Not very long ago, it seem to Jonathan Pollard that it was over: the Prime Minister Shimon Peres came to Washington, was received like a king, and overnight became the best friend of Bill Clinton. Clinton called him "my courageous partner in peace". Hundreds of congressmen stood and applauded.
Peres, as promised, took up the issue of Pollard with Clinton. Considering the circumstances, and the atmosphere, it seemed as if this time even the most bitter opponents of Pollard would forego their acrimony, which they raise every time there is some chance of clemency for Pollard.
Even at the prison in Butner, where Pollard has spent the last few years, they sensed which way the wind was blowing. Pollard was summoned by the authorities and assured that in the event of clemency or commutation of his sentence, they would expedite the process of releasing him. "You can leave the same day, without any problems," they assured him.
Pollard was asked to choose two things to take with him when he was released. Prison rules would allow him to take two items with him, and the rest of his belongings would be sent to him in a longer process of release.
"I'll take my Siddur (prayer book) and a picture of my wife, declared Pollard, and he continued to await the long hoped-for announcement.
He is still waiting. The announcement never came. Clinton still hasn't given an official response yet, but the chances that he will show clemency to Pollard are zero. It seems that America, a mighty nation, liberal and generally tolerant, takes special pleasure in the tragedy of Jonathan Pollard.
The man is languishing in prison more than 10 years? - So what? He probably deserves it! The man is ill, and suffering from sever rheumatoid arthritis? - Never mind! The man wants to start a family, to have children, and the biological clock is ticking for him and his wife? - What a pity, really.
What gives the Pollards not a moment's peace is the name, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Schwartz, who is an officer in the American Navy. The story of Michael Schwartz is particularly aggravating to Pollard and his supporters because it proves that when the Americans want to, they know how to be "compassionate".
Schwartz, a native of El Paso, Texas, served as an officer at the American Navy training base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was caught passing classified information to Saudi naval officers, which included daily intelligence reports files, computer discs, intelligence analyses, and various classified documents.
Schwartz was caught by one of his own command, and an official investigation was launched by the Navy. At the conclusion of the investigation, the recommendation was to bring him to a military trail (court martial). Even the date for his trial was set, November 14, 1995.
However, suddenly, for some wonderous reason, the Navy backed down from its decision to have Schwartz stand trial. He co-operated with the investigators - so it is told - admitted to some of the charges, and at the same time "agreed" to accept an amazing punishment. This is the punishment American Naval Officer Michael Schwartz received: namely, his discharge from the navy, and loss of rank and navy pension. Indeed. Just awful.
Schwartz served in the Navy for 15 years. Among other things, he took part in the Gulf War. Ever since his arrest, Schwartz has, all along, been treated with kid gloves. He was caught sometime in May 1995. The official investigation, after appointing his attorney and jurors, was set for the beginning of June, but then delayed until the 21st of July at his attorney's request to "study the charges."
Then the investigation was delayed once again to the month of August by the judge who wished to "study the facts of the case". Next came the recommendation of the chief investigator that Schwartz stand trial, and following rapidly on its heels came the sudden and swift pardon.
The American Navy relayed that Schwartz apparently did not derive financial benefit from the Saudis. They further relayed that he was simply "trying to be nice to his host". Sure. A kind and generous Jew, that Michael Schwartz.
Wrong! Schwartz is not a Jew, in spite of his name. Pollard's sources say that had Schwartz been a Jew, and had he acted on behalf of Israel, he probably would be sitting behind bars now, while the U.S. once again re-evaluated its strategic relationship with Israel. Just like when Pollard was arrested.
Another astonishing phenomenon is the way the American media has dealt with the case. Yes, there have been articles here and there. Mainly reports from the various news agencies. And that's it. Where was the outcry against Saudi ingratitude for running an American spy a mere year and a half after America saved them from the claws of Saddam Hussein? Where was the demand that the U.S. re-evaluate its strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia? And especially, where was Schwartz anyway? Home with the wife and kids.
