bars of the gate of Shikma prison in Ashkelon.
It was the first sight the world had of Mordechai Vanunu, Israel's nuclear whistleblower, as he was released from jail 17 years and five months after being snatched by Mossad, the Israeli secret service.
It was clear that his prison years - 11 of them in solitary confinement - had not dimmed his spirit.
Chaotic scenes greeted the 49-year-old former nuclear technician. His supporters, who had travelled from as far away as Japan and Minnesota, threw pink and white carnations and waved welcoming placards proclaiming him a "peace hero".
Angry opponents tore up the flowers, threw eggs at the campaigners, made throat slitting gestures and chanted "Death! Death!" as he emerged from the jail, with his brother, Meir.
For a moment it seemed as though the police had lost control of the situation as anti-Vanunu protesters charged through the barriers and banged on the roof of his car, chasing him down the street. Mr Vanunu responded by making another peace sign from the back seat.
Before he stepped out of the main prison gates in this coastal city, Mr Vanunu made a defiant speech, saying that he had no regrets, that his treatment had been "very cruel and barbaric" and that he had no more secrets to tell. "I am Mordechai Vanunu," he announced. "I am proud and happy to do what I did."
Speaking to the assembled international media as his brother hovered solicitously by his side and prison guards looked on, he dismissed suggestions that he had to be forbidden from talking to foreigners in case he had further nuclear secrets to divulge.
"I don't have any secrets," he said. "All this bullshit, blah, blah, blah, about secrets is dead. Since the article was published [in the Sunday Times in 1986] there are no more secrets. All the secrets are in the hands of the world ... I don't want to harm Israel. I want to leave Israel and start a new life. I want to go to the United States, to marry and to start my life."
Looking fit and well, Mr Vanunu paused during his address to the media to listen to the noise from the street outside, a mixture of cheers from his supporters and boos from his opponents.
He said he still believed he had acted correctly in exposing Israel's nuclear weapons programme at Dimona where he worked until 1985.
A student radical who had been involved in the peace movement, he divulged details of the plant to the Sunday Times. But before the article appeared he was lured to Rome by a Mossad agent called "Cindy", drugged and shipped back to Israel where he was jailed for treason and espionage.
"I said Israel doesn't need nuclear arms, especially now that the Middle East is free from nuclear weapons," he said. "Iraq doesn't have nuclear weapons, Libya, Iran ... my message today is all the world to open the Dimona reactor for inspections. Call Mohamed ElBaradei [of the International Atomic Energy Agency] to come and inspect Dimona."
After criticising his treatment in prison, which he blamed on Mossad, he said he would continue to speak out against nuclear weapons and called on George Bush, Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin to do the same.
"I want to tell you something very important," added Mr Vanunu, who converted to Christianity when in Australia in 1986. "I suffered here 18 years because I am a Christian, because I was baptised to Christianity. If I was Jewish, I wouldn't have all this suffering."
Before leaving the prison, he said he had survived despite attempts by the authorities to make him mad. "You ... Mossad didn't succeed. You didn't succeed to break me, to make me crazy. The target of 18 years in isolation is to make me crazy."
Dressed in a checked shirt and tie that his brother had brought in for him, he said that in the past few weeks he had been put back in isolation and many of his belongings had been taken from him. "They did a lot of things to try to destroy me."
Earlier, he had told his brother that he wanted to celebrate "with champagne" and meet all the people who campaigned for his release. Crowds of his supporters, including the MP Jeremy Corbyn, the actor Susannah York and the peace campaigners Bruce Kent and Pat Arrowsmith, had been outside the gates since just after dawn. "I am looking forward to hugging him and telling him how proud we are of him," York said. "I am very joyful."
A trumpeter played We Shall Overcome and 18 white doves were released as the 11am release time approached. Then opponents of Vanunu arrived, tore up posters and set fire to campaign banners chanting "Garbage! Garbage!" In shambolic scenes, police officers who pushed the counter-demonstrators back were called "traitors" and scuffles broke out.
Mr Vanunu, who is not allowed to leave the country for six months, went first to an old Anglican church in Jerusalem "to give thanks to God and my friends". There more chaotic scenes awaited him. His supporters are concerned for his safety, fears that were heightened yesterday by the number of death threats shouted at him.
Initial plans had been made for him to stay at the Andromeda Hill apartments on the coast in Jaffa but these were abandoned after the address was leaked to the media.
Some Andromeda Hill residents said they did not want him there. "If he's here, I'm going to leave this place," said Danny Hakim, 45, an Australian who has a flat in the block.
"Vanunu is not welcome. What he has done is not correct. It is ironical that he wants to go to the United States which is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons."
Lior Perry, 35, said he feared for the security of his family if Mr Vanunu moved in. "Can you imagine some mafia guy coming to live next door and people trying to kill him? There are crazy people who want to kill him."
Mr Vanunu's adoptive parents, Mary and
Nick Eoloff, from St Paul, Minnesota, who were also outside the jail,
hope that he will be eventually allowed to join them there. Mr Vanunu
has said he would like a job as a history teacher.
Anger at restrictions on Vanunu
Mordechai Vanunu: A Profile
refusing to kill