Jonathan Pollard, a former civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, who sacrificed his freedom in order to pass vital intelligence information to Israel, has languished in U.S. prisons for more than 18 years, and we remain silent. While there are thousands of grassroots supporters who care about Pollard's freedom, to compare them to the vast majority whose silence and inaction has allowed the Government of Israel and American Jewish leaders to completely abandon him, is like comparing a trickle of water with a mighty and stormy river that sweeps away everything it encounters.
Pollard's plight is reminiscent of a beautiful story about a young man named Danko, written by the famous Russian writer Maxim Gorky. It speaks of a tribe of strong men who were forced by their enemies to retreat into the depths of an old dark forest filled with swamps. Every day weakened their faith, and they were on the verge of surrendering to their enemy in despair for their lives, ready to live in slavery.
Danko loved his people very much. He knew that there must be a way out of the dark and hostile forest, and he bravely led the people deeper inside. But soon they started to grumble. Fueled by fear and darkness, frustration and anger grew among them. Danko looked at the people and saw only hatred in their faces, and the flame of desire to save them flared up in his heart.
"This flame of love for his people became stronger and stronger, and suddenly, overpowering the sound of thunder, Danko exclaimed: 'What shall I do for my people?' And he tore apart his chest and tore out his heart and raised it high over his head. It blazed like the sun, even brighter than the sun, and the forest, stunned by this overwhelming love for the people, became quiet (1)".
Danko ran forward, holding high his burning heart, lighting the road for the people, and they rushed after him. Suddenly, the forest ended, and they emerged into an ocean of sunshine and fresh air, cleansed by the rain. Danko looked at the free land, laughed proudly and fell dead. And the happy people, filled with great hopes and expectations, did not even notice Danko's death and did not see that next to his body his brave heart still burned brightly. Only one person noticed it, and fearing something, stomped on the proud heart and extinguished its flame.
The flame of love for Israel was burning brightly in Jonathan Pollard's heart when he decided to tear his chest apart - to violate American law - in order to warn Israel of a threat to its very existence: the buildup of unconventional weapons of war by Iraq, Egypt, Syria and other Arab states for use against Israel. Pollard warned Israel about Saddam Hussein who, covertly aided by the US, had secretly amassed an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons for use against the Jewish State.
Pollard was well aware that according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel, the Jewish state was supposed to have access to U.S. intelligence information vital to Israel's security. But because of an undeclared embargo of intelligence information imposed by American officials opposed to the US-Israel special relationship, information about Saddam Hussein and WMD in Iraq and neighboring Arab States was being deliberately withheld from Israel.
Pollard did everything he could to get this vital information released to the Jewish state through the usual legal channels, appealing all the way up the chain of command to the Pentagon. All of his efforts to restore the flow of legal information to Israel were in vain.
One should step in Pollard's shoes and feel his exasperation when time and again he felt as if he was knocking his head against a concrete wall, after seeing how the American side avoided fulfilling its obligations. Angelo M. Codevilla, professor of international relations at Boston University, formerly a Foreign Service Officer, and a staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote on December 8, 2000,
"Pollard illegally provided to our Israeli allies mostly what they had officially received from the US government prior to the US government's anger over Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor. I know what Israel was denied because the then Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, Admiral Inman, explained it to me in detail. The list of Pollard's give-aways matches that intelligence very closely (2)".
Pollard witnessed "firsthand how Admiral Bobby Ray Inman had instituted an undeclared intelligence embargo against Israel in retaliation for her having attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak" (3). Pollard began to realize that the withholding of information from Israel was turning into a betrayal by America of her most devoted ally. It is apparently only then, after exhausting "his best efforts to get the flow of vital security information to Israel restored through legal channels" (3) that Pollard decided to act on his own.
We must remember that Pollard intended no harm to the U.S. After making the decision to help Israel and getting in touch with the Israelis, he insisted that he would not divulge information related to US national security. Pollard flatly rejected attempts by General Rafael Eitan [who was leading the Israeli contacts with Pollard] to obtain certain information that he considered to be in this category. Even Eitan's threats of recrimination did not force Pollard to depart from his moral position. What can be better proof of that, than the charges that were brought against him? He was never indicted for harming the United States. He was never indicted for compromising codes, agents and war plans. He was never charged with treason. As his lawyer, Eliot Lauer explains, "He was only charged with a conspiracy to commit espionage, but not even with an intent to harm the U.S."
