Mordechai Vanunu Turns 49


Morde Vanunu turns 49
15th October 2003
Today is my friend Morde Vanunu’s 49th birthday. When I last saw him in person – sat with him, talked with him and embraced him – he was 32. For Morde, all of that 17-year interim period has been spent in Ashkelon prison in Israel, and most of those years were spent in solitary confinement.

I have not had many friendships in my life that have lasted as long as my friendship with Morde, and it has been a highly unusual relationship. For the most part it has been intense, despite the distance. Then, for a period of years, Morde cut off communication with me altogether.

Morde’s initial letters to me were charged with powerful emotion and an irrepressible religious zeal. His more recent letters to me have been warm and hopeful, though still punctuated with expressions of conviction and faith. At one stage of the relationship though the only letters I received from him were hard and even cynical – the exasperated groans of a crushed and depressed human being. God knows what the next 12 months will bring.

Morde is scheduled for release next April, and I have been promising him for 17 years now that I will be waiting for him outside the prison on the day of his release. Even if I have to borrow the money, there is no way I will be breaking this promise. The only uncertainty in my mind is whether the Israeli government will honour their commitment to let him go free.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the seventeen years of my friend’s imprisonment, it is that none of the official pronouncements concerning Morde’s case are to be taken at face value.

They kidnapped my friend Morde from a flat in Italy on September 30 1986. He resurfaced in Israel some weeks later, where we were told that he would be given a ‘fair trial’. When you consider though how the public were shut out, how Vanunu himself was forbidden (at certain points) to speak, and how one of the conditions of the trail was that no mention could be made of how Morde came to be in Israel in the first place, the word ‘fair’ becomes rather devoid of meaning.

With regards to the kidnapping, the official declaration was that ‘no international law had been broken in bringing Vanunu to trail’. This was just a downright lie. It would be interesting to know, of course, why the Mossad felt that they could not kidnap Morde from British soil, but had to lure him to Italy first before jumping him. And who was controlling the official Italian investigation into the affair that concluded that ‘nothing happened’, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Nothing is as it seems in politics. It is impossible not to be cynical. The biggest lie of all, of course, was simply the labelling of Morde as a spy. I remember hearing these official depictions of Morde, portraying him as a calculating and sinister terrorist of sorts, plotting the destruction of his government and his people with evil brilliance. And this was the same man who, when catching the plane to Britain to pass on his story to the Sunday Times newspaper, left his bag with all the photos of the Israeli nuclear reactor in it at the top of the escalators, and couldn’t remember for a time where he had left it!

There is nothing complicated about my friend Morde. He is an intelligent man, no doubt, but not‘clever’ in that calculating sort of sense at all. He’s the sort of guy we Aussies might label a bit of a ‘muggins’, in that he has no sophisticated public persona. He’d be a dead loser at poker. What you see is what you get with Morde. He believed that what his government was doing in its nuclear weapons programme was wrong. He knew that he had the power to do something about it. He came to the front of the church and prayed ‘Now I give my life to Jesus. Now I do what I must do.’And then he went and did it.

So now I am holding on to the Israeli government’s promise that Morde Vanunu will be set free next April. And yet this is the same government that kept him in solitary confinement for eleven and a half of those seventeen years he has been in Ashkelon prison – all the time claiming that their treatment of Vanunu was entirely ‘humane’.

Even Amnesty International came to the party eventually, denouncing Israel’s treatment of Vanunu, though they took their own sweet time about it. Initially they questioned whether Morde was truly a‘political’ prisoner rather than a ‘criminal’ prisoner. Could it be that, even in that organization, nothing is as it appears to be?

Who am I to question these great organizations and great governments, you might ask? I am no one. And yet, who was Morde when he called the principalities and powers to account? He too was no one. And yet he made a difference.

Today is Morde’s birthday, and it’s a good time to reflect, not only on the life of my friend, but on what he stood for and still stands for – freedom of speech, honesty in government, the demilitarisation of the Middle East, and the accountability of the great powers to the individual.

God bless you on your 49th birthday Morde, my friend. I look forward in hope to the joy of embracing you in the not too distant future. In the meantime, may God grant me the strength to continue to live my life with the integrity with which you have lived yours.

Some useful Morde links:

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.


About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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