Meir Vanunu: After 17 years, there's more worry than celebration

My Week
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The Independent Online

Sunday. My morning was spent at the Tamar Café in Tel Aviv with a journalist friend of mine. We were discussing the forthcoming release of my brother Mordechai, who, having been kidnapped by the Israeli secret service and imprisoned, has spent the last seventeen and a half years in prison - for revealing that Israel had nuclear weapons. As we sat in the sun, a furtive voice on my mobile told me that, as one of those most involved in campaigning for his release, I was wanted for a meeting on Tuesday with Shabak, the Israeli security service, to discuss my brother's release. Reluctantly I agreed.

It was the eve of the last day of Passover, so I stopped to buy some broad beans and mint for a traditional meal with my parents. My home is now in Australia and I don't come to Israel that often, but I noticed that, next to a (kosher) butcher's shop, another butcher was displaying the head of a pig. Fifteen years ago a shop would have been burnt down for such religious disrespect.

Monday. This is the first Passover I have spent with my parents for years. Sadly, since Mordechai converted to Anglicanism in 1986, their faith has kept him and them apart, and they will not be at the prison when he walks free on 21 April. Despite the peace of the day, I can't help worrying about my Shabak meeting.

Tuesday. I saw the two Shabak agents. After an extraordinary body search and frisking - looking for bugs, I assume - I was led to meet another two, unnamed, agents. They were polite enough, but I refused to shake their hands, given their role in my brother having spent nearly 18 years (12 of them in solitary confinement) in a cell two metres by three. They stunned me by announcing that my brother, who wants to move to the United States, will not be allowed to leave the country, nor speak to any foreigners, for at least 12 months. They claim that my brother might reveal more secrets, which is absurd. After 18 years, he doesn't know anything valuable, but they don't want to admit that.

Wednesday. I was allowed to visit my brother in prison, but was told a lot of topics were off-limits. As usual, two guards listened to every word, this time with a tape recorder. Mordechai has been told he must sign an agreement which in effect gags him, but they can't make him sign it. He was cross with me and said I shouldn't have agreed to the meeting with Shabak.

After that I went to Jerusalem and a film screening about my brother's case. Of the 200 people in the audience, only 10 said they realised Mordechai had been an academic, a conscientious objector to the Lebanese war and a campaigner for Arab Israeli rights. To the Israeli media, he's just an unscrupulous hoodlum.

Thursday. Was woken early by calls from the Israeli media asking about the terms of my brother's release. I explained to them, for the nth time, that their gutlessness over my brother's treatment means I won't speak to them now.

Later I had a meal with two English friends. Two members of the restaurant staff (they didn't know who I was) said my brother had done an illegal but a good and brave thing. Besides, what help have nuclear weapons been to us? Someone else there said that in any decent country Vanunu would have been shot by now.

Friday. My brother saw Avigdor Feldman, the lawyer he had dispensed with last year after he failed to make any headway against the awesome security services.

Saturday. My 10-year-old son arrived from Kentucky. He and his mother, my former partner, spent two and a half hours at the airport being interrogated and lectured about why my brother is a traitor. Ludicrous.

This should have been a great, happy family reunion, but I am worried for my brother. Two months ago he was excited about coming out, saying "they didn't break me!". Now he is demoralised, worried and angry, although in a sense he is really beyond anger now. Every time we have taken on the courts, we have lost. You can't compete with the security services giving evidence in secret. Now I fear for him. There are still plenty of people who regard him as a traitor. His countrymen showed him no understanding before. I can only hope they do now.

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