B'sheva Interview: The G-d of Israel Will Free Jonathan
Part One of a Two Part Special Report
Ofra Lax - B'sheva News Magazine - April 16, 2003
[Translated from Hebrew by J4JP]
Esther Pollard gave me a pile of background articles to read as a condition for agreeing to interview with me. Even after I did as she asked, she still was not enthusiastic about meeting. Something I said in the wrong tone of voice and a question that I asked in one of our earlier conversations nearly caused the interview to be canceled. I had to explain myself over and over again, and that I have no other agenda than to bring the story of Jonathan Pollard to the public, to get Esther to reconsider and agree to do the interview. Even so, she promised herself - with Jonathan's encouragement - that this would be her last interview.
For Esther and Jonathan life is not easy. Not only because he is a prisoner serving an unlimited life sentence; and not because of the long years spent battling the American justice system. Rather, what hurts the two of them most is the sense of betrayal that they carry with them every single day. The betrayal by the State of Israel, which is not doing anything for Jonathan; the betrayal by the establishment which time and time again keeps silencing and burying the Pollard issue; and the betrayal by the media that enables both the Government and the establishment to camouflage their lack of initiative. These are the bitter herbs that the Pollards have been fed for so long, that have made Esther so tough and so mistrustful.
ESTHER POLLARD: When the FBI was about to arrest Jonathan, he sought refuge in the Israeli Embassy, as he had been instructed to do by his handlers. The first words he was greeted with at the Embassy were: 'Welcome home!' Embassy staff then contacted Jerusalem and got the order to throw Jonathan out. There are two entrances to the Israeli Embassy in Washington: a back entrance with a driveway; and a front entrance for pedestrians. Jonathan had entered through the back. After speaking with Jerusalem, the Embassy official told Jonathan that he must go outside and come back in the front door. Jonathan said, 'But you know what is waiting for me outside!' The official nodded his head. Jonathan said, 'You know what they are going to do to me!' The Israeli official began to cry. With tears in his eyes, he threw Jonathan out.
NOT THE BEHAVIOR OF A SOVEREIGN STATE
It is not easy for Esther to speak. As she does, she sighs deeply, "I am not speaking about interesting recipes, or how to grow plants in your garden. This is our life."
Before every holiday, and now for Passover, Jonathan receives many greeting cards. He receives cards from Members of Knesset and from Ministers wishing him a happy holiday. Esther and Jonathan do not appreciate these cards. They see them as a badge of shame for those officials who send them. "They send cards and blessings. But make no effort to help and take no action to secure Jonathan's release," says Esther.
Last year 110 Members of Knesset signed a letter calling on George Bush to free Jonathan. They entrusted the letter to Ariel Sharon to deliver it personally to the American President. Reliable sources in Washington informed the Pollards that Sharon handed the letter to a low level clerk in Condoleeza Rice's office, not to the President. Since then, no Member of Knesset has ever bothered to check on the status of the letter or to inquire as to why there has been no response from the President.
B'SHEVA: Why aren't the Ministers and M.K.s working for Jonathan's release?
ESTHER POLLARD: The one who might best answer that question is Ariel Sharon. His attitude towards Jonathan is as if Jonathan were already dead, G-d forbid.
B'SHEVA: But we are not just talking about Sharon.
ESTHER POLLARD: True. But he is the address. As long as Sharon does not want Jonathan out of prison, the Americans will continue to do his bidding. Sharon has never denied telling Rechavam Ze'evi that the only way he is interested in bringing Jonathan home is in a coffin (G-d forbid). In fact he has never even bothered to respond.
B'SHEVA: But what about the M.K.s and the Ministers?
ESTHER POLLARD: As far as the various officials go, each has his own personal motivations. But concerning those who actively threw Jonathan into the pit 18 years ago, they are all still around, still running the Government or its various agencies; they have simply changed hats.
B'SHEVA: Also Sharon?
ESTHER POLLARD: Certainly. According to reliable sources in the U.S., Sharon was involved up to his eyeballs in Jonathan's operation. They tell us he ran the operation and Rafi Eitan, his close friend, was just his cover. Apparently Sharon does not want anyone to know that he was ever involved in espionage in the United States.
B'SHEVA: But running an agent is legitimate. We run agents there. They run agents here. Isn't that the way it goes?
ESTHER POLLARD: In a sovereign state it is a routine matter. But in Israel we do not behave like a sovereign state. What sovereign state betrays her own agent? What sovereign state hands over the documents to incriminate her own agent? What sovereign state does not fight for her own agent?
