Shimon Shiffer, National Political Correspondent
[Translated from Hebrew by Justice4JP, May 9, 2004 - May be reprinted with attribution.]
Two and-a-half hours face to face with Jonathan Pollard at FCI Butner
Not so the "Federal Correctional Institute", as it is euphemistically called, the Federal Prison in Butner, North Carolina. Butner is a small, sleepy town and looks like it was taken right out of one of the many American movies about small southern towns.
For the last 11 years this gray concrete building has been home to Jonathan Pollard. Aviv Ezra the Deputy Consul General from the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta is a lifeline to Pollard and his wife, Esther. Ezra visits him from time to time and acts as his interlocutor with visitors from the outside. His training for this sensitive task was gained while working at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, where he also served as the contact person to Azzam Azzam.
Ezra picks me up in Raleigh, North Carolina, the capital city, and drives me to the prison, a trip which takes about an hour.
The boundaries of the prison complex stretch out over a vast area, fenced in by double rows of razor wire, and encircled by light posts on every side. Television cameras positioned on the walls allow the guards to see beyond the fence, to the area beyond. All of the prison environs are secure: when I stopped alongside a sign about half a kilometer from the fence, a prison security vehicle immediately pulled up to investigate. No photographs permitted, the officer warned.
At the entrance to the main building, a representative of US Naval Intelligence who has come from Washington especially for this meeting, is waiting for us. "I drove here 4 hours from Washington," he said. His job was to ensure that Pollard, who has been in prison for 18 years, would not reveal any national secrets to my ears.
Esther Pollard is waiting at the entrance to the prison. A small woman, good-looking, wearing makeup, which does nothing to conceal the anguish of her soul.
We are asked to present a photo I.D., to check our personal belongings in a locker, to place shoes and jackets through an x-ray machine and finally to pass through a metal detector.
On the other side, there is a machine waiting for us which will read an ultraviolet stamp that has been stamped on everyone's hand. This is the way that we will be identified when we leave.
Three sets of iron doors open and close before us, one by one. The guards use keys which are attached to long chains that hang from their trousers. The doors clang shut behind us and lock electronically.
After we pass through the third iron door, we walk down a long corridor. On one side the wall is covered with blue and green carpet and on the other side the wall is painted gray. At the end of the corridor is the visit room.
THE SOBERING START
"I swore not to cut my hair until I am free."
The interview with Pollard was scheduled for a day when there is no regular visitation in order to assure a certain measure of privacy. The visit room looks like an American college cafeteria. At the entry there are rows of vending machines selling drinks and sweets. In another corner of the room is a play area equipped with toys for the prisoners' children.
All around are small gray plastic tables, surrounded by plastic chairs. At the front of the room is a raised stage type area where the guards sit. From the raised platform they watch and supervise prisoner visits with their families.
A glass partition separates the visit room from the prison compound itself. Standing in the compound is Jonathan Pollard. Average height, stocky build, whitening hair, long and pulled back. " I swore," he later told me, "not to cut my hair until I am freed." Since I last saw him [J4JP: nearly 2 decades earlier at his sentencing] his hair has receded somewhat, making his forehead more prominent. He wears round glasses that give him a studious appearance, like some ageless professor. His face is encircled by a beard, part white, part gray.
I am reminded of the description of Pollard by Wolf Blitzer in his book "Territory of Lies", "... he was a vast encyclopedia, with a phenomenal ability to remember whatever he saw." Pollard's sharp powers of observation, his brilliance, remain intact. He was standing in a corner of the compound, legs crossed and reading, in his hand a book of Psalms with a brown cover. He was dressed in Khaki prison garb and wore black work boots on his feet.
Pollard became aware of us on the other side of the glass partition. He looked up from the Psalms he was reading, smiled and waved. When the door opened and Pollard entered accompanied by a guard, I saw stamped on his shirt, the number: 09185-016. Pollard embraced me, his wife, and the consul.
