Mordechai Vanunu

(1987, Israel)

...for his courage and self-sacrifice in revealing the extent of Israel's nuclear weapons programme.

About

Mordechai Vanunu, a supporter of the Palestinian cause, has shown uncommon courage in revealing the extent of Israel's nuclear weapons programme, paying a high personal price for his decision to tell the truth. Abducted in Italy, he then reappeared in Israel, where he was accused of espionage and treason and taken to court. His name stands among those of the best-known whistleblowers’ and his life and freedom have been severely restricted.

Contact Details

P.O. Box 20102
Salah Adin St' - post office
East Jerusalem, 91384
ISRAEL
Campaign to Free Vanunu
89 Borough High Street
London SE1 1NL
UK

Website

Biography


Mordechai Vanunu was born in Morocco and moved with his family to Israel in 1963. He did three years' military service from 1971 to '74, when he was given an 'honourable discharge' having served as a First Sergeant in a unit of sappers. He became a technician at the Dimona nuclear plant in 1976 and underwent special training. In October 1979 he began studies at Ben Gurion University, Be'er-Sheva, in philosophy and geography, graduating in 1984/5.

At university Vanunu became increasingly politically active, calling for equal rights for Palestinians in Israel and for the inclusion of Palestinians in negotiations for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Becoming more and more disillusioned with Israel's military posture, he opposed the country's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

In November 1985 he was made redundant in a mass lay-off of workers at Dimona. Ten months later he talked to a London newspaper, the Sunday Times, about the Dimona plant, revealing that Israel's nuclear capability was far greater than suspected. He told the newspaper that Israel probably had a stockpile of 100-200 nuclear weapons, was able to make thermonuclear devices more powerful than atomic bombs and had collaborated routinely with South Africa on nuclear matters.

Soon after the resulting article appeared, Vanunu went missing. It later transpired that he had been lured from London to Rome by Israel's Secret Service, kidnapped there and returned to Israel by clandestine means for trial on charges of espionage and treason. The trial opened in August 1987 under a blanket of secrecy and the following march he was sentenced to 19 years' imprisonment. By the end of 1996, just after his 42nd birthday, Vanunu had spent 10 years - almost one-quarter of his life - in solitary confinement, his cell measuring just 3 metres by 2 metres. The Israeli government continued to ignore many international protests at this inhuman punishment and many appeals for clemency.

Vanunu's revelations were exhaustively checked by the Sunday Times before publication and they have not been seriously challenged. By the mid-1990s a worldwide Campaign to Free Vanunu was in operation. The Campaign has organised numerous delegations to Israel to publicise his case and in October 1996 an international conference was held in Tel Aviv, chaired by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Joseph Torblat and attended by a number of renowned scientists, journalists, lawyers and human rights campaigners.

Vanunu took the occasion of the conference to make clear that he stands by his original action. He sent the delegates a message saying, "I thank you all. I am happy for revealing what I have revealed." The Campaign later reported that the conference had made a significant impact and that Vanunu's case was no longer a taboo subject in Israel.

In 2004, Vanunu was released from prison, but his life continues to be severely restricted: He is neither allowed to travel nor to talk to foreign journalists. Vanunu has been briefly arrested several times for violations of those restrictions. As the restrictions effectively continue to punish him, though he has already served his sentence, Vanunu's treatment is being regarded as unfair even by those who had not supported his whistleblowing.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Mordechai Vanunu

December 9th, 1987

The speech was read in his name by his brother Meir Vanunu

"The knowledge we thus gain cannot in itself protect us from nuclear annihilation, but without it we cannot begin to take the measures that can actually protect us - or, for that matter, even to think in an appropriate way about our plight."

Jonathan Sohell

The passive acceptance and complacency with regard to the existence of nuclear weapons anywhere on earth is the disease of society today, towards the end of the twentieth century. This is the disease that we are going to pass on to future generations, together with the nuclear weapons themselves and the nuclear installations.

However, more and more people in the world are becoming aware of the danger which the very existence of such weapons entails, and that is already the beginning of the effort to put am end to all nuclear arms, not to mention preventing its further distribution to other states. The awareness of the terrible danger to the very existence of the human race is the start of a new rope for a better life in this age or, nuclear power and advanced technology.

Nuclear arms are human artifacts - man made them, man created these destructive means for suicide. But man can also change his mind, can make another choice, can stop its production. Not everything, which can be manufactured, must be manufactured.

