Both the security establishment and supporters of Mordechai Vanunu have begun the countdown to Wednesday, when the nuclear whistle-blower and former employee at Dimona's top-secret atomic facility is scheduled to walk out of the Shikma prison in Ashkelon after serving 18 years in jail for his conviction on treason and espionage charges.
A veritable "Vanunu festival" is planned to mark the prisoner's long-awaited release. Peace activists and anti-nuclear campaigners from the United States, Britain, Japan, Ireland, Poland, Hungary and other countries have been arriving in Israel since last week. They will number some 90 individuals, says Rina Moss of the Israeli Committee to Free Mordechai Vanunu, which is coordinating the planned events. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, actress Susannah York, British parliamentarians Jeremy Corbyn and Colin Breed, and Reverend Bruce Kent, the president of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, are among those expected to attend. Playwright Harold Pinter, actress Emma Thompson and London Mayor Ken Livingstone have sent letters of support that will be read during the ceremonies outside the prison.
The 90 foreigners will be joined by a few hundred Israelis, who will hold a solidarity watch outside the prison gates tomorrow, and welcome Vanunu on his release the following day. Local and international television crews will also be present to broadcast live from the scene.
The authorities are also preparing for the release. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's media adviser, Assi Shariv, met yesterday with the spokesmen of several government ministries to coordinate positions and formulate a uniform public line, including a response in the event that Vanunu violates the restrictions imposed on him after his release.
"The decision-makers in Israel don't learn and don't forget a thing," said a senior government official. "If they were to allow Vanunu to do as he has requested and leave Israel, within a few days, the interest in him would die down and not reach the heights we are expecting to see."
Speaking to Haaretz, Mordechai's brother, Meir Vanunu, said: "I am both surprised and not surprised by the Israeli media. All these years, particularly when he was in solitary confinement in his cell, the Israeli media, and the electronic media in particular, showed no interest in him. This is why I have refused until now to be interviewed on television. Now, they are suddenly jumping on the bandwagon."
While Vanunu's supporters are still worried about the possibility of a last-minute trick on the part of the authorities, a security source said that Vanunu would be released on time, in the morning, just like any other prisoner.
On Saturday, Shin Bet security service officials at Ben-Gurion International Airport detained and questioned Sharon Wallace in the presence of her three children, aged 10, 15 and 17, for some three hours. Luca, the youngest of the three children, is the son of Meir Vanunu and the nephew of Mordechai Vanunu.
"They made us undergo a pretty humiliating physical examination," Sharon Wallace, who holds a U.S. passport, told Haaretz Saturday night. "And they accused me of planning to use my children to pass on classified information from Mordechai following his release from prison. I told them that it was insulting to hear empty claims such as these."
A day earlier, Ernest Rodker, coordinator of the British wing of the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear Free Middle East, was detained at the airport for a similar length of time. During his interrogation, the Shin Bet officials asked him if he was carrying anything in his belongings that could be detrimental to Israel. "They held me for hours without explaining to me why," Rodker told Haaretz. "I find it hard to understand this paranoid behavior; it reeks of a police state."
ACRI to fight release restrictions By order of Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, Mordechai Vanunu will be forbidden to leave the country for one year following his release from prison.
The commander of the IDF Home Front Command, Major General Yair Naveh, has also fallen back on the emergency orders of the British Mandate period (1945) to forbid Vanunu from speaking with anyone about his former place of employment in Dimona, his trial or the circumstances of his arrest. Under this IDF directive, he is also prohibited from approaching embassies, consulates or United Nations offices and cannot converse with non-Israelis, with the exception of close relatives.
He will need special permission to travel beyond the confines of the community in which he chooses to live. Vanunu's destination after his release is being kept a secret. His brother Meir explains: "We're keeping this from the media and hope they will honor his wishes and not invade his privacy."
Security officials realize that it will be very difficult to enforce some of the restrictions, especially the prohibition on speaking with foreigners.
Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) sent a letter yesterday to Poraz and Naveh asking that these restrictions be lifted, and vowed to take this issue to the High Court of Justice if this request is not met. "The restrictions are particularly hard for Vanunu, who emerges from prison to a country that is almost entirely alienated from him, in which he is subjected to social isolation," the attorney argued. "The prohibition on contact with foreign citizens severely hurts his right to a social life and family ... Due to the isolation he can expect in Israel, the prohibition on leaving the country will undermine his chances for rehabilitation, personal security and any type of community involvement."
Vanunu has expressed a desire to live abroad and he would like to be in contact with his adoptive parents, Americans who live in Minnesota.