"I want you to understand," Pollard spoke in English salted and peppered with Hebrew - the NSA representative stood his ground, insisting on knowing the meaning of every word; Aviv Ezra did simultaneous translation for him.
"My attitude towards everything regarding the fight for my release from prison, and the responsibility of the Government of Israel for my fate, is the result of many long years of experience," Pollard continued, "I am no longer naïve. I have stopped being a "friar"(Hebrew for "gullible"), in the worst sense of the word."
"Something which I have learned over the years, is that it is nothing personal.
"What matters now, is not just my return to Israel, but in what manner I leave here.
"I do not care who will be the one to get me out of here, Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin, or Ariel Sharon. If they get me out and return me home, that would be very nice, but not enough. It has to be done in a way that brings honor to the Nation of Israel."
"I have never recovered from being thrown out of the Embassy."
"If I may say so," Pollard continued with emotion, " to this day I have never gotten over what happened to me at the Israeli Embassy. He takes his wife Esther's hand. "I still find it hard to accept being thrown out of the Embassy; to swallow the experience of being a citizen or a soldier who has served the State, and the State refuses to open her gates for him.
"When I looked back at the Embassy then, at the blue and white flag flying above the entrance, it was hard for me to believe, is this my flag?
"What had I done? I sought refuge at the Embassy because my handlers had instructed me that in the event of any problem I should go to the Embassy. I entered the Embassy as a soldier, and I left it as an orphan. That day I started to understand what the political establishment in Israel is…
"The truth is, absolutely nothing has changed since then. The actors may have changed, the characters may have changed, but the policy of abandonment that I have lived in the flesh remains as much in force now, as it was then.
"The source of all the evil that befell me was the national unity government which was in power in Israel at the time that the historical episode known by my name exploded. I was abandoned because of this national unity government. The more I think about the whole story, the more I realize there was no one with clean hands, and there were no innocent parties.
"Eliyakim Rubinstein, for example. I do not know his exact role in throwing me out of the Embassy, and it does not matter. But I do know of two other instances where he did serious damage to me which obstructed my release.
"In the first instance he had a hand in generating a false document which was presented to the court at the start of this affair. When I learned about it, I was devastated. I am referring to the false affidavit which the Israelis gave the Americans in which they tried to conceal the involvement of Aviam Sella, who ran me as an agent. [See: Crazy Rhythm and All That Jazz - How Pollard Got Left Holding the Bag]
"When the Justice Department learned the truth about Israel's calculated deviousness, the prosecutors made sure to relay their anger to the court. The judge retaliated, coming down hard on me because of Israel's lies.
"Avi Sella is an Israeli hero. He too was abandoned by the political establishment, when they forced him to lie in order to defend the interests of the politicians.
"I thank G-d every day that I was able to help Avi (Sella) leave the US safely. (When Pollard was interrogated, he did not give over Aviam Sella's name -S.S.) His life was more important than mine. If I am angry about anything, it is that a man as talented as Avi should have had to end his illustrious career before its time, because of his involvement in the affair.
"Rubinstein was again involved in my case about a year ago when he communicated with John Ashcroft (the US Attorney General). He provided him a letter which, as far as I am concerned, conveyed a message with one meaning: permission to continue to bury me alive in prison.
As he says this, Pollard removes his glasses, strikes his forehead with his hand and exclaims, "Gevalt! Gevalt! Rubinstein's letter was chutzpah! Sheer chutzpah!"
I asked Eliyakim Rubinstein, who these days is waiting for confirmation of his appointment to Supreme Court, why his efforts to free Pollard have failed. The issue of Pollard has always been close to my heart, he told me, and in every position that I have served, I have made every effort to help him. Unfortunately I always encountered a solid wall of resistance from everyone I ever approached, from George Bush (the father) to the current Attorney General, John Ashcroft. "You can," Ashcroft told me, "bring up whatever is on your mind, and I will listen - but I do not have to answer you, and I certainly do not have to answer you if the subject is Jonathan Pollard."
"They want me to keep my mouth shut."
