Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mordechai Vanunu (מרדכי ואנונו) (born October 13, 1954) is a former Israeli nuclear technician who revealed details of Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986. He was subsequently abducted by Mossad (although upon release Vanunu claimed it was the CIA) and tried in secret. Convicted of treason, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, more than 11 years of which were served in solitary confinement. Vanunu was released from prison on April 21, 2004, and was subject to a broad array of speech and travel restrictions. On November 11, 2004, following multiple alleged violations of those restrictions, he was arrested again after giving an interview to a foreign journalist.
Vanunu's imprisonment has attracted international criticism, including from Amnesty International.
Vanunu was born in Marrakech, Morocco to a Jewish family; his father was a rabbi. He had 11 brothers and sisters, and emigrated under the Law of Return with his family to Israel in 1963. Vanunu completed his three years of military service in the sapper unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, with the rank of sergeant. After being honorably discharged, Vanunu became a philosophy student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where he became critical of many policies of the Israeli government, forming a group called Campus with four other Jewish students and five Arab students. Vanunu also admired his professor, Evron Pollakov, a left-wing professor at Ben-Gurion University who had refused to serve with the IDF in Lebanon and had been jailed because of it. Vanunu also was affiliated with a group called Movement for the Advancement of Peace.
Between 1976 and 1985, Vanunu was employed as a nuclear technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, an Israeli facility which, according to the majority of defense experts, is used for manufacturing nuclear weapons; it is located in the Negev desert south of Dimona. Most worldwide intelligence agencies estimate that the state of Israel developed nuclear weapons as early as the 1960s, but the country has purposely maintained a stance of "nuclear ambiguity", neither acknowledging nor denying that it possesses the weapons.
At Dimona, Vanunu became increasingly troubled about the Israeli nuclear program on which he claimed to have worked. In 1985, he was laid off from Dimona and left Israel. He arrived at Nepal, and considered a conversion to Buddhism, later traveling to Burma and Thailand. In 1986, he traveled to Sydney, Australia. While there, Vanunu lived in a hostel in the Kings Cross and worked odd jobs, first as a hotel dishwasher and later a taxi driver.
Vanunu also began to attend the local church, St. John's. There he met the Reverend John McKnight, who worked with the homeless and drug addicts. Vanunu converted to Christianity and was baptized into the Anglican Church. This isolated him from his family. While still in Sydney, he met with Peter Hounam, a journalist from The Sunday Times.
In early September 1986, Vanunu flew to London with Hounam, and revealed to The Sunday Times his knowledge of the Israeli nuclear program, including photographs he had secretly taken at the Dimona site. Anxious to avoid being duped by another Hitler Diaries-sized hoax, The Sunday Times spent extensive time verifying Vanunu’s story with leading experts. Allegedly bored and annoyed by the length of time Hounam was taking with his research, Vanunu approached a rival newspaper, the tabloid Sunday Mirror, whose owner was Robert Maxwell. In 1991, a self-proclaimed former Mossad officer called Ari Ben-Menashe alleged that Maxwell, who was Jewish, had tipped off the Mossad about Vanunu. It is also possible that enquiries by Sunday Mirror journalists to the Israeli Embassy in London alerted the Mossad.
On September 30, 1986, an American Mossad agent, Cheryl Bentov, operating under the name of "Cindy" and masquerading as an American tourist, began an affair with Vanunu, eventually persuading him to fly to Rome with her on a holiday. The Israeli government had promised Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that they would not conduct operations on British soil; therefore it was important to get Vanunu out of the country under his own volition. Once in Rome, Mossad agents drugged and abducted him, and returned him to Israel on a freighter. That marked the beginning of what was to be more than a decade of solitary confinement in Israeli prisons.
Shortly after his abduction, on October 5, the Times published the information he had revealed, and estimated that Israel had produced more than 100 nuclear warheads. Vanunu was then put on trial in Israel on charges of treason and espionage. The trial was held in secret, at the District Court in Jerusalem, before Chief Justice Eliahu Noam and judges Zvi Tal and Shalom Brener , and he was not permitted contact with the media — however, he wrote the details of his abduction on the palm of his hand, and while being transported he held his hand against the van's window so that waiting journalists could get the information. This act caused Israel's standard procedures for transporting prisoners to be changed, to prevent it from happening again.
