Some Marriages Are Made In Prison

Liat Collins - The Jerusalem Post - July 15, 1994

ESTHER (Elaine) Zeitz-Pollard wants to find time to retrieve the huge suitcase of clothes she left at a friend's house in Jerusalem four years ago.

"I left it when I went back to Canada to tie up my affairs and prepare to come back here permanently," she says.

Instead of coming back to Israel as she had planned, however, the Canadian special-education teacher became the chief spokeswoman for Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for passing classified documents to Israel.

In May, Zeitz-Pollard, who had been secretly engaged to Pollard for three years, announced that the two had married during one of her visits to the North Carolina prison where he is serving his sentence.

Since her arrival here last Tuesday as head of Justice for Jonathan Pollard, a Canadian-based group, to campaign for her husband's release, she has been busy with meetings and media interviews.

In a small, rented room in Jerusalem, Zeitz-Pollard, voices her all-consuming desire to bring her husband here to join her. "If Israel asked the US government in strong, clear terms, Jonathan could be released within 24 hours," she says.

Her efforts to obtain her husband's release overshadow everything else. "He's my whole life. He's a constant presence".

She says it is the feeling of closeness they share which helps her cope with the stress and problems of a woman whose only contact with her husband is during visits behind bars and monitored phone conversations.

She refuses to discuss her relationship with Pollard before 1990, but says they "reconnected" after she responded to an appeal in a newspaper asking readers to send him some words of comfort.

Her refusal to talk about her relationship with Pollard's family or his first wife suggests that reports of tension between them are correct.

She is also unwilling to speak of her life before Pollard. "There is nothing to talk about before 1990. There is only one issue for me right now. I have to concentrate on freeing my husband".

A prayer book lies on the shelf by her bed; her plain cotton candy-striped dress has elbow-length sleeves;and her hair is covered. She defines herself as Orthodox and says her family is traditional.

Zeitz-Pollard says her family and friends have been very supportive. "They're afraid for me, but they're standing behind me and understand me".

She has been overwhelmed by the public support she has received since she started her visit here. "The man in the grocery store, the taxi driver - even television journalists have shown their support and sent messages to Jonathan through me".

Bilingual in English and French, Zeitz-Pollard also speaks Hebrew. "It's the language of our people. I had to learn it".

Despite her recent television appearances here, she dreads being interviewed in Hebrew. "I feel Jonathan's life is hanging in the balance and if I say the wrong word in Hebrew it could threaten the whole situation".

As she talks, she uses her hands and rolls her large eyes. Although she is generally soft-spoken and articulate, she occasionally gets so emphatic that she almost shouts. She is clearly tired, but she has the passion you would expect of a woman pleading for her husband's life.

Zeitz-Pollard sees her husband "as a political hostage being held by our allies. And this is the 'honest broker' of the peace process, which doesn't bode well for us".

She likens her situation to that of Tami Arad, the wife of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, and the families of the MiAs. She believes their fates are intertwined.

"Jonathan was also in the service of Israel and the minute that both [former prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir and [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin made personal appeals to the president of the US on his behalf they both recognized him as a soldier of Israel.

"How can we expect our enemies to take us seriously on freeing Ron Arad and the others when we can't even get our friends to take us seriously?"

She says she has certain messages from her husband she wishes to pass on to the government, "whose silence has been deafening".

Pollard wants several questions answered, she says. Why have Israeli consuls-general been told not to see him? Why is Israel not taking steps to secure his immediate release? Why has the government not responded to statements by Les Aspin, chairman of the US president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, who falsely characterized Pollard as a "traitor"?

"If Jonathan is a "traitor," that makes Israel an enemy of the U.S. !"

She sees this charge of treason, for which he did not stand trial, as a continuation of former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger's policy of turning Israel into an enemy.

She says the timing of Clinton's refusal to commute Pollard's sentence was a slap in the face. "It was Erev Pessah. The eve of our festival of freedom ... It was very symbolic".

She is in almost daily phone contact with Pollard. "I know it sounds as if things aren't all that bad if we can speak on the phone, but you have to understand the circumstances. There are two phones for 200 men and he has to wait in line for his turn. There are also very strict regulations about the times you can approach the phones. Jonathan is working 12 to 14 hours a day in a very oppressive factory. So although it sounds simple, it isn't. Every call requires him to be in line in the hours when he's not working".

His dependency on the calls makes him vulnerable as deprivation is constantly used as a punishment, she says. "Especially whenever I'm being particularly vocal. They find ways of closing down the phone connection".

The cost of the long-distance calls and the travel expenses place an added burden on the financially strapped couple. Zeitz- Pollard flies from Toronto to visit North Carolina as often as she is allowed on a prisoner's points system, usually once a month. She cannot move nearer because of her job at a center for children with learning disabilities.

Far from finding that the difficulties strain the unusual marriage, she says she feels "infinitely strengthened by the relationship" both personally and as a married couple.

She knows that there will be different challenges to the marriage when Pollard is released, but feels confident they will overcome them together and start a new life in Jerusalem.

"There are forces that want me silenced. But I can tell you: I won't be silenced until my husband is released".