Pollard knows what Israel has to do to secure his immediate release. He suggests that one of the sticking points between the two countries about the affair is the American suspicion that Israel has never been forthcoming, has not revealed all.
"I have repeatedly offered a solution to the problem that would answer Israel's needs and respect America's right to resolve the affair. I have proposed (quietly and behind the scenes) that Israel return the Master List to the Americans. The Master List is a list of all the documents which I provided to Israel - and at the same time, Israel should submit another affidavit, a truthful one this time, full disclosure in honesty.
"Do you know what the reaction of the Israelis was to my proposed solution? Shut your mouth, they told me. They want me to keep my mouth shut so that successive Governments of Israel can continue to deny their full involvement in the affair, and to deny that their leaders had full knowledge of what I had been asked to secure from the Americans.
"Another thing I'd like to bring up concerns Ehud Barak. You have to understand that LAKAM, the Government bureau which ran me, received its requests for information from AMAN, the Intelligence Branch of the IDF. As the court record shows, I received my tasking orders from AMAN written on official stationery with the letterheads of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and other military departments.
"Who signed off on all of these requests and authorized them? The head of AMAN. Who was the head of AMAN when I was employed? Ehud Barak. No other. Major General Ehud Barak.
"A few years back I exercised my right to obtain information through the Freedom of Information Act and I asked for documents related to this affair. I had no idea of what I would get. I received a great quantity of material. I read and read, making my way through the material. Then, at one point, nearing the end, I came across a report of a meeting between Ehud Barak, head of AMAN and his counterpart in American Military Intelligence. The meeting took place in Washington. This was the first meeting between Israel and the US about me, following my arrest.
"And what did Mr. Barak say when he was asked if he knew the name Jonathan Pollard? He said he did not know me, that I have no connection to Israel at all, and that the whole affair is nothing but one big misunderstanding. 'Do with him and to him whatever you like.' That is what Ehud Barak told the Americans.
"However at that time, the Americans already knew the truth. What the Israelis did not know then and still appear not to have learned, is that one thing you do not do, is lie to the Americans. The Americans are sticklers about that. The only thing that they will not put up with, is being lied to. They have a lot of flexibility about just about everything else, but do not suffer being treated like fools. The one thing that they do not forgive is lies.
"Listen to how the Israeli side incriminated me. It was a few months after my arrest, in the course of one of the exhausting interrogations I was put through. Up until then I had not revealed anything. I never said who ran me, or gave up any names. I tried to protect Israel in every way that I could.
"Then one day the FBI investigators came into the room. They put a box on the table, right in front of me. The box was filled with documents. As soon as they did this, everyone - the FBI agents and everyone else in the room - all got up and left.
"I looked around. I am not stupid. I laughed to myself, "Now they are watching me." But I did not care. I was curious. When I lifted the documents out of the box, I could not believe my eyes. These were the secret documents which I had given to Israel!
"The Government of Israel, in such kindness, had returned the documents to the Americans with my fingerprints on them.
"In the same box I also saw reports of some of the interviews that the American Justice Department investigators had done with some of my handlers, Government officials in Israel. When I saw what was in these reports, I nearly died. They mocked me and blamed me, characterizing me as foolish and naïve, and insisted that they had been falsely implicated in the affair, that they never had any intention of spying in the US.
"At that moment I came to the unmistakable conclusion that I had been abandoned.
"At that time I did not know that an understanding had been made between the American Government and the Israeli Government that the documents which were returned were not to be used against me. The Israelis never told me, so I could not use that information to protect myself. And when the Americans immediately broke their word and used the documents to prosecute me, Israel never protested. I did not learn about this commitment until many years later when I read about it in a copy of the Eban Report. [See: Stunning New Revelations in the Pollard Case http://www.jonathanpollard.org/2000/061500.htm]
"The death blow to my legal position occurred during the court hearing when Judge Aubrey Robinson was about to accept my plea agreement, according to which the prosecution would not ask for a life sentence. While I was standing there facing Judge Robinson, representatives from the Justice Department and the State Department entered the room and replaced the text of the plea agreement which my attorney had agreed to, with another version. This action sealed my fate, dooming me to a life sentence."
