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Mordechai Vanunu

(AFP) / 21 April 2004

JERUSALEM - Mordechai Vanunu, the world’s most famous whistleblower, showed on Wednesday he had not been broken by 18 years in prison by insisting he was proud of having lifted the lid on Israel’s nuclear capability.

Vanunu, reviled as a traitor by most Israelis and disowned by his own parents after converting to Christianity, showed his determination to carry on his anti-nuclear campaign by calling for the Jewish state to rid itself of nuclear weapons after walking out of the gates of Shikma prison in Ashkelon.

The raw emotions that the one-time technician at the Dimona nuclear plant still engenders were clear to see as a group of ultra-nationalist Israelis called for his death while his supporters released doves of peace into the air.

His numerous enemies in Israel as well as his foreign admirers are in agreement on one thing at least: the incredible determination of a man who has spent more than 11 years in solitary confinement at the start of his term.

Vanunu almost refused to walk free from prison Wednesday after declining until the very last moment to agree to supply authorities with the exact address of where he was going to live.

And far from showing contrition when he did exit the gates, he told a scrum of reporters that he was “proud and happy that I did what I did.”

His ironically titled poem “I am your spy”, which was composed in prison, bears eloquent testimony to his belief that he has been invested with a mission to save the region from nuclear catastrophe.

“I have no choice. I am a little guy, a citizen, an ordinary fellow, but I will do my duty. I have heard the voice of my conscience. And there’s nowhere to run,” wrote Vanunu from his prison in the southern town of Ashkelon.

His time behind bars has certainly left its mark. Now aged 50, he has put on weight and his hair has thinned to a few strands around the temples.

Kidnapped by the secret services and then sentenced in 1986 for ”espionage” for having leaked top-secret information on the Dimona nuclear plant in the southern Negev desert to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, he remains a traitor in the eyes of most Israelis or, at best, dangerously naive.

Vanunu settled in Israel as a boy when his devoutly Jewish family emigrated from Morocco in 1963.

After three years of national service, Vanunu signed up to work as a nuclear technician in Dimona.

Often working nightshifts at the plant, he also found time to study philosophy and geography at the nearby university of Beersheva where associates say he began his drift to the left, becoming increasingly active against Israel’s ill-fated 1982 war in Lebanon.

But his revolt against his background led him to cross what Israelis of all political persuasions regard as a red line. He abandoned Judaism and converted to Protestantism.

Vananu now signs his letters with the initials J.C. after his new name John Crossman which he chose in reference to the cross of Christ.

He appears convinced that he was victimised by the Jewish state as a result of his convernsion.

“I suffered here because I was a Christian ... only because I was a Christian,” he said on his release.  The completion of his sentence is unlikely to lead to a reunification with his father Shlomo, a former rabbi, who has disowned his oldest son while his mother has also never visited him behind bars.

A couple from Minnesota, Nick and Mary Eoloff, who have travelled to Israel for his release, has since legally adopted Vanunu.

“We believe that what he did was an act of civil disobedience and not a crime,” Nick Eoloff told AFP.

His brother, Meir Vanunu, has also been supportive and voiced concern for his safety.

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