Play revives hope of campaign to free Vanunu

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The Independent Online
A one-man play about the plight of the Israeli nuclear technician and whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, to be performed at the Edinburgh Festival, is set to re-ignite debate over his controversial imprisonment.

The play, Mister V - Searching for Mordechai Vanunu, deals with Vanunu's motives in revealing Israel's secret nuclear capability.

After going public in the British press, he was lured by a Mossad agent named "Cindy" from Britain to Rome where the Israeli secret service kidnapped him. He was taken back to Israel, sentenced to 18 years in jail for treason and espionage, and has been held in solitary confinement ever since.

Writer and director Yigal Ezrati can claim empathy with Vanunu's act of conscience; he was himself jailed for refusing to serve in the Israeli army. His group, The Local Theatre, which includes Israelis and Arabs, hopes to take the play to the Gaza Strip next before an international tour.

The play is a combination of fact and artistic interpretation of Vanunu's life. One of its most dramatic moments occurs when the audience realises that a tiny area in the middle of the stage, 2m x 3m, is the size of the cell he's been locked in for almost 11 years, without any daylight.

Ernest Rodker, co-ordinator of the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear-Free Middle East, said: "The play asks questions about whether he may have been used by Mossad to reveal information that they needed to release to try to make sure that Israel's nuclear deterrent was a deterrent."

Vanunu, one of 11 children, moved with his parents to Israel from Morocco in the Fifties. In the play, he meets a Russian at the atomic plant where he works who has previously worked at Chernobyl. The Russian had a child who died from exposure to radiation. Another suffered deformities. It alerts Vanunu to the dangers of nuclear power.

The play's strength lies in its evocation of a life of confinement marked by a light constantly burning, a camera always watching, a never- ending loneliness yet with no privacy.

Vanunu's sentence has another eight years to run: he will be 52 by the time he is due for release. His supporters see the play as another sign of hope for the whistle-blower, whose mental health is deteriorating.

Last month he found his first supporter in the Israeli Knesset and in October a conference of top scientists and human-rights campaigners highlighted the case. They included Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Joseph Rotblat, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, and Dr Vil Mirzeyanov, who was inspired by Vanunu to expose Russian stockpiling and development of chemical weapons.