[J4JP: In the original plea agreement Jonathan was identified as a bona fide Israeli agent. In new version of the plea agreement, the words "Israeli Agent" were crossed out. Wherever the words" Israeli agent" were crossed out, there appeared the initials of an American representative in blue ink, and of an Israeli representative in red ink. By agreeing to this, Israel effectively orphaned Jonathan, depriving him of all of the legal protections that accrue to an agent. The Americans exploited Jonathan's weakened legal position and ultimately abrogated the plea agreement with impunity, sentencing him to life, in spite of his co-operation and in spite of explicit promises not to seek a life sentence. See the Court Case Page.]
"How can you compare me to Vanunu?"
I attempt to interrupt the flow of Pollard's words. "Isn't it time for you to answer a few questions?" I ask. Pollard looks and me and says, "Okay. Ask!"
S.S.: It seems as if you are convinced that anyone who has been involved with you has at some critical moment, betrayed you.
"Those Israelis at low levels of Government with whom I have worked," replied Pollard, "have served me well and honorably. I have been honored to call them my friends (he says "my friends" in Hebrew.) They have been a living model of the kind of behavior I expect from Israeli Government officials.
"Unfortunately, at this level, these friends are not in a position to help me, or to fight for my release actively. As for the highest levels of the governments of Israel, I have stated quite clearly: they have betrayed me."
S.S.: What have you done to your community, to the Jews of America? After your arrest, Jewish clerks working for the American Government would hang up the phone on me, for fear of being accused of dual loyalty.
"We Americans believe that every individual must account for his own actions. It is unthinkable that the Jewish community be held hostage for the actions of one person. In other words, we do not believe in collective punishment.
"If you look at other recent cases of espionage involving Americans of Korean, Chinese, Greek, or even Arab descent, you will see that none of their respective communities were accused of dual loyalty. Just the opposite. Their communities and their leaders received reassurances that in no way is any accusation being cast upon them.
"What troubles me most about the affair that I was involved in, is not the accusation of dual loyalty against the Jewish community, but the use of a double standard. Only when it is a Jewish spy is the rage directed against the whole community. This double standard represents a far greater threat to the Jewish community than anything I have ever done.
"I am sorry," he adds, "that I upset the Jewish community because I did in secret what they should have been doing openly in order to assure the security of the State of Israel. What do I mean? To use their lobbying abilities to assure that Israel not be blind-sided, that she not be stabbed in the back and deprived of information by elements in the Administration who see her as a burden, or leaders of the Jewish community that see her as a political problem to be uprooted and dispensed with."
S.S.: You feel that the grossly disproportionate sentence you received may have been exacerbated in vengeance by certain elements within the American security establishment. Do you see any room to compare yourself to Mordecai Vanunu?
"My case is in no way like that of Vanunu. It is unthinkable to even attempt a comparison. Unlike Vanunu, I was never accused, indicted, or convicted of treason. I was never even accused of intent to harm the United States. And if there had been any evidence to support such heinous charges against me, believe me, the Justice Department would have presented them, and rightly so, in my opinion. But there was no such evidence.
"In Vanunu's case, he was tried in an untainted legal forum; in my case the judicial process was subverted from the outset and continues to be to this day."
S.S.: Were you offended by the price that Israel was willing to pay for the release of citizen Elchanan Tanenbaum from Hezbullah's captivity while you continue to languish in prison?
Pollard's face flushes with anger. He removes the kipa from his head and places it on the table in front of me. He points to the words that are crocheted in Hebrew across it in yellow wool: "Ezrach Pollard" (Citizen Pollard).
"Excuse me," he says, "You are talking with Citizen Pollard. I do not know what Tanenbaum is."
He then reattaches the kipa to his head with two clips.
"I am very upset about this issue because of Ron Arad and the other M.I.A's. I am stunned and outraged that the Government abandoned Ron and the other heroes, and of course the body of Eli Cohen - all for Tanenbaum.
