The Prisoner Who Must Not be Forgotten

Deputy Minister Orit Noked - Haaretz - February 8, 2005

Translated from Hebrew by J4JP

At a time when Israel is being asked to free 900 Palestinian Prisoners, the US ought to make a gesture to free Jonathan Pollard. Pollard has languished in prison for 20 years.

In the days ahead, it is expected that the Prime Minister will order the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to Abu Mazen. This is a confidence-building measure which testifies to a desire on our part to start a fresh page with the Palestinians in moving towards a true peace. This is a small step forward for peace, and another advance towards the building of a relationship of understanding, confidence and mutuality between us and the Palestinians.

At the same time, in concert with the great desire of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to build a peace process, it is obvious that there exists a deep involvement and urgency on the part of the American Government for mutual gestures be made in order to further the peace process. According to reports in the media, the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice is urging Israel to be more flexible in its criteria for the release of prisoners.

Every initiative or activity that can potentially improve relations between us and the Palestinians is welcome. That not withstanding, I believe that particularly because of the great concern and involvement of the Americans, that this is the right opportunity and the perfect time for Israel to request that a key gesture also be made to us. The gesture we seek is the release of one prisoner, a prisoner without "blood on his hands" - the prisoner, Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard sits in an American jail where he has been languishing for 20 years, because of what American law calls "espionage on behalf of a friendly country". The median sentence for this offense is 2 to 4 years, with some receiving no jail time at all. Shortly after Jonathan Pollard was sentenced, a change in the law capped the sentence for this offense at no more than 10 years.

Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense during the time of Pollard's operation, who at the time led the charge to secure the grossly disproportionate sentence that was meted out to Pollard, has recently admitted, that the Pollard case was a relatively small matter that got blown up into something much bigger than it was.* As well, Dennis Ross, who was the American Special Envoy to the Middle East for President Clinton, recently wrote in a new book "The Missing Peace" that the sentence imposed upon Pollard is grossly disproportionate when compared with others who committed similar offenses. Nevertheless, he writes that he advised President Clinton not to free Pollard during the Wye Summit. Why? Because, says Ross, of his great value as a "bargaining chip" with Israel!

Now, 20 years after Pollard's arrest and incarceration, when we are being asked to carry out meaningful gestures and to take great risks for peace and for the building of confidence between the parties, I feel it is incumbent upon us, to give impetus to the peace process and for the personal example that the US may demonstrate to both sides, to make the request for a meaningful gesture from the United States - the release of Jonathan Pollard.

In recent times, we have witnessed the release of Azzam Azzam - an event which represented an important Egyptian gesture, which has the potential to strengthen the relationship between the two states. In the same way, I believe, that the release of Jonathan Pollard will only strengthen the relationship and increase the feelings of confidence between Israel and the US. Moreover, this step will lend strength to creating a positive attitude in Israeli society towards the release of the 900 Palestinian prisoners.

The writer, Orit Noked, is a Deputy Minister in the Prime Minster's office and head of the Knesset Lobby for Jonathan Pollard.

* J4JP Note: see "Caspar's Ghost" by Edwin Black

  • See Also: Hebrew Text: The Prisoner Who Must Not be Forgotten