Special Feature: A Wounded Soldier On Hostile Territory

Ofra Lax - B'Sheva News Magazine - April 8, 2005

[Translated from Hebrew by J4JP]

Azzam Azzam is home; Tannenbaum is home; and only Jonathan Pollard, who is imprisoned in a country friendly to Israel continues to languish in prison in deplorable conditions. In the next few days Prime Minister Sharon will leave for his meeting with the President of the United States. Sharon, as a young commander, established the concept of 'never abandoning wounded soldiers in the field'. Now, he is being reminded by overwhelming numbers of Israeli youth, by the Chief Rabbis of Israel (past and present), by public figures from the left and the right, to act for Pollard when he meets with Bush, and to bring Jonathan Pollard home in time for Passover, the Holiday of Freedom.

We met two years ago at her friend's flat in Jerusalem. She was mistrustful and very sensitive, still bearing the scars of endless betrayals by the Israeli establishment and media. It took some time to establish a warm rapport between us. As we were ending our conversation, I asked Esther Pollard to tell me what she thought the ordinary Israeli citizen could do for her husband.

Esther responded, obviously pained, that there have been protests which have come and gone; that the nation forgets very quickly; and that she believes that the Israeli political establishment really does not care what the public thinks. "I wouldn't advise people to hold a demonstration with five people. It would be better to gather 10 people and to hold a minyan; perhaps a regular minyan for Jonathan," she said at the time. (J4JP: A minyan is a quorum of 10 men required for Jewish prayer.)

Two years have passed. Jonathan still remains in prison, and that is perhaps the heart of the matter. But in the interim, many things have changed. Public awareness of the issue has increased dramatically. Instead of demonstrations with five participants, today thousands of people participate in grassroots activities for Pollard. "If we have not completely succeeded in freeing Jonathan from prison," said Adi Ginzburg, one of the organizers, "we have succeeded partially; at least in spirit, he is out."

The Bond Between the Youth and The Prisoner

Ginzburg, a young man of 19, from Yeshivat Nachalat Yitzchak in Tel Aviv, was not even born yet when Pollard was first imprisoned. But today there is a bond linking the two of them which inspires and motivates Ginzburg to volunteer selflessly for the cause, a nearly full-time job.

Two years ago Ginzburg knew nothing of Pollard or his story. But when he became aware of the horrible injustice that had been done to the Israeli agent by the State of Israel, he rolled up his sleeves and joined Nissan GanOr, Eli Joseph, Rabbi Yosef Mendelovitch, Rabbi Asher Mivtzari and others, to enlist young and old in activities and to raise public awareness.

The first major event, which took place on Lag B'Omer 5763 in Jerusalem, was a demonstration. No longer a handful of demonstrators this time, but thousands!

Since then, Ginzburg, GanOr, and friends have held a series of original demonstrations, partly entertaining, all aimed at attracting the attention of the public and of the decision-makers. There was the 'broom demonstration': "We brought a huge carpet, photographs of Jonathan, and brooms, and we 'swept the photos of Jonathan under the carpet' to demonstrate what the political establishment is doing to Pollard. In a similar vein, we did a 'shovel demonstration' because we wanted to make the point that they are 'burying Jonathan alive.' We also did a 'human chain demonstration' from the American consulate all the way to the Prime Minister's residence. People in the human chain were handcuffed to each other and each held a photograph of Pollard up in front of their faces. And so on and so on."

Pollard activists have turned the matter into an 'issue' in schools and yeshivas. They communicate with an email list of 7,000 regular subscribers who come to demonstrations, and who receive updates on all developments, such as the latest American court hearing, or what is said in Knesset or in media reports about Pollard. By clicking on the forum of the Pollard (Hebrew) web site (www.FreePollard.org) one notes that today there are Pollard activists throughout the country, from the furthest points north, and all the way down to the south.

The Gush for Pollard

On the 8th of Av 5763 (August 7, 2003), as Jonathan completed the 49th summer of his life, the people of Gush Katif arranged a ceremony in his honor, and gave him honorary citizen status in the Gush. The event took place at the height of a period of relentless terrorist attacks, bombings and terrorist infiltrations of settlements. But the people of the Gush put aside their own personal problems and dedicated an evening to the betrayed Israeli agent.