THE ISRAELIS ARE NOT HELPING, ON THE CONTRARY
B'SHEVA: The Americans were unusually cruel to your husband. They imposed an unprecedented and grossly disproportionate sentence upon him and subjected him to very harsh conditions. Why were they so hard on him?
ESTHER POLLARD: At that time the U.S. was covertly arming Iraq and no one knew. But Jonathan's operation threatened to expose this dirty secret, so they decided to bury him alive.
B'SHEVA: And to this day, they still hold it against him?
ESTHER POLLARD: The plan was for him to die in prison, but he did not cooperate.
B'SHEVA: Are there any people in the American administration that do support Jonathan?
ESTHER POLLARD: Not long ago, I had a series of meetings with certain U.S. Senators who are known to be strong friends of Israel. One morning I met with a long-term senior Senator. He listened with great interest and then he said, "There is one thing that troubles me. I am not familiar with your husband or his story. In all my years on the Hill not a single Israeli official, nor any American Jewish leader has ever mentioned your husband's name to me. So it surprises me that you say that this is an issue that many people care about. I would like to help you, but as long as Jewish leaders are not interested, there is nothing I can do."
That afternoon, I met with another senior Senator. He told me, "Mrs. Pollard, I used to support your husband's release, I no longer do." By the way, this Senator is a former head of the Judiciary Committee. He has seen Jonathan's secret file. He knows that there is nothing in it to justify the Draconian sentence Jonathan is serving.
The Senator then added that he meets with Israeli/Jewish leaders all the time and that they tell him NOT to get involved in my husband's case, to leave him where he is! I tried to reason with the Senator. I came with a copy of the Knesset letter signed by 110 MKs and with Jonathan's newest legal documents. I explained to him how Jonathan had been deprived of his constitutional rights and how his sentence had been unjustly obtained, and would he please help, if for no other reason than for the sake of the integrity of the American system of justice? He replied, "I am sorry to see you in such anguish, but until Israel and the Jewish Community become involved there is nothing I can do."
B'SHEVA: Why isn't the American Jewish Community doing anything for Jonathan?
ESTHER POLLARD: The main reason may originally have been fear of charges of dual loyalty. However, you have to understand that 18 years ago, 6 days after Jonathan was sentenced to an unjust life sentence, the president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sent a letter to then U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. The letter expressed the support of the Jewish Community for the punishment which had just been meted out to Jonathan Pollard and promised never to intervene on his behalf.
B'SHEVA: But that was the cowardice of 18 years ago.
ESTHER POLLARD: Nothing has changed since then. The American Jewish leaders have kept their promise not to help Jonathan. Year after year the American leaders are invited to the White House for various meetings with the President, sometimes to commemorate Jewish holidays. In 18 years, the issue of Jonathan Pollard has never been on the official agenda of any of these meetings. Never. Even during unofficial meetings with the President, any time there is a chance to raise the issue of Jonathan, they never do. The same Jewish leaders who opened doors for Avital Sharansky during her struggle for her husband are the ones that slam the doors in my face.
I ALWAYS LOVED HIM
Our conversation is carried on in Hebrew. But when Esther is particularly troubled by a subject she sometimes switches to English for a sentence or two. She is an attractive woman; the cancer which she has beaten and the hardships she has been through do not show on her face. As we speak, the protective layers are slowly peeled away revealing the soft side of her personality and her vulnerability.
B'SHEVA: How did you meet Jonathan?
ESTHER POLLARD: I met him in 1971. We were both very young. We were participating in summer programs in Israel. We had a lot in common, our great love for the land and people of Israel.
Suddenly, Esther's cell phone rings. "It's Jonathan!" she announces excitedly. She tells him that she is doing an interview right now, and he responds that she does not have to do it. The two of them have begun to feel that newspaper articles are no longer of any use. The relationship between Esther and Jonathan is very deep. No outsider would have discerned from Esther's voice that she was not happy about doing the interview but even in the brief time that they spoke, Jonathan did. Their visits are not private nor are their phone calls; but just the sound of each others' voice conveys a lot.