If governments made the mistake and chose to develop these deadly weapons over the past forty years, at least today many of their citizens are consciously opposed to the production and possession of such weapons. This opposition is growing in many countries in both east and west, and now also in the third world.

This movement is gathering momentum and has actually influenced the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union to try and eliminate the nuclear missiles in Europe. This shows us where the governments went wrong in the first place; they took upon themselves to produce vast quantities of nuclear arms and now the people are seeking to turn back to the era before the constant threat of a worldwide nuclear holocaust.

I am speaking today not in my own name only, but in the name of many ordinary people who have been taking part in this struggle against nuclear arms. Some of these people have also been imprisoned, in Britain, Germany and the United States and other countries. This struggle is not only a legitimate one - it is a moral, inescapable struggle.

What we who are opposed to nuclear arms are saying is this: it is not we who broke the law, who violated human and civil rights, but the governments which chose to create the greatest threat to human life that ever existed. Never in human history was there such a threat to the very existence op mankind and to all life on earth.

In fact, up to this moment, no one has been able to predict all the effects of nuclear war, of that global disaster. It is known that not only will vast numbers of civilians be killed and maimed, but also that here will be all kinds of ecological effects afterwards. Carl Sagan has spoken of a "climatic catastrophe" which will follow upon nuclear war. Scientists all over the world are prophesying disaster if nuclear war ever breaks out.

Man cannot continue to ignore this danger. And no government, not even the most democratic, can force us to live under this threat. No state in the world can offer any kind of security against this menace of a nuclear holocaust, or guarantee to prevent it. The only thing they can do is to keep producing more of these weapons and place them in the hands of human beings. But this is not the kind of weapon which is controllable by human reason. Human beings are apt to make mistakes, human judgment can fail. Just as there is no perfect man, so there is no perfect leader. Yet in handling nuclear weapons there must be no mistake, no failure. We have all seen the outcome of a "minor failure" in the nuclear plant at Chernobyl - not even a bomb, but only a technical failure, but the disaster was huge and spread throughout Europe.

Neither borders nor governments could stop it from spreading. So that this threat does not hang over a particular country, but over all people, everywhere. We are united by the awareness of this threat to our lives, to the life of children and old people and to nature itself. There will be no future after a nuclear disaster, and it will be impossible to correct it and turn back. Correction and turning back can only be achieved now, today, by destroying all nuclear arms everywhere in the world, by returning to the pre-nuclear era. This must be done, despite the policies of the world powers and the various governments. We are the sane civilians, we want to live - and we say to the governments, "no nuclear arms!" we must make it plain to them that we shall never accept the existence of nuclear weapons.

The first step in the struggle against nuclear arms is to know, to understand, to recognize the issue. This is why I am in prison. This is why many people are in prisons all over the world. We must arouse people and warn them. Ours is the role of the angry prophet.

In the first stage we must make all citizens everywhere aware of what their governments are doing or hiding with regard to nuclear weapons. Even if we cannot stop it, at least we must know about it, warn people about it, give them information about it, and in this way increase the number of people who resist. This is the way to mental health. A person who refuses to accept the existence of this suicidal type of arms is a mentally healthy person, who does not want to be expelled from this earth as Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden.

There is an especially urgent danger that more and more countries, notably in the third world, are now developing nuclear arms of their own. Some of them are poor underdeveloped countries which are supported by the western governments. The potential for the development of such weapons is becoming more feasible all the time. The possibility that every state on earth will produce nuclear arms is terrifying. Already now there are enough nuclear missiles to destroy the world many tines over. What will happen when many more countries will have them? - The danger to us all will be increased, the risk or a nuclear war breaking out will be multiplied. Who knows what the leadership of every one of these countries is capable of? What the political conditions in each of them can lead to? There are many local and regional conflicts in the world, and who can guarantee that they will not deploy nuclear weapons?

This proliferation of nuclear weapons may lead the world powers to approach the problem in a sane way. As more and more countries possess them, the world powers are losing control of the situation. This should worry them sufficiently and lead them - the government of the United States and the USSR - to begin to think like human beings. Only direct supervision and control, only abroad and determined action, will prevent the circle of nuclear arms from widening further, and eventually lead to the elimination of these weapons everywhere.