The Israeli government kept him in near total isolation for more than 11 years, allegedly out of concern that he might reveal more Israeli nuclear secrets. However, many critics argue that Vanunu does not have any information that would pose a real security threat to Israel, and that the Israeli government's real motivation is a desire to avoid political embarrassment for itself and allies such as the United States. Dr. Ray Kidder, a senior American nuclear scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has said:
- "On the basis of this research and my own professional experience, I am ready to challenge any official assertion that Mr. Vanunu possesses any technical nuclear information not already made public." 
His last appeal against his conviction, to the Israeli Supreme Court in 1990, failed. The Israeli government refused to release the transcript of the court case until, after the threat of legal action, it finally agreed to let censored extracts be published in Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli newspaper, in late 1999.
Vanunu and the story of Israel's nuclear secrets were the subjects of Israel's Secret Weapon, a BBC Correspondent television program. It was broadcast on BBC2 in the UK on March 17, 2003. Vanunu remains bitter about the whole incident, but has stated that he has no regrets. While in prison, Vanunu says, he took part in small acts of rebellion, such as refusing to talk with the guards, reading only English-language newspapers, and watching only BBC TV. He even refused to eat food when it was served to him so as to maintain a small portion of his life not under Israeli control. "He is the most stubborn, principled, and tough person I have ever met," said his lawyer, Avigdor Feldman.
On February 5, 2004, former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit told Reuters that the option of killing Vanunu was considered in 1986 but "Jews don't do that to other Jews."  (Compare with: Forced disappearance)
Vanunu was given an honorary doctorate at the University of Tromsø in 2001 and was elected as Rector of the University of Glasgow in December 2004. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year from 1988 to 2004. In 2005 he recived the Peace Prize of the Norwegian People (Folkets fredspris). Previous recipients of this prize includes Vytautas Landsbergis (1991), Alva Myrdal (1982), Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams. Myrdal, Corrigan and Williams also reveived the Nobel Peace Prize.
Vanunu was released from prison on April 21, 2004. Upon his release, Vanunu claimed he had no further secrets to reveal, and indicated a desire to completely dissociate himself from Israel: He refused to speak in Hebrew, and expressed a desire to move to Scandinavia, Ireland or France as soon as the Israeli government would permit him to do so.
In December 2004 he was elected as Lord Rector of Glasgow University, to serve for three years. Since then the Glasgow Herald has launched a campaign for his release. On Friday April 22 2005 he will be formally installed as Rector. 
A number of restrictions have been placed upon Vanunu by Israeli authorities, who stated their reason was fear of him spreading further state secrets. These stipulate that:
- Vanunu will have to register to live in an Israeli city of his choice.
- He will have to give notice to the authorities if he wishes to travel to another city.
- He will not be allowed to leave Israel for 6 months. This restriction will be reviewed at the end of 6 months and could be renewed.
- He will not be allowed to contact foreigners either by phone or in person.
- He will not be allowed to enter any embassy, visit any port of entry, or come within 500 metres of any international border crossing.
Vanunu says that his knowledge is now all outdated, and that he has nothing more he could possibly reveal that is not already widely known. Despite the stated restrictions, since his release Vanunu has freely given interviews to the foreign press, including a live phone interview to BBC Radio Scotland.
On April 22, 2004, Vanunu asked the Norwegian government for a Norwegian passport and asylum in Norway for "humanitarian reasons", according to Norwegian news agencies. He also sent applications to other countries, and stated that he would accept asylum in any country because he fears for his life. Former conservative Norwegian Prime Minister Kåre Willoch has asked the conservative government to give Vanunu asylum, and the University of Tromsø has offered him a job. His application for asylum in Sweden was rejected by the Swedish immigration department, since it does not accept absentee asylum applications.
On Thursday, November 11, 2004, Vanunu was arrested by the International Investigations Unit of the Israeli police at around 9 AM while eating breakfast. The arrest stemmed from an ongoing probe examining suspicions of leaking national secrets and violating legal rulings since his release from prison. About 20 commandos wearing bulletproof vests and carrying machine guns entered into the walled compound of St. George's Anglican Church in East Jerusalem, where Vanunu had been renting a room since his release. Police removed papers and a computer from his room. After a few hours' detention, Vanunu was put under house arrest, which was to last seven days.
