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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner - Where is Jonathan Pollard?

Special to IMRA - June 24, 2002

Where is our brother Jonathan Pollard? In his seventeenth year in an American prison.  The numerical value of seventeen equals the Hebrew word "tov" [good].  But for Jonathan Pollard, things are not good. Prison is a terrible place.

To quote the prophet Jeremiah chapter 15, verse 2: "Thus said the L-ord, 'Such as are [destined] for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for famine, to famine, and such as are for captivity, to captivity."  Rabbi Yochanan comments on this verse (Bava Batra 8b) explaining that each punishment mentioned above is considered worse than the punishment which is mentioned previously. According to Rabbi Yochanan, the sword is a worse punishment than death; famine is a worse punishment than the sword; and captivity is worst punishment of all. Why? Because captivity contains within it all of the other punishments combined.

Down through the generations, the Jewish People have always made great sacrifices to redeem captives. They  went to such lengths that our sages feared that this unbridled self-sacrifice might lead to their own demise. Therefore the rabbis saw fit to enact a halachic limit for this mitzvah and they legislated that we may "not pay more to redeem a captive than the captive's market value."

This Rabbinic ordinance has, over the years, largely been honored in the breech because our hearts are filled with compassion and we still continued to redeem Jewish captives at far beyond their market value (See Yam Shel Shlomo on Gittin, Ch. 4, Siman 66).      Ashrei Ha Am! Fortunate is the people whose sins are such as this  - may G-d forgive us!

But now, we are leaving our brother Jonathan Pollard to rot for the seventeenth year in his dark prison, and we dare to enjoy the sunlight?! Unbelievable!

People do not understand what it is to be a Jewish inmate in an American prison. It is not like being  a prisoner in Israel. In Israel, prisoners receive kosher food, learn Torah, are eligible for furloughs for holidays and/or special occasions and are even permitted to have relations with their wives so as not to deprive any man of the right to have children.

In America, Jonathan Pollard has none of these rights. Jonathan cannot even be with  wife.  For him there is no Shabbat, no Yom Tov and no holidays in prison. In 17 years, Jonathan has never once had a furlough, not even to attend his mother's funeral.  He is not permitted to speak Hebrew or to learn from Hebrew texts. For years he had to fight for something as simple as Pesach observance and mahtzot.

For the first seven years of his incarceration, Jonathan spent his time locked up in a dungeon cell in solitary confinement at USP Marion, three floors below ground, behind 13 locks and keys. For all those years, he never saw a flower or a tree or even the light of day. The harsh conditions Jonathan experienced in his dungeon cell made him ill and he continues to suffer from all the same illnesses to this day.

The worst part of solitary confinement is the sheer weight of time in a place where each minute, each hour, each day, each month and each year is identical to the one preceding it. There is no dawn and no dusk in solitary; seasons never change; and except for the burning sun in summer and the blistering cold in winter, every day remains exactly the same as the one before it. In 1993 Jonathan was moved out of solitary  to "open population" at FCI Butner in North Carolina, where he remains to this day. There, he has to work eight hours a day.  His prison job is cleaning toilets.  Before he was assigned to the toilets he worked in the prison's factories - first as a cutter of cloth, then as a lens crafter and tinter, and finally as a sticker boy.

As a cutter in the prison factory, he used a 10 kilo band-saw to cut cloth to make uniforms for the American Navy. In a two year period he suffered 14 blade-related accidents and experienced extreme respiratory distress because of all the fabric particles he inhaled.  Although he was very successful at his work, he had to be transferred because his health had deteriorated so badly.

He was sent to work grinding lenses in the prison eyeglass factory. From there he was transferred to the lens tinting department. As a lens tinter, he suffered violent headaches from the fumes and chemicals that he had to work with. He became so ill that he was sent to become a sticker boy. That meant that he had to sit on a chair for 8 hours without moving and stick stickers on boxes. A brilliant mind, sticking stickers on little boxes all day long.

Now he cleans toilets. All day everyday he cleans toilets, scrubs sinks, and strips, washes and waxes floors. The beautiful hands that once played award-winning music on the cello are now hard and callused from his work with mop and pail. He continues to suffers from violent headaches and severe respiratory problems.

Jonathan does not receive kosher food. He survives on fruit and vegetables and whatever food he can buy from the prison commissary that has a hechsher on it, things like sardines and crackers. But in his heart he has G-d.  He has faith.  He is a very religious person.  He wears a yarmulka and tzitzit, even though these garments cause him to stand out like a sore thumb in a prison population not known for tolerance of Jews or restraint from violence.

And we dare to enjoy the sunlight?!

Our obligation to do our utmost to seek Jonathan's release would be the case even if he were he just a plain prisoner. Yet it turns out  that he is far more important than that. We owe him at very least hakarat hatov - an acknowledgment of the good that he did for us.

In brief:  in the early 1980's, Jonathan was a civilian analyst working for American Naval Intelligence. He became aware that information essential to the security of the State of Israel was being deliberately withheld  in an illegal embargo. This information dealt with the development of atomic, biological and chemical warfare in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Iran, for use against Israel. It also dealt with the development of ballistic missiles for use against the citizens of Israel and plans for upcoming attacks on civilian targets in the Jewish State.

According to a letter of understanding signed by the two nations in 1983, America was obliged to transfer this information to the State of Israel. Pollard became aware that the lives of many Israelis were in danger because this vital  information was not being shared with Israel.  He therefore did everything in his power restore the legal flow of  information to Israel. He went all the way up the chain of command to the Pentagon, trying to get the information released legally as the US had promised.