No less astonishing is the question of where is Israel? Knesset Member Limor Livnat last month addressed a question to the the Deputy Minister of Defense Ori Orr, asking if the name or the case of Michael Schwartz is known to the Israeli Intelligence Services. Orr checked and answered Livnat with a straight face: "We've never heard of him", he reported from the Knesset podium.
The writer of this article even asked the Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Professor Itamar Rabinovitch, the same question. Rabinovitch as well has never heard of Schwartz at all.
How can that be? Pollard himself says that there is no doubt that the material that Schwartz passed to the Saudis included no small amount of intelligence information on Israel. After all, the American Navy which has ships in the Persian Gulf and in the Mediterranean Sea maintains a heavy presence in the middle east, and relies heavily upon Israel.
Where is the Israeli Intelligence Services? How is it possible that a case of espionage that was exposed in the American media and published by news agencies and newspapers such as The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, isn't known at all to the Israeli Intelligence Services, or to its officials? Don't the people in the Mossad or the G.S.S. read newspapers? Or is someone - on Israel's side - trying to hide, cover up, or ignore the Michael Schwartz case?
In the meantime, everyone is trying to cover up the fact that Pollard even exists. Every time a question is asked about Pollard, it causes the face of the official being asked - regardless of whether it is an American official or an Israeli official - to register anger and disapproval.
The Americans are using a deny and delay tactic. "Pollard's request for clemency still has not arrived at the President's desk," was relayed by his entourage and by Vice President Al Gore this week. A similar response was heard from President Clinton himself during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Peres in Washington.
The next day, Ma'ariv published the request for clemency which had been sent some time before to Margaret Love, who heads the department responsible for White House Presidential Pardons. Confirmation of receipt of the request, which had been sent by fax and by registered mail, had been received, as requested.
So what is Mrs. Love doing with the request? Is it rotting, hidden away in some obscure place, like Pollard himself? Or is it being passed quickly from person to person like some kind of hot potato? The people at the White House know the answer.
"A Terrible Mistake"
This week Knesset Member Arik Sharon raised the issued in his own inimitable style. At a meeting of Knesset Foreign & Intelligence Committee, which was discussing a private members' bill which was raised by M.K. Limor Livnat, Sharon interjected, cutting off all discussion, and declared, "The National Unity Government put Pollard in prison!"
Sharon was referring to the Government headed by Shimon Peres in which Yitzhak Shamir held the post of Foreign Minister and Yitzhak Rabin was Minister of Defense. Before the committee members could regain their composure and restore order, Sharon continued saying: "Yitzhak Shamir said, at the time when the Americans were asking for the material Pollard had passed, 'The State has to know how to sacrifice a man'."
In Sharon's own words, when the request for the material Pollard had passed came before the cabinet, he had stormed and warned that they would be handing over a life sentence to Pollard if they complied. "Never has any serious effort been made to free Pollard," Sharon continued to fire. "The ultimate responsibility for his plight rests squarely upon Primer Minister Peres, and the one who was then Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir." Shamir, incidentally, denies everything.
As fate would have it, it was Foreign Minister Ehud Barak who was forced to answer Sharon, and to defend the government. Barak, by the way, enjoys a relatively honorable standing with the Pollards and those close to them, as the official who helped to expedite granting citizenship to Jonathan Pollard, and who avoided being swayed by irrelevant (political)* considerations.
None of this is anything new, and it has all been published before on these pages, - but Sharon raised the issue again, in his own distinctive manner, and put it back on a front burner.
The next day, Amnon Dror (former)* head of the (now defunct)* Public Committee for Pollard, hurried to release this statement to Ma'ariv: "There is no doubt that the decision of the government at the time, to hand over to the American prosecutors the documents that Jonathan Pollard had passed to Israel, was a terrible mistake, and beyond comprehension. It was done, almost certainly, out of fear that a crises might occur in relations between the two countries."
Dror says that he has, over time, done extensive research on the matter, and has found that in the history of modern espionage, there is no precedent for any nation ever handing over evidence to the prosecutors of another nation as a gesture of good will - especially classified material given over by an agent, which then led to the indictment and severe punishment of that agent.
