Before I left the USA for my first trip to Israel Palestine I phoned Mother Agapia Stephanopolous, a Russian Orthodox nun and the administrator of the Orthodox School of Bethany in Jerusalem, to schedule an appointment for Spiritual Direction and to discuss our mutual feelings about The Wall. Mother Agapia is the sister of ABC News commentator, George Stephanopolous, and she had recently spoken passionately to Congress about the fact that, "Israel is destroying the local Christian community." On April 18, 2005, Robert Novak's article "Walling off Christianity" reported on the nun's letter to Congress and how East Jerusalem had been cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Mother Agapia predicted, "It is only a matter of time before Christians and Muslims will be unable to survive culturally and economically." Mother Agapia spoke bluntly about the nine yards high of Israeli concrete that have "shattered" the Christian communities.
She told Novak, "I witness the strangulation of East Jerusalem, and the deprivation of her non-Jewish residents' religious rights every day. Even the United States seems to have been taken in by Israeli spin." On my very first afternoon in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2006, I met the good nun and told her that I hadn't been taken in by the spin, but what could I possibly do? She had no answer. But, on that afternoon in June 12, 2005, Mother Agapia did tell me about the Jerusalem Interfaith Peace Conference with satellite link to the world that was happening the Sunday after the Thursday I was scheduled to return to the USA.
I knew immediately that I needed to stay for it and after saying goodbye to Mother Agapia, I phoned my husband to get his OK to change my departure date. On June 26, 2006, I attended the world wide satellite linked Interfaith Peace Conference at Jerusalem's Notre Dame Cathedral. Dan Rather moderated from Washington DC and the Holy Land interfaith panel were all moderates attempting to reclaim the battlefield of ideas from extremists on both sides. Rev. Theodore Hessburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame began the evening with a pledge and a summons I cannot forget: "The Peace of the world begins in Jerusalem.
" A few days before my first journey to Israel and Palestine in June 2005, a Palestinian American warned me, "Don't visit Vanunu, if you see him, don't speak to him. He's not allowed to speak to foreigners and you could cause him trouble." I responded, "OK, I won't track him down, but Jerusalem is a small town and if our paths cross, I will speak to him. What kind of government is that, that will tell a human being who they can and cannot talk to?" I did not cross paths with Vanunu until the third Tuesday in June which was five days before I returned to the USA. If I hadn't changed my departure date, it would have only been two.
But, that very chance meeting with the Whistleblower of Israel's WMD Program in the courtyard of St. Georges Cathedral, offered me the opportunity to spend a few hours with Vanunu over the next five days. I was curious as to what kind of a kid he had been and why he became a Christian.
I wrote that story in my first book, "Keep Hope Alive". Vanunu was a secular Jew in 1986, but just a few weeks prior to being kidnapped by the Mossad, drugged and flung onto an Israeli cargo ship heading home and undergoing a closed door trial and 18 years in jail, most of it in solitary, he was baptized a Christian while in Sydney, Australia. Vanunu told me, "My Christian conversion, was also considered as treason and led to me receiving more time in jail than any murderer has ever served. The Israelis have this very beautiful article about freedom and liberty but they want to destroy anyone who criticizes them for revealing the truth to the world. The world must look and see what kind of democracy Israel is when one speaks out the truth." On May 14, 1948 The Declaration of the establishment of Israel affirmed: "One the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations.
" The founding of the statehood of Israel was also contingent upon the upholding of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of the UDHR affirms that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."This right includes freedom to change one's religion." Although Vanunu was released after 18 years in prison on April 21, 2004, he has been held captive in East Jerusalem under the draconian restrictions of the British Mandate.
"After WW II, Attorney Yaccov Shapiro, who later became Israel's Minister Of Justice, described the Emergency Defense Regulations as "unparalleled in any civilized country: there were no such laws in Nazi Germany."- [N.S. Ateek, Justice And Only Justice p.34] "The reason they hold me, they claim is for security, that I could still have a secret about the Dimona that I haven't told.
But, the real reason is because Israel is not a democracy unless you are a Jew. This administration tells me I am not allowed to speak to foreigners, the Media, and the world. But I do because that is how I prove my true humanity to the world." On the day of the Palestinian elections in January 2006, Vanunu was back in court standing trial for speaking to the media in 2004, after his release from Ashkelon.
Only three journalists were present, and since then, no more than one has attended any more court dates. On November 25, 2006, Vanunu, who has been annually nominated for the Noble Peace Prize for the last 20 years, emailed his friends and supporters that, he is "under the threat of being arrested at anytime. All this means that the Israeli's Shaback and Mossad behind this police defective want to open a new case against me maybe, because the case that is running now is not succeeding for them. "On Friday, November 24th, we were in the court on the trial against me with my lawyers, Jerry Levin [former CNN Mid East Bureau chief and the only journalist who has been reporting on Vanunu's court dates] and the Priest from St. George.
In the court, my lawyer question IDF Central District Commander Major-General Yair Naveh. He responded to the questions and gave his testimony in the Jerusalem Peace Court. "My lawyer succeeded to reveal a few very important facts: 1. This General of the Army also was not allowed to see all the secrets that he is required to protect by these restrictions that they claim I know them. So, he gave orders of restrictions without knowing what he is protecting or that he is also following orders blindly, and Mossad sheen Bet using its authority for just punishing me. 2.
He testified that it is not a crime for me to talk with foreigners in general anywhere. 3. He testified that I can speak freely to any Israeli citizens about anything; it is not his concern what I am saying to them. These Israelis can give this information to any foreigners. It was difficult for the Judge to understand why this dichotomy exits between foreigners and Israelis.
It means that it is not about secrecy but about something else." Could the "something else" be that Vanunu has committed the "unpardonable sin" for some Jews: his conversion to Christianity?.
Eileen is a retired RN, activist, author, poet, reporter and editor for the WAWA Blog: http://www.wearewideawake.org She has been to, and reported on the Occupied Palestinian Territories four times since June 2005.