On Freedom in Israel and Palestine

Lisa Guido and Grace Ritter of the Ithaca Catholic Worker were among hundreds of international supporters to greet Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu as he was released from prison in April. This is an edited version of messages they sent out on April 20-21, 2004.

Mordechai Vanunu is Free!
In 1986, Vanunu, then a nuclear technician at Israel’s secret nuclear weapons facility in Dimona, was moved by conscience to provide photographs exposing this work to the London Times. Five days later, he was kidnapped by Israeli agents, tried in secret and sentenced to 18 years in solitary confinement. After considerable international pressure from peace and human rights organizations, Vanunu was moved from solitary confinement to the general prison population in 1998.

At 11:30 am on April 21, Mordechai Vanunu was released from Ashkelon prison, in Jaffa, Israel. Hundreds of international supporters were present at the gate to greet him, including two British MPs. Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Irish peace activist and winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize, who was in Syracuse in March 2003, was also on hand to welcome Vanunu. Media from all over the world were there, but unfortunately there were very few reporters or journalists from the US media. When Vanunu was finally released, he came to the gates of the prison and climbed the fence waving and smiling and giving the peace sign. Many angry Israelis threw eggs and rocks at the supporters and chanted very nasty things at Vanunu.

The Israeli government of Ariel Sharon has proposed numerous possible additional punishments for Vanunu, including restrictions on travel, speech and freedom of association. There has even been speculation about his re-imprisonment or assassination. Vanunu’s new address has been advertised on the news – a particularly troubling fact, given the violent feelings many Israelis still have towards him. Israeli and international peace activists hoped that their presence outside Ashkelon Prison on April 21 would deter such actions. Please visit the website <www.freevanunu.org> to stay informed on this issue.

Free Palestine!
On April 22, the Catholic Worker Peace Team traveled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank to meet Palestinian and Israeli peace and human rights activists working to oppose construction of the Israeli separation wall. The wall is 25 feet high — twice the height of the Berlin Wall — and is controlled by Israeli military checkpoints. Because the wall is being constructed inside of the 1967 Green Line, Israel will effectively annex much of the West Bank.

Non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, say the wall violates international law. The International Red Cross/Red Crescent Society condemned the wall, because it restricts Palestinian access to medical facilities and water resources. Roman Catholic religious leaders also oppose the wall. The international Court of Justice at The Hague heard arguments against the wall in late February and is expected to give its opinion soon.

The Catholic Worker Peace Team will focus its attention on Bethlehem and Hebron. They will work with a number of Palestinian grassroots organizations that oppose the wall using nonviolent tactics.

Lisa and Grace are dedicated to education about the Middle East and have been part of Ithaca community activities addressing this issue.