"There is no doubt that without the documents Israel handed over, the American prosecutors had very little evidence upon which to indict Pollard," says Dror. "Therefore, the State of Israel has an absolute obligation, morally, to do everything it can to effect his release."
The rotten seed was planted even before Israel turned over the documents to the Americans. "I don't understand why they threw him out of the Embassy," a Foreign Ministry official who was involved in the affair told Ma'Ariv not long ago. "If they had given him refuge and brought him home to Israel, the Americans might have sounded off a bit; there'd have been a crises for a few months; but then the whole thing would have blown over. But the consternation, the panic, the fear, and the total self-degradation were so overwhelming that the government lost all self-control, and look what happened."
Jonathan Pollard spent last weekend with his wife, Esther, who came to Butner for her monthly visit. The Pollards are outraged. Every time it seems like Pollard is scraping the bottom of the barrel, along comes reality and smacks him in the face.
This week Pollard decided to take the gloves off. He and his wife are convinced that the key is with Shimon Peres, and Shimon Peres alone. Everything depends, they say, on the way and the manner in which the government will demand his release.
"I am an Israeli citizen now," says Pollard, "I have rights. Including, for example, an official visit in prison."
Not along ago, Pollard extended (via this writer) an official request to receive a visit from Israel's ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovitch. Rabinovitch's response (he said that Pollard's father Dr. Morris Pollard should remake the request in Jonathan's name) enraged Pollard. "I have submitted official requests on numerous occasions to receive an official visit in prison, and the Ambassador is fully aware," said Jonathan.
But Rabinovitch is not to blame. His orders come directly from Jerusalem, and they are unequivocal. Since the granting of Israeli citizenship, for which the Pollards credit Ehud Barak, not a single thing has happened to advance the case. What should happen?
Pollard: "A very simple thing. Shimon Peres has to stand up and publicly declare in a loud and clear voice that he is demanding my release. That the ends of justice have been served. That an Israeli Citizen has sat in prison for 11 years for an offence that is deemed to carry a sentence of 5-7 years maximum, according to the American system of justice. And that Israel will not accept any response other than my immediate release."
Pollard, who feels he no longer has anything to lose, says, "I am very disappointed in Shimon Peres. What is happening is a fraud. If Mr. Peres cannot secure my release from Israel's greatest ally, what can he do? How is it possible to make arrangements with the Americans to guarantee Israel's security when I - whose only reason for acting was Israel's security - continue to sit in an American prison."
"This must not be allowed to continue for even one moment longer!" he declares, "Enough is enough! If Mr. Peres won't make a public statement, it shows a lack of will. It confirms every word that Arik Sharon said this week. I wasn't just abandoned then, the abandonment continues to this very day!"
"I am appealing directly to Prime Minister Shimon Peres now. Not as a leader. Not as a politician. But man to man. As a challenge directly from me to him. Put an end to this injustice! Now! If you want to, you can!"
In the meantime, Pollard continues to suffer from severe rheumatoid arthritis, probably chronic. His attorneys, Larry Dub and Gidi Frishtik are fighting to obtain his medical records. From a look at the kinds of medication he has been given it is clear that his condition is not good. He has had steroid treatments, suffers from terrible side-effects, and the unrelenting pressure that he is constantly under has turned the situation into a nightmare.
"Very shortly," says attorney Gidi Frishtik, "we are going to stop being good little children." Frishtik is referring to plans for demonstrations to be held in Israel, every time an American official sets foot in this country. Plans to harass the American ambassador, Martin Indyk, (who also has been ducking providing any answers). Plans to go after the Government. And plans to start a huge grassroots citizens' movement - which they hope - will be joined by all citizens who care. The warmth and encouragement that the Pollards received from the tens of thousands of people who saw the play "Pollard" at the Cameri Theatre, is encouraging to his supporters, and it is this broad-based public support that they are counting on to fuel the activities that are being planned.
The time has come, say Pollard's supporters, for the State of Israel to start treating Pollard as a hostage, as one who was left behind the lines, as an Israeli soldier who is MISSING IN ACTION. Not behind closed doors. Not in backrooms. But openly, publicly, and in a loud voice.
* Translator's clarification