Freedom for Bargouti and Abandonment for Pollard?

Adi Ginzburg - Maariv NRG - Voice of The Nation Column - February 18, 2005

Translation by Justice for JP - May be reprinted

"By the end of this year, I'll be out," Marwan Bargouti, the man responsible for murdering and injuring huge numbers of Jews, is quoted in the title of a recent interview with Maariv which took place in his Israeli jail cell. Is he being a little too optimistic? Most of the Israeli public does not think so. Bargouti knows exactly what he is talking about.

How is it that Bargouti can be so convinced that his freedom is close at hand? Does he have new evidence that will shed a different light on his crimes? Is he going to file an appeal to prove that the punishment he received is too severe and that instead of five life sentences, he should get 4 years and be out in 3? Of course not. Bargouti simply knows that for his Palestinian comrades on the outside, securing his release is at the top of their agenda.

When one considers the ability of a Palestinian mass murderer to be so sure of his early release (about a hundred years early, according to his sentence) it is impossible not to ask ourselves, where do we stand, and where do they stand in this respect? Can an Israeli who protects the security of the state of Israel be as sure as a Palestinian murderer, that he will not ultimately be abandoned and left in the field?

Jonathan Pollard, the man who worked as an Israeli agent, under the auspices of the State of Israel and for its security is not so sure that his release will occur any time soon. Moreover, after languishing nearly 20 years in an American prison, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. On the face of it, one would think that Pollard's release ought to be a lot closer than Bargouti's. There are many reasons for this, but I shall cite just a couple.

One of the driving forces behind the unprecedented and grossly disproportionate sentence that Pollard received was the former Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. But today, even Weinberger admits that Pollard's sentence was disproportionate; that it did not reflect the offense he committed. When asked during a recent interview why he omitted to mention the Pollard case in a new autobiography he had written, Weinberger responded that the Pollard case was a relatively small matter which had been blown up out of all proportion to what it was in truth.* The question becomes more pointed and urgent; if even Weinberger admits this, then why is Pollard still in prison?

In order to find the answer to this question, let's go back to Bargouti's cell (as it was described in his interview with Maariv). On his bed is a copy of "The Missing Peace" a new book by Dennis Ross, the former American Special Envoy to the Middle East. He writes that when President Clinton asked him (at the 1998 Wye Summit) if freeing Pollard would be regarded as important by Israel, Ross responded affirmatively, "Since Pollard is seen as an Israeli solider, and in Israel there is an ethos that you do not abandon a soldier in the field." Ross even admits that he himself thought that Pollard's sentence was unjust, that it was disproportionate when compared to others who had committed similar offenses. Nevertheless, Ross continues, that when he is asked by President Clinton if Pollard should be released in the framework of the Wye Accords, he answers that Pollard should not go free at this time; and he explains that Pollard is too valuable a bargaining chip with Israel to release him. We don't have a lot of others like this in our pocket, he says, and we are going to need it later on.

Indeed, Ross is not even ashamed to admit that he advised the President not to free Pollard, even though he believed that Pollard's sentence was unjust. It is all about national self-interest and bargaining chips. Perhaps this will come as a surprise to some of us, but this is the general rule (or should we say that this is what is so 'special} about our special relationship, our "great friendship" with the United States.

If the problem were merely that the for the Americans national self-interest supercedes moral values and simple justice, then no doubt a resolution to the Pollard affair would have been found long ago. After all, the Americans have an endless number of interests which they demand that Israel fulfill, and Israel responds without thinking twice about it. A serious request to the Americans to free Jonathan Pollard, at the very least, as a gesture to Israel (especially at this delicate time when Israel is taking so many risks, and in light of the fact that he has spent 20 years in prison) could certainly bring about the desired result.

Unfortunately, to our great sorrow, the American injustice regarding the release of Pollard is exacerbated by the indifference of Israel. Ariel Sharon, the man who is closely identified with the saying " we do not abandon a soldier in the field"; is the same Sharon who 15 years ago blasted then-PM Yitzhak Shamir for doing nothing to secure the release of Pollard. When Shamir responded that "One has to know how to abandon a man for the sake of the goal," Sharon denounced Shamir as cruel and heartless. That same Sharon refuses to lift a finger for Pollard.

Sharon has repeatedly avoided bringing the issue of Pollard up with the President of the United States. He will not even permit the Israeli ambassador to visit Pollard in prison (even though he promised to, and he has since repeated this promise in the media.) Even now that Sharon has agreed to release thousands of terrorist in response to the American demand that we make 'painful concessions' and 'confidence building measures' he refuses to ask the Americans to make this small gesture for us.

So what can be done? Probably the best that we, the People of Israel, can do is to demonstrate and cry out in the hope that expressing the public will, may cause Pollard's release to become a priority on the Prime Ministers political agenda - and to pray for better days ahead.

The author is the co-chair of the Jerusalem-based Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home.

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