To start with, they will have to create nuclear-free zones, eased on agreements between the local states and on international supervision of all the nuclear installations. The Middle East could be such a nuclear-free zone, because it has known many wars and conflicts and because the world powers are also involved in it, thus increasing the danger of a nuclear outbreak. The world powers must intervene to prevent this proliferation and to impose international supervision. Otherwise the momentum of nuclearization will increase all over the region.

There is no such thing as nuclear deterrence certainly not in the Middle East. Israel and the Arab states must be made to conclude a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons in their region. Perhaps such a treaty will also lead the citizens of these countries to get together and promote a peace process and eventually lead to good neighbourly relations between them. It is an illusion to believe that nuclear weapons can be defensive. Nuclear weapons are means of extermination, and cannot protect any country, including Israel.

A state that lives in fear of destruction must not threaten the whole world with annihilation. The people who experienced a holocaust must not bring a holocaust upon another people. Moreover, a nuclear war is worse than the holocaust of World War II. A single bomb can eliminate a whole city, destroy half a million people in one blow, including women, children and old people, and everything that lives in it, and even the very infra-structure of the city.

The effects could last for hundreds of years - and yet it is so easy to do. That is the real holocaust. That is the real enemy, and not as the Israelis imagine.

Unfortunately, there is as yet no general awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons in our region. Many still think of them as a lifeline, whereas in fact they are a hanging rope, and not just for us, but for all mankind. This issue should unite us all, because that is our real enemy.

The nuclear threat resembles radioactive radiation, in that it is invisible yet deadly. Will they only realize it when it is too late? Moreover, every nuclear installation creates an immediate problem, namely, radioactive waste. This is a major ecological danger.

No country, not even the United States, has found a solution to the problem of radioactive waste. These substances will remain dangerous for thousands of years, and we are leaving this deadly inheritance to hundreds of generations, which will follow us. By what right are we leaving then these wastes, with all the dangers that they entail and the problems and costs of dealing with them? So the issue of nuclear arms is not confined to the risks of war, but also to the general ecological threat. There is very little information available about this aspect of it, although it can lead to catastrophes. The general public must know, must pace all these issues and confront them. They must not be ignored, or left to secret committees to deal with. It concerns every one of us, regardless of nationality, race or colour. This must also unite us and cause us to cooperate in the struggle to remove the menace that hangs over us all. Chernobyl was only the first omen, and there will no doubt be others.

I am now in prison and cannot speak freely, as I would like. I can only express myself indirectly. But everyone knows what I did and what was my purpose and intention. It was a positive act, and it succeeded in part. I contributed my share to the struggle against the nuclear danger. Above all, I succeeded in raising the issue and all its implications even in this region, which is in a state of conflict. I stood up against the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the middle last.

The movement for nuclear disarmament must spread everywhere, because nuclear arms are spreading everywhere. Such organizations must be established in every country on earth, to awaken people's consciousness to this danger. The organizations, which have been active in Britain, in Germany, in New Zealand, have done a great deal not only for their own countries, but for the whole world. The steps taken by New Zealand with regard to nuclear arms going so far as to ban the entry of ships bearing nuclear missiles into its territorial waters - should be adopted by other countries. Only thus can we safeguard the future of the world. I wish to continue to act against the proliferation of nuclear arms, because anyone who knows what is happening and is aware of the issue cannot evade it and must not remain silent. This is especially true for me now, because of what I have suffered in prison and will continue to suffer. Despite this suffering I am sure of myself and confident that I have acted properly in the face of the terrible danger of nuclear war, which hangs over this region. The goal is worth the self-sacrifice, and I know that many other people in many countries are doing the same thing. There will certainly be more and more people who will resist their government?s policies in the nuclear issue.

Any country, which manufactures and stocks nuclear weapons, is first of all endangering its own citizens. This is why the citizens must confront their government and warn it that it has no right to expose them to this danger. Because, in effect, the citizens are being held hostage by their own government, just as if they have been hijacked and deprived of their freedom and threatened. Therefore, when a man is held hostage by his own government, the least he can do is resist it and its nuclear policy. He must do this in self-defense, which is a basic civil right. Indeed, when governments develop nuclear weapons without the consent of their citizens - and this is true in most cases - they are violating the basic rights of their citizens, the basic right not to live under constant threat of annihilation.

This issue raises many questions, among then the primary question, is any government qualified and authorized to produce such weapons? The United States developed its atom bomb during World War II, without giving much thought to the long-term effects and consequences - and the rest of the world has followed it to this day.

