High Court: Nuclear whistleblower Vanunu stays 'grounded' in Israel

While Vanunu's situation should be examined periodically and with rigor, the state had met its standard of proof for maintaining restrictions, the court said.

Israel Israel News Mordechai Vanunu (photo credit: Reuters)
Israel Israel News Mordechai Vanunu
(photo credit: Reuters)
The High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected the petition of Mordechai Vanunu, the man who leaked information regarding Israel’s reported nuclear weapons program in 1986, to leave the country via the West Bank.
The court said that while it agreed with Vanunu that his situation should be examined periodically and with rigor to ensure that restrictions on him were not being maintained unnecessarily, it believed that the state had met its standard of proof for maintaining the restrictions at this time.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Vanunu’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, said: “This man is not allowed to leave a country that does not want him in it and in which he does not want to be.”
He added that Vanunu merely wanted to leave the country to marry his girlfriend and live out his life quietly.
Vanunu was a technician at the Dimona nuclear plant who was imprisoned for 18 years for divulging secrets related to Israel’s purported nuclear weapons program.
Since his release from prison in 2004, Vanunu has had a range of highly unusual restrictions placed on his movement and his right to interact with other people, particularly foreigners and the press.
The High Court has numerous times approved these restrictions, and Vanunu has numerous times violated them, sometimes being temporarily penalized or reprimanded.
Feldman had claimed that after 29 years, Vanunu’s secret information was so dated that it could no longer threaten the state.
Feldman also said that Vanunu could have revealed secrets in other ways remotely, without needing to speak to someone in person, but had chosen not to.
Regarding Vanunu’s violations in meeting with foreigners, Feldman claimed that he had not told them anything or been accused of telling them anything about Israel’s purported nuclear weapons program.
Feldman’s point was that Vanunu had never violated the substance of the restrictions against him; the attorney also presented the meeting his client had with foreigners as happenstance when he was out at a café.
He tried to portray the restrictions as unnecessary and draconian. But the court ultimately accepted the state’s arguments.
The state said that expert reports and secret information, which it presented to the court in a closed-door portion of the hearing, proved that Vanunu’s information was still relevant and its revelation would endanger state security.
Another report indicated that Vanunu was still highly motivated to divulge secrets if he left the country and was beyond the state’s reach, said the state.
The court also said that a key aspect of his ruling was that the restrictions were not punitive, but preventative, to stop him from further compromising national security.
Moreover, the court said that Vanunu might fare better if he meticulously observed the restrictions for some time, especially since he is actually allowed to speak to foreigners provided he gets approval from the state first (which it has given both times he asked).
Vanunu’s request comes after various recent legal developments, including a March 2011 law empowering the state to revoke certain convicts’ citizenship, and his desire to use the law as a way to get the state to revoke his citizenship and expel him from the country after repeated past requests were denied.
Though originally not expected to decide the issue for an extended period, the court surprised observers issuing a decision within days of the hearing.