When all his efforts did not bear fruit, he began to transfer this vital information straight to Israel.

He did this on his own initiative, out of fear for Israeli lives, without thought of any reward. He became Israel's agent out of a passion to save Israeli lives. He is a righteous man and a true savior. Because of the information that Jonathan passed to Israel, our entire civilian defense program was changed to include sealed rooms and gas masks. Thanks to Pollard, Israel was ready for the Gulf War in 1991, and has been ready for all subsequent threats from Iraq and other Arab States ever since. Thanks to Pollard, every home that is built in Israel today is required by law to have a sealed room to protect its inhabitants against chemical attacks.

That's it.  He did his share and now we dismiss him. He can go, or more precisely, he can go sit in a dark prison and clean toilets. Than is how we thank him for saving so many lives.

In 1985 he was arrested and for the next eleven years the State of Israel went through the motions but in fact did little to assist their agent and virtually nothing to seek his release. Behind the scenes, Israel took over payment of Jonathan's first attorney, Richard Hibey,  a non-Jewish lawyer of Lebanese extraction. Hibey's actions deprived Jonathan of his constitutional rights including his right to effective assistance of counsel. Hibey's failure to file an intent to appeal Jonathan's life sentence - a failure that is unheard of - has forever deprived Jonathan of his right to appeal the life sentence he received without benefit of trial. Jonathan gave up his right to a trial as part of a plea agreement with the Government which he honored and the US violated. He agreed to the plea bargain in order to spare both Israel and the US the cost, the embarrassment and the security concerns of a lengthy court trial.  He cooperated fully with the prosecution, confessed and expressed contrition, but the prosecution lied and cruelly reneged on its commitments.  Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in complete violation of the plea agreement.

It should be noted that Jonathan was never charged with intent to harm the United States nor was he ever indicted for compromising codes, agents, or war plans. He was never accused of, indicted for or convicted of treason. He was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally. The median sentence for this type of offense is two to four years in prison. Jonathan is in his 17th year of a life sentence.

Over the years since Jonathan was first arrested, the US has repeatedly used him as a bargaining chip to secure difficult concessions from Israel. Once the concessions are made, the US reneges on freeing Pollard and Israel acts as if it does not notice. The US secures what it bargained for and Pollard remains in prison.

A recent example: in the framework of the Wye Summit, in the fall of 1998, the American President promised the Israeli Prime Minister to free Pollard as an integral part of the Wye Accords. At the last moment, after securing Israel's concessions, the President reneged on freedom for Pollard while humiliating  and embarrassing the Prime Minister into signing the Accords anyway. The commitment to free Pollard made at Wye still exists and has yet to be fulfilled. The US has yet to live up to its end of the bargain and it remains incumbent on Israel not to allow the US to default.

Over the last 17 years more lip service has been paid to freeing Pollard than actual effort on the part of our leaders. Even simple gestures towards Jonathan such as Israeli citizenship in 1995 and recognition as an Israel agent in 1998 came only after years of battling the Israeli Government through the court system. To this day, if any Jewish leader tells you "We are dealing  with the Pollard issue quietly, behind-the-scenes, through secret diplomacy etc."  Don't believe it. Instead, you had better believe that what they are doing behind the scenes to secure Pollard's release is so secret that they themselves do not know about it!

Though various efforts on Jonathan's behalf over the years, have been made by many private individuals, the leadership has been sorely absent from the field of battle. They have let numerous opportunities to secure Jonathan's release just slip through our fingers. The bottom line is our wounded soldier has been abandoned in the field.  Let us pray that his condition does not worsen, and may G-d preserve and save him.

The Torah tells us: "Yet King David went to war in order to save members of his family from captivity (Samuel 30:2).  Abraham, even for his sinful nephew, Lot, risked his own life and went to war (Genesis 14:14).

If anyone should think "But Jonathan Pollard is not my family."  If not, then what is he?  An alien?  Or a brother.  Are we brothers or not?  After all, even for one maidservant taken captive, Moses and all of Israel went to war (Numbers 21:1 Rashi).

Had we but the strength, we too should be willing to go to war to free Jonathan.. If the only way to do so is to battle in the public arena, we dare not exempt ourselves.

We must demonstrate before every American emissary who comes to Israel, and before every American embassy on earth, and we must shout, "Where is Jonathan Pollard?"

Moreover, every single day we must call the Prime Minister's Office and demand, "Where is Jonathan Pollard?"  (Telephone: 02-6705511).  As well, every person should send a fax to the Prime Minister every day so that his office will be continuously  flooded with letters demanding  "Where is Jonathan Pollard?" (Fax: 02-5664838 or 02 6512631).

Every synagogue-going adult must insist that his minyan make a mishberach for Jonathan - Yehonatan ben Malka -  every time the Torah is read.  Ladies should include Jonathan in their candle-lighting prayers every Friday night. We must all keep Yehonatan ben Malka and his wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha in our personal prayers every single day. May the Almighty  swiftly reunite them in freedom and joy here in the holy city of Jerusalem.

Jonathan, our brother, we have not forgotten you.  As it is written, "As for our brethren, the whole house of Israel, who are in distress and in captivity, on sea or on land, may G-d have mercy on them and grant them relief, bringing them from darkness to light, from servitude to liberty, speedily and very soon,"  and let us say, Amen! -30-

BIO NOTE: Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is the author of over thirty books on Jewish Law, Philosophy and Biblical commentary. He is regularly featured in many newspapers and magazines, commenting on current events and topics of Jewish interest. Rabbi Aviner is currently Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Kohanim in the Old City of Jerusalem and Rabbi of Bet-El.

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