"Sometimes I regret that I am so up-to-date on what is happening in Israel."
S.S.: Today, looking back, after all you have been through, would you still hand over to Israel the treasure trove of information for which you have been so punished?
Pollard knows that an unsuccessful reply may hurt him in prison.
"First of all, he says, I would make aliyah to Israel. One of the things that I truly regret is that I never had the honor of serving the State as a soldier in uniform.
"There is no point now in trying to recreate history. We are no longer talking about what was, but about the consequences of what was. We are talking about what happened to me, and what I should have done. I should have made aliyah and returned home to Israel. Since the day that I was arrested, that is the only thing I have been fighting for."
S.S.: I asked him to describe a typical day in his life, from the time he gets up in the morning until the time he goes to sleep at night.
"I go to sleep without my wife every night and I wake up every morning without her," he replies. "The only time I feel alive are those moments when she is with me, in person, or in my dreams."
"The rest of the time," Pollard says, as his voice cracks and his eyes fill with tears, " the rest of the time is filled with deafening noise, putrid smells, filth, constant threat of violence, and moral depravity. The daily reality in which I live, would put even Sodom and Gomorrah to shame.
"During the day, I scrub toilets and I wash floors. My daily labor provides me with the means to make another telephone call to my wife.
"While I am working, I try to keep my mind focused on two subjects: Esther and Israel. And when I am not working I stuff my ears with cotton and I read. I read everything I can get my hands on.
"Sometimes I regret that I am so up-to-date on what is happening in Israel - for example, all the pigoo'eem (terror attacks). (Also the word "pigoo'eem," Pollard says in Hebrew.) We are fighting a war for our very existence.
"I get a lot of letters from Israel. I wish I could keep them. In the future historians would be amazed to read them and witness the inner strength of our people and their powers of endurance.
"Last night I got a letter from someone in Israel who asked me what is my definition of a patriot. In my eyes a patriot is someone who tells the truth, even when it is not appreciated. A patriot is someone who expects his government to tell him the truth, so that he can rely on every fateful decision or action his government undertakes. A patriot is someone who loves his country, even when it is not politically correct. A patriot fears only G-d, and no man."
"In prison, they take almost everything away from you."
S.S.: Whom do you share your cell with?
"I am not willing to answer that question," Pollard replies.
"In prison they take almost everything away from you, and the first thing that they take away is your right to privacy. I do not want to erode my roommate's right to privacy any further by talking about him."
In the past Pollard has shared his cell with a drug dealer, a murderer and a pedophile.
Esther Pollard quietly adds, " When their time comes, they all leave. The only prisoner who always remains and keeps changing roommates is Jonathan Pollard."
S.S.: In the time that you've been in prison, you have cut off all contact with your family, with your parents, your brother and your sister. You won't even accept a phone call from them. There is a claim that Esther caused the break between you and them.
"Every family has its problems," answers Pollard, "it is not unusual." In my case, the problems with my family would not even be relevant if I were out on the street and free. But what has happened is Israeli Government officials exploited my family as a tool in attempt to destroy me and to call into question my legitimate right to choose the appropriate means to secure my freedom. That is what I am prepared to say about the matter.
"Shimon, I do not know of a single case in history where a country has betrayed its agent so repeatedly and in as many ways as the Government of Israel has betrayed me. They not only abandoned me, they used my closest family against me to silence me. It is something that is impossible to ever come to terms with…
"The Israeli government did this in attempt to neutralize the threat that I apparently represent to them. In their opinion, I represent a threat no less terrible than the nuclear threat posed by Arab nations."
[J4JP: Successive governments of Israel have always been adamant about maintaining the public perception that the "special relationship" between Israel and the US is a valuable asset. Consequently Israel distances itself from anything that damages that illusion. The Pollard case, which came about as a direct result of the US deliberately blindsiding Israel and withholding vital security information, reveals the truth about the US-Israel relationship, full-blown. The more the truth comes out, the more Israel runs from it, and from Jonathan.]
S.S.: Your relationship with your wife Esther is very profound.