We continue our conversation. Her voice has become soft and dreamy:
ESTHER POLLARD: At the end of the summer, Jonathan returned to the U.S. and I returned to Canada, and we lost contact. Many years later I read a small notice in a newspaper about a Jewish prisoner in the U.S. The notice asked people to write to him, saying that he derives strength from this. I did not realize who he was, the name did not ring a bell. But I decided I would write to this prisoner, even though I had no idea of what he had done. Later Jonathan told me that he received my letter at U.S.P. Marion, where he was held in solitary confinement, three stories underground, behind 13 locks and keys. At Marion he was limited as to the number of letters he was allowed to mail. When he received my letter, he had only 2 stamps left and many letters to mail. In all the years Jonathan has never allowed himself to correspond for pleasure. All of his writing has always centered on efforts to secure his release. But this one time, he used his last 2 stamps to respond to me. He sent me two envelopes. One contained a personal letter. The other had information about the case. Apparently I was supposed to first read the personal letter and then the information, but I did not notice the numbers on the envelopes and I opened the one containing the information first. What I read shocked me deeply; it was hard to believe that something like this could happen in the United States of America. Then I opened the second envelope. Jonathan's personal letter also surprised me. It was amazing that a man who had been though what Jonathan had been through could write with such deep love for the land and people of Israel. I felt as if he were reading my mind, and expressing my own thoughts about the land and our people. I was deeply touched.
I can't say that there was ever a specific moment that I fell in love with Jonathan. I always loved him. Right from the start it was very clear to both of us.
People ask me how it is that I could give up my life for Jonathan. I didn't give up my life for him; he is my life! He is so great... Whatever you may have heard about him that is good, is nothing compared to how truly wonderful he is. He is gentle, kind, sensitive, generous, caring, understanding, giving, and absolutely brilliant.
PRISON IN THE U.S. - NOT LIKE IN ISRAEL
B'SHEVA: What can you tell us about Jonathan's life in prison?
ESTHER POLLARD: It is not like in Israel. In Israel conditions are far more humanitarian. In the U.S. it is completely different.
B'SHEVA: For example?
Esther chooses her words carefully. She clearly does not want to criticize the prison where her husband is currently held, but at the same time tries to explain the difference.
ESTHER POLLARD: In Israel, prisoner furloughs are common. In 18 years, Jonathan has never once had a furlough, not even to attend his mother's funeral. Unlike in Israel, there is no possibility for an American prisoner to ever be alone with his wife or to bring children into the world. Sitting in a common visit-room shared by all the inmates, we have to create our own little island of privacy even as we are surrounded by murderers, rapists and thieves. Again, unlike Israeli prisons, I am not allowed to bring Jonathan anything. He is not allowed to read or write or speak in Hebrew. He cannot receive Hebrew books. Of course he does not receive kosher food. This is not a commentary on the particular prison Jonathan is in. It is just the way that things are in the U.S.
When Jonathan was first sentenced, he was sent to a prison medical facility in Springfield, Illinois and housed in a ward for the criminally insane. He was held there for a year, naked, deprived of his clothing and his glasses, and subjected to very harsh conditions and freezing cold temperatures. He was not a patient. This treatment was intended to break his spirit. Once a month the FBI would send agents to the facility to see Jonathan. They would throw a blanket over him to cover his nakedness and they would show him a list of American Jewish leaders. They told him to place an "x" beside any name on the list as his co-conspirator and that would be his ticket out of Springfield and to a normal prison. But Jonathan refused to name anyone. He upheld his principles, protecting all of the same Jewish leaders who completely turned their backs on him.
FIGHTING THE SLANDER AS WELL
Over the years Esther and Jonathan have also been forced to fight slander and falsehood. According to Esther this has been a well-orchestrated and carefully directed campaign of lies and slander intended to sabotage any possibility of Jonathan being released from prison. Lies about Jonathan's stability even influenced those who worked for him tirelessly from the start:
ESTHER POLLARD: Months before Rechavam Ze'evi finally got to meet Jonathan in person, I was sitting in his office and my phone rang. It was Jonathan. I handed the phone to Rechavam. He listened to Jonathan and he became so excited he nearly fainted. He got off the phone and he exclaimed, "Wow! He is so focused, so clear, so brilliant! He expresses himself so well!" I asked him. "What did you expect?" He answered, "Esther, in all of these years I have never spoken with him before, so I didn't know. Because of all the rumors, I thought that maybe it was true that all the years in solitary had taken their toll."
Another lie that the Pollards have had to fight is the claim that Jonathan was a mercenary who gave Israel information for a price. The truth is just the opposite. It was Israel that insisted that Jonathan stop transferring information gratis as a volunteer and that he become a bona fide Israeli agent in all respects.
After the legal battle that forced Israel to stop the charade that it had assumed after his arrest and to recognize him as an Israeli agent in 1998, Esther and Jonathan hoped that they would not be forced to endure any more lies about money. To their dismay this was not the case.