When Pollard tore apart his chest and tore out his heart to light the road to security for Israel, he did not think of himself. His heart directed his deeds. He ran holding it high above his head thinking only of one thing - the survival of the Jewish state and of its people.
Like Danko, he thought about his people's freedom, and, like the people in Gorky's story, Israeli Jews failed to notice when he fell and dropped his burning heart beside himself. It is likely that many of them know nothing at all of the vital help that Pollard provided to Israel. During the Gulf War, and as recently as Purim this past year, when Israelis were ready with sealed rooms and chemical antidotes in case of an Iraqi chemical or biological weapons attack, most people did not even realize that it is only because of Jonathan Pollard that Israel became the best prepared country in the world to withstand the usage of these terrible weapons.
Rudolph Giuliani, who was the third-highest ranking official in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, and who handled thousands of pardon requests, was one of the very few who saw Pollard's documents; therefore, his opinion is especially worth noting. On August 14, 1999 speaking at New York City Hall, when asked about Pollard's case he said, "I think that given comparative sentences, his sentence -- this I happen to know because I have seen the documents -- his sentence is way beyond the sentence served by other people that have been convicted of the same offense" (4).
It is these documents that Pollard's lawyers are still trying to access today in order to save him. According to official information in April 2002 from the U.S. Department of Justice, during an eight-year period Pollard's file was accessed 25 times, but his lawyers are banned from seeing it, despite having all proper security clearances.
The major portion of this secret file, consists of a declaration by Caspar Weinberger, who was Secretary of Defense at the time, which is what sealed Pollard's fate. As Weinberger put it then, "It is difficult for me … to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information ... [which he transferred to Israel]." However, strangely, in his memoirs, entitled "In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century," and published in November, 2001, Weinberger does not even mention this issue of "critical importance to the U.S.," which he claims caused such "great harm to national security." When asked in an interview why he omitted Pollard's story,
"Weinberger casually replied: 'Because it was, in a sense, a very minor matter but made very important.' Asked to elaborate, Weinberger repeated, 'As I say, the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance.' Pressed on why the case was made far bigger than its actual importance, Weinberger answered, 'I don't know why - it just was' "(5).
One of Judaism's most sacred obligations is the commandment of pidyan shevuim (the ransoming of captives). It takes priority even over the obligation to feed the poor. Even if a community is faced with the dilemma of selling its most precious treasure - a Torah scroll - in order to raise ransom money to free a fellow Jew, it is obligated to sell the scroll.
By not demanding Pollard's release, we are not just violating the commandment of pidyan shevuim, we are also stomping on his still-burning heart. Time has proven that while our abandonment of Pollard will never extinguish the flame of his love for the Jewish People and their state, his solitary fight for freedom has taken a heavy toll on his health and strength. How much longer can he be expected to hold on?
It is a fact that Pollard is serving the longest, harshest sentence of anyone ever charged with a similar offense in the U.S. The median sentence for the offense he committed is two to four years. Pollard has served over 18 years of severe incarceration, enduring some of the worst treatment that the U.S. federal prison system can mete out. Meanwhile, for nearly two decades, the U.S. Government has subverted every one of Pollard's attempts to seek justice through the courts, while Israel and the Jewish leadership have shut every diplomatic door in his face.
The Pollard case is not just about one man. It is about equal justice for all Americans and fair treatment of Israel as an ally. For more than 18 years, we have done almost nothing to defend our interest in this case as Jews. We, as a People, must finally wake up and insist that the Israeli Government and American Jewish leaders demand justice for one of our own from the U.S. Government. We must not remain silent in the face of this perversion of justice. We must raise our voices in calling for immediate freedom for Jonathan Pollard. Otherwise, not only will his blood be upon our hands, but the situation will set a dangerous precedent. As much for our own sakes as for his, we shall not be silent any longer!