But is it to be taken for granted that governments have the right to do so? I believe that it was a mistake to make nuclear weapons in the first place, and a mistake to go on producing them. Now at last many citizens are beginning to question their governments? right to manufacture these weapons. Is this what they were elected to do? If, at the beginning, the governments themselves were not fully aware of the implications, neither did the citizens. But now there is more information, more people know what the dangers are, and resistance is becoming more widespread. The more information becomes available on the subject, the greater will be the resistance. Therefore, it is essential to spread the information as much as possible, to uncover more and more so-called nuclear secrets that the governments wish to keep from the people. These are not secrets of security or defense, because nuclear weapons are not defensive weapons, and they endanger the citizen rather than protect him. It in itself is the enemy, and the citizens must know all about it.

Only peace can offer security. Only peace between states can promise real security to each state and to every citizen. No force in the world can provide security or ensure survival. All military might is limited and can come to an end. Nations do not survive thanks to force, the Jewish people does not live thanks to force. It was not forge which spread the word of Jesus through the world. Cultures and religions and values survive because of their worth, because of whatever is good and useful in them, because of what they contribute to human civilization and the quality of life. Therefore it is useless to rely on military force and there is no point in looking for solutions by means of military might, destruction and annihilation.

All military might is limited at some point, and today, in the nuclear era, man has attained the ultimate destructive ability, can actually destroy the planet itself many times over. Thus military might has become a self-defeating means of total annihilation. Nuclear war is a war in which there are no victors - all will be defeated, including the future generations.

Thus the only guarantee of survival is peace; the only guarantee for the future development of human civilization is peace, true peace. Not only between states but also between peoples, between religions and races. Human fraternity is the basis for this, and it begins with the elimination of barriers and frontiers. Nothing is so safe as peace, peace in which every state respects the right of the other, in which they all cooperate to develop and advance the region they inhabit. That is what is needed in the Middle East today - a true peace between all the states in it. Only peace will secure the future of the state of Israel. Just as Israel made peace with Egypt, so it must continue. Without peace there will be no security without peace even nuclear bombs will be of no use to any state. So if there is one thing that must be done, must be worked for, it is the political effort to achieve peace, by means of negotiations, by means of direct contact and mutual recognition, a recognition of the other's right to exist in peace, without the threat of war.

Israel has attained the summit of its military might (here some words were crossed out by the censors) but still there is no peace. There is still a state of war. Men, women and children are being killed. All this military might has not produced a life of peace and security. So we have no choice but to proceed to invest more in the effort to achieve peace. War only leads to war and then another war. Eventually they may lead to a nuclear disaster.

But perhaps the dangers of nuclear disaster will drive the people in the region to take a chance on peace. Forty years of war in our region are more than enough. There is a limit to what people can stand. Now they are weary of war and want to live in peace, to feel that there is no more danger, that their children are not destined to be soldiers, that children are brought into this world to live in it, not to fight.

It is not true that war is an inevitable state of affairs - on the contrary, what is essential is peace. Eventually the leaders will also reach this conclusion. Therefore what I have done is not only in connection with the nuclear issue, but with the problem of the Middle East conflict as a whole. It is meant to point out the danger, to call out a warning against the fearful consequences of the existing situation. And the issue affects not only the inhabitants of the Middle East, but the entire world, because that is the nature of nuclear armament.

Few people have an opportunity to confront this issue as I have done. It is a question of listening to your conscience, to the voice of Jesus telling you, yes, this is what you must do - you must sacrifice yourself, your personal freedom: in the nuclear era, and with the nuclear threat hanging over us, the answer to this challenge is obvious, one may not evade such a responsibility, one must accept the mission in order to warn against the danger (...) (here some words were crossed out by the censors).

I acted on behalf of my countrymen and for the sake of all mankind. What happened in Hiroshima was not just another page in history, but a major landmark, pointing out the crossroads for mankind - this may be the fate of our planet if we do not resist it. In our region I took first step to show that the danger is real and immediate. Now the rest must be done also, to lead back from the nuclear menace to a treaty of nuclear disarmament. We must not keep silent, we must not avoid confronting reality. Others must continue what I started. Let us act together for the sake of this region, and love one another.

If we fail to do so, death will destroy us all. It is up to us to act, and not to submit to it.

  Pictures
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Interview in June 2005


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