The arrest came three months after Vanunu said in an interview that Israel was behind the John F. Kennedy assassination. In the interview he had said the assassination was due to "pressure [Kennedy] exerted on then-head of government David Ben-Gurion to shed light on Dimona's nuclear reactor."  (See also: Kennedy assassination theories).
On December 24, 2004, Vanunu was apprehended by Israeli Police while he was attempting to exit Israel, in a vehicle marked as belonging to foreign press, into the West Bank, allegedly to attend mass at the Church of the Nativity, in violation of his release restrictions (see above). After posting bail of 50,000 NIS, he was released into five-day house arrest as reported by the BBC.
On January 26, 2005, BBC reported that its Jerusalem deputy bureau chief, Simon Wilson, was banned from Israel after BBC refused to submit interview material made with Vanunu to Israeli censors. Wilson was allowed to return to Israel on March 12 after signing an apology letter acknowledging that he defied the law .
Books about the case
- Black, Ian. Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services, Grove Press, 1992, ISBN 0802132863
- Cohen, Avner. Israel and the Bomb, New York: Columbia University Press (1999), ISBN 0231104839
- Cohen, Yoel. The Whistleblower of Dimona: Israel, Dimona & the Bomb. ISBN 084191432X
- Gaffney, Mark. Dimona: The Third Temple? The Story Behind the Vanunu Revelation. ISBN 0915597772
- Gilling, Tom and John McKnight. Trial and Error — Mordechai Vanunu and Israel's Nuclear Bomb. 1991 Monarch Publications. ISBN 185424129X
- Hounam, Peter. The Woman from Mossad: The Torment of Mordechai Vanunu. ISBN 1583940057 paperback edition title: The Woman from Mossad: The Story of Mordechai Vanunu & the Israeli Nuclear Program
- Toscano, Louis. Triple Cross. 1990 Birch Lane Press ISBN 155972028X
- Spiro, Gideon. Vanunu and the Israeli Bomb.
Source documents and interviews
- Sunday Times articles from 1986
- Vanunu receives honorary doctorate
- Israeli Court attempts to impose restrictions on Vanunu's free speech
- Mordechai Vanunu Risks Jail To Speak to Democracy Now! in First Nat'l U.S. Interview
- Vanunu 'held' by Israeli police
- Enav, Peter. "Israeli nuclear whistle blower Mordechai Vanunu arrested for passing on classified documents." The Associated Press. November 11, 2004. 
- Kayw, Taakov, and Arieh O'Sullivan. "A-G orders Vanunu arrested." The Jerusalem Post. November 11, 2004. 
- "Israeli police detain nuke whistleblower Vanunu." Reuters. November 11, 2004. 
- Justice for Vanunu
- The US Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu
- Letters from Solitary — book of letters from Mordechai Vanunu to Rev. David B. Smith of Sydney, Australia, through whom Vanunu converted to Christianity. PDF copy: Light version, the full version, with reproductions of each letter, is available from Father David's web site.
- Mordechai Vanunu tells the story of his life
- BBC Correspondent — Israel's Secret Weapon, broadcast on March 17, 2003, gave an update of Vanunu's plight. There is also a transcript available.
- Our Son, The Rebel interview with his adoptive parents.
- Excerpts from Vanunu's statement upon release from prison
- The 1987 Right Livelihood Award for Mordechai Vanunu
- Free Prisoner of Conscience, Mordechai Vanunu, With No Restrictions! (Report by The Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu and for a Middle East Free of Atomic, Biological and Chemical Weapons)
- Sydney link to Israeli prisoner of conscience from The National Council of Churches in Australia.
- Bruderhof Peacemakers Guide profile on Mordechai Vanunu
- Information on Vanunu's candidature for Glasgow University Rector.
- Vanunu elected Glasgow University rector
- Better World Links on Mordechai Vanunu and Israel's Atomic Weapons
- Amnesty International report from 1998
- Amnesty International report from April 2004
- Ari Ben-Menashe on the Capture of Mordechai Vanunu
- A Mossad perspective on the capture of Mordechai Vanunu
- Memorandum Regarding Mordechai Vanunu on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
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