"A wife is supposed to be an "ezer k'negdo" (a helpmate) to her husband, but Esther is much more than that to me. There is no light between us. I cannot tell where she ends off and I begin. She starts a sentence and I finish it and vice versa. Anyone who has any doubts about a woman's abilities needs to meet my wife."
S.S.: You claim that your motivation was ideological, but the truth is that at a certain stage you received several thousand dollars for the secrets you provided.
"The money… " Pollard sighs, "The money never had any importance in my decision to become an agent for Israel. It was in effect a salary, just like every agent receives. The judge who sentenced me, even he recognized this and he did not impose a monetary fine. He recognized my motivation as ideological.
"Certain officials in the Israeli intelligence establishment and the political establishment have falsely tried to portray me in an ugly way, as a mercenary. This is tragic. This was their way of trying to escape responsibility for their actions and for bringing me home."
"Every night I pray."
S.S.: You were held in solitary confinement for seven years. How do you keep your sanity after all these years in prison?
"I want to show you something," says Pollard. He removes a small plastic pouch that is hanging on a string around his neck - the size of a telephone calling card - his "segula." It holds a photograph of Esther; a black and white photograph (cut from a newspaper) of Yoni Netanyahu; a photograph of Rechavaam Ze'evi; a photograph of HaRav Michoel Weissmandel (a charedi rabbi who saved many lives in the Holocaust); and a photograph of HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu, as well as a prayer for Israel's soldiers.
"Every night I pray for the welfare of Israel's soldiers.
"The people in these photographs have given me the inspiration and the strength to survive the 19 years that I have been in prison - 19 years that have been like one long night that never ends."
S.S.: It is the Eve of Passover. Do you expect the Prime Minister of Israel to do something about your case?
"I implore you, Arik. Be the Arik who crossed the Suez Canal in 1973, not the Arik who evacuated Yamit. I have no personal issue with you; all I am asking is that you do whatever is needed to get me out of here and bring me home to the Land and the People that I so dearly love.
"I do expect Sharon to, number one, implement my captivity status; and number two, to instruct the Embassy to send the Ambassador to visit me." [See IMRA Interview: Pollard's 3 Point Agenda http://www.jonathanpollard.org/2004/032104.htm]
S.S.: Personalities in Israel claim that anyone who has ever tried to help you has been burned by you and by your wife.
"I never burn bridges that do not exist. I am smart enough to know the difference between a serious, responsible offer of help and a process that is designed to leave me rotting in prison forever.
"I have been in this situation for a long time. I know what will work, and what will not. I do not expect miracles, but I do expect 100% effort. I do not expect anyone to succeed; only HaShem can succeed. But I am not sitting in prison in order to help Israeli politicians keep their names in the media. When I am released, I will be glad to shake hands with whomever helped. Not to worry, there will be plenty of publicity for everyone.
"What I do expect is more honesty on the part of the Israeli politicians. I have no budget for demonstrators to release balloons into the air, like they do for Ron Arad. I am stuck here, in prison."
Pollard pulls out a book of Tehillim with two columns - one in Hebrew, one in English - turns the page to Psalm number 69, and asks me to read aloud. "I read this Psalm this morning before our meeting", he tells me.
My eyes fall upon the first verse:
"Save me oh G-d for the waters are come in unto my soul.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing.
I am come into deep waters where the floods overwhelm me.
I am weary of my crying; my throat is dry; my eyes fail while I wait for my G-d…"
The time is 2:30PM. Already half-an-hour over the time that the prison authorities have allotted us. We get up and say our good-byes.
As we are about to leave the visit room, Pollard hugs me and whispers in my ear, "Don't leave me in the bor (pit); get me out of here." He says the word "bor" in Hebrew.
"What did he say to you?" asks the government monitor.
"He said 'thank you'," I reply.
The first door closes after us.
Pollard remains, watching us from the other side of the glass.
The back of our hands under the ultra-violet light testify that we have not switched our identities.
Another two sets of iron doors and I am outside.