ESTHER POLLARD: "They (the Israeli Government) know how much damage this does to Jonathan in the U.S., but they still continue these lies. About a year ago they leaked a story to the media via Dani Naveh's office that Jonathan received a million dollars from the Government of Israel. Of course it did not happen. It was not true. But they publicized that the money was given to us, and to this day it is still causing us problems. Aside from the legal implications and the life and death problems this creates for Jonathan in prison, we hear all the time, "what do you have to complain about? You're getting lots of money!" Even my mother's neighbors in Montreal tell her, "What's the problem? Your daughter and her husband are being well-taken care of by Israel!" You should know, Jonathan and I do not receive a cent from the State of Israel, and in all these years we have never received a cent."
B'SHEVA: So what do you live on? And where do you live?
ESTHER POLLARD: I am like a driven leaf. I don't live here and I don't live there. As long as Jonathan is in prison I have no place. I can't live in Jerusalem. We don't have the money for that. When I am here, I stay with a kindly widow who has offered me a room in her house. I worked for many years, but we have burned through my savings and used up all of my pension. We have a few friends, not wealthy, and they help us out from time to time. It is not easy.
NO FAITH IN MAN
The great optimism of Jonathan and Esther resides in their complete faith in the power of the Almighty. They hold no similar brief for flesh and blood. They feel that after nearly 2 decades of trying to engage Israel and the Jewish people in a fight that is far larger than the fate of just one man, they have had it. "We have done whatever we can. There is not a door that we left untried, and we have tried over and over again." Both have despaired of the State of Israel ever doing anything to help Jonathan. Also the nation does not understand the opposition to Jonathan's release that exists at the top levels of the Israeli establishment. "It is not that we have come to this conclusion," says Esther, "Anyone who is aware of what is going on, sees the handwriting on the wall. It is very blatant. One would have to be blind or completely retarded not to see how Israel's on-going failure to secure Jonathan's release is calculated."
B'SHEVA: What needs to happen for Jonathan to be released?
ESTHER POLLARD: Within the framework of the very deep and complex relationship that Israel has with the United States, every single day new opportunities arise for Israel to secure Jonathan's release. Look, for example, at the current war with Iraq. Sharon claims that he will respond if we are attacked but it's clear that he has already received his marching orders from the U.S. for Israel to sit still. What did he ask for in return for this cooperation? Nothing!
"This is a repeat of what happened in 1991 when Israel should have demanded Jonathan's release. After all it was only thanks to Jonathan that Israel was prepared for the Gulf War. Israel could have insisted that the U.S. release Jonathan and should have demanded, 'How could you have blind-sided us this way?!'
"As soon as Israel starts to behave like a sovereign nation and begins to take care of her own interests, and starts to fear G-d instead of the nations, we will no longer have to live in fear of the U.S. and the European Union. Given the current state of affairs in this country, I hold out very little hope of this happening any time soon."
Esther shows me a letter that Jonathan has written to Member of Knesset Uri Ariel in which he uses very strong language against Ariel, the Knesset and the political establishment. Jonathan wrote this letter to Ariel after receiving a number of letters from Ariel which detail all of Ariel's political activities as an M.K. and which do not relate to Jonathan's case at all. MK Ariel always took care to end each letter reminding Jonathan to be strong and telling him that he was continuing to fight for him. But when Ariel was in the U.S. he never even visited Jonathan. The only time he applied for a visit was as an afterthought and it was too late to arrange the clearances needed. In his letter, Jonathan asks Ariel to stop sending him letters and refers to the Knesset in the most derogatory terms.
Esther explains: The message of the letter was not intended just for Uri Ariel but for the entire political establishment: "Stop! All of you, stop! Stop sending me greeting cards and foolish messages and do something!" What Jonathan is going through now is the same sort of crisis I am experiencing. Enough! I don't have to spend my whole life explaining the same things over and over and over again about a case that literally screams to the Heavens. How many times do we have to keep telling the same story over and over again? If after 18 years the Israeli establishment still doesn't get it, and still has not deigned to lift a finger to help us, then there is no point in expecting that they ever will. All that remains for us now is simply to tell the truth. The way it is. And if that is unpleasant or uncomfortable for anyone, that is too bad.
B'SHEVA: But it is hard. After all you still have to work with these people.
ESTHER POLLARD: No. That phase is over. We no longer expect anything from them. How long do think we are going to continue chasing after Prime Ministers, one after another? We have done so for 18 years, all to no avail. It is enough.
On December 3rd of this past year, I met with Bibi Netanyahu. He suggested setting up a meeting for me and Jonathan's attorney and HaRav Eliyahu with Prime Minister Sharon. We agreed. He called the P.M.'s office to arrange it. The P.M.'s office agreed and said they would get in touch with us to arrange a date and time. Four months later we are still waiting for the P.M.'s office to be back in touch with us. If they ever call, we will meet with Sharon, because we always do our 'hishtadlut', but we certainly are not chasing after him.
Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. We are at the end. We no longer have any patience for this. G-d graciously gave Israel a very long period of time in which to wake up and to do tshuva. The minute that we as a nation do right by redeeming Jonathan we will also know how to redeem ourselves. When we allowed the Government to abandon one, we set the paradigm for the Government to abandon us all. It started with the abandonment of Jonathan, and then became the abandonment of soldiers and then of settlements, and today an ordinary citizen can no longer walk safely in the street. We are all hefker. If we allow this attitude to continue, we are all in jeopardy.
TAKING IT ONE DAY AT A TIME
B'SHEVA: What can a private citizen do to help Jonathan?
ESTHER POLLARD: First of all, people have to wake up and to understand that what threatens Jonathan, threatens us all. Once they know the story, they have to make sure that others know it as well. Because more than anything else, the government does not want Jonathan's story to be known. Even the chief rabbis - who are paid by the Government - refuse to help. They would not even include Jonathan in the public prayers for the M.I.A.s and captives. Everyone should include Jonathan's name, Yehonatan Ben Malka, in prayers for the M.I.A.s and captives in their synagogue. Women should pray for Jonathan when they light the Sabbath candles.
B'SHEVA: Do you know that there are some people who are fasting for Jonathan and others who are gathering signatures on petitions?
ESTHER POLLARD: Let me explain something. Every single positive action is counted in Heaven, so far be it from me to tell anyone not to do something or not to try. Every effort is important. But here we are in a State where millions of people have signed petitions imploring the Government not to divide Jerusalem, not to go down from the Golan, and not to give away our homeland, and Government after Government simply ignores them. So I would not advise people to put too much faith in petitions or demonstrations. Similarly, I would not advise 5 people to hold a demonstration. More important to find five more and to hold a minyan to pray for Jonathan. A permanent minyan for him.
When one tries to raise public consciousness, the goal is to bring the issue to the attention of the powers-that-be so that they can galvanize public support and move the issue forward. But in Jonathan's case, it has been our experience that the opposite is what occurs. The more that public consciousness is raised on the issue, the harder the establishment works to dissipate it. Instead of helping, they leak some bogus story to the media which insists that Jonathan is a hopeless case and that it is impossible to free him. People become discouraged and the activity dies down again.
B'SHEVA: Do you believe that Jonathan will be free?
ESTHER POLLARD: Certainly! The G-d of Israel - the true redeemer of prisoners - will free him.
B'SHEVA: So what keeps you going in your day to day struggle?
ESTHER POLLARD: Let me explain it this way: I paid a shiva call to a mother who had just lost her son. A devastating tragedy. She said to me: "Esther, I feel as if I am wearing a very heavy mask. I do not know what I am going to do when all the people leave, and the mask comes off. How will I ever manage to go on? I told her: You will go on, the same way that we go on. The goal is to get through one single day at a time. If you can make it through one day then you go on to do the same thing again the next day and the next. The weeks will take care of themselves. So will the months and the years. The goal is Kiddush Hashem, today. Just one day at a time.
B'SHEVA: Does Jonathan have plans for after he is released?
ESTHER POLLARD: Yes. All of his plans are to help Israel. He has come up with technology which will free Israel from dependence on other countries in the areas of water and energy.
B'SHEVA: Do you intend to live in Israel when he goes free?
ESTHER POLLARD: Yes. Jonathan has devoted his life to our nation; there is nowhere else for us but here. When we considered this question, I must admit we went through some very difficult moments. I would be lying to you if I tried to deny it. But we are able differentiate between Medinat Israel (the State of Israel) and Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), the eternal inheritance of the Jewish people.
AND LIFE GOES ON AS USUAL
Esther will continue to go to the Kotel and to Kever Rachel every day to pray. She'll continue to make her several-times-monthly visits to Maraht HaMachpela. She will continue her work on the Justice for Jonathan Pollard web site, writing, supervising and publishing information in English and in Russian to both inform and awaken the nation. She will continue to work to bring Jonathan home, as she puts it, in spite of the Government of Israel. Every so often she will also get on a plane and go and see her husband.
Jonathan will continue to suffer from Anti-Semitism and from the rigors of prison life. He will continue to pray for the victims of Arab terror and for his people, and he will continue to design technology to help his nation.
As for the rest of us, we will continue at the end of a day's work to go home to our bright homes and families surrounded by the usual turmoil and workaday worries....
J4JP Note: B'SHEVA News Magazine is a Hebrew language weekly news magazine published in Israel and affiliated with Arutz7 Israel National News.