(Rabbi) Asher Mivtzari, a resident of Kfar Darom recalls: "It was a year of reawakening about everything to do with Pollard, and we decided to adopt him. The Regional Council met and issued a beautiful certificate, and the actual evening was very exciting."

At the ceremony, one of the rabbis from the Gush spoke about the Mitzvah of Pidyan Shvuyim. Esther Pollard, who rarely addresses audiences, spoke as well. She was very touched by the overwhelming atmosphere of support. She spoke, among other things, about the terrible conditions that Jonathan has had to endure in prison. (J4JP: See Esther's letter to Jonathan about the event.)

At the end of the evening Esther spoke with Jonathan by cellular telephone. In the background the youngsters who had just attended the ceremony, realizing that Jonathan was on the phone, spontaneously began to sing "Happy Birthday". They asked Esther to tell her husband that the people of Gush Katif regard him as a hero. Asher Mivtzari recalls, "Jonathan, in a manner that is typical of him, responded, 'I'm a hero? No! They are the heroes! They are the ones taking the hits from all terrorists attacks, the murders, the bombings, and still standing strong!'"

Even this past year, as the people of Gush Katif were fighting for their homes, they did not forget Pollard. The special calendar which they printed and distributed throughout the country to publicize the plight of Gush Katif includes photos of Pollard and points out the anniversary of his arrest and his birthday. The Gush Katif community center has devoted an entire wall to the man and to his activities.

"There is a point of deep and painful commonality between the disengagement plan and the story of Jonathan Pollard," says Mivtzari. He explains, "The issue with Pollard is expendability. He did what he was asked to; and then the State just dispensed with him. Pollard devoted his life to the State of Israel, and the State summarily abandoned him. We were also treated this way. We were sent here by the State of Israel more than 30 years ago. They promised Jonathan that they would back him; they promised us the same. Now they demonize us and they want us to leave - and the feeling that we have is that the nation cannot relate, cannot understand. We are talking about a very acute problem (perpetrated by the Government) with the mutual participation of the nation of Israel, which manifests in all sorts of ways in other social contexts in the State as well."

Not Just An Issue for the Religious

Rare are the issues which can come under one umbrella shared by both the people of Gush Katif and the people who refuse to do military service in Yesha. Jonathan Pollard, it appears, succeeds in linking even these two diametrically opposed groups. Aviv Sela, a military rejectionist, from Ramat Gan and the initiator of the military rejectionist petition (the new one), is among the main activists for Jonathan Pollard. Sela got involved with the case after learning more and more facts about Jonathan.

In an article he wrote for the Yachad Youth forum, Sela explains that his approach to the issue of Pollard is different than that of the religious Zionists. In his view, the US was within its rights to incarcerate Pollard, but that the issue of proportionality has been violated in the extreme:

"There is no need to identify with Pollard's actions," he writes. "There is no need to declare whether Pollard's actions were positive or negative - but what is certain is that the punishment that Pollard received just screams of injustice. The sentence which Pollard received, an unlimited life sentence, is grossly inappropriate for what he did." For this reason, Sela, concludes, it is incumbent upon all to enlist in support of Pollard. It is an overwhelming issue of human rights.


Is it strange to be demonstrating along side religious kids?


"It's different, when you are used to demonstrating with a certain sector of the population, but I don't have a real problem with it."


Why indeed are the Pollard activists mainly from the religious sector?


"The issue is much better known in religious circles. They began to deal with it first, in their youth groups and in settlement meetings. So the lot fell to them."

Both Sela and 'The Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home' make a point of saying that these days the issue has begun to expand beyond religious boundaries. "The group I am involved in now is not just secular, but also left-wing," Sela interjects, " people are no longer dismissive, and they are becoming more and more interested." The Committee adds that even in non-religious schools, and in the Scout movement, they are becoming more involved in activities for Pollard.

A Lobby Without Teeth

The goal of the activists is ultimately to bring the issue to the decision-makers; to the ones who can demand Pollard's release from American prison, but who have not done so. "We want to make this into an issue that the M.K.s will see as worth their while," Ginzburg explains. "If they see that the issue matters enough to the nation, they will become involved as well."

No less than 112 Knesset Members signed a petition for the release of Jonathan Pollard, and there is also a Knesset Lobby which is active on his behalf. But the bottom line is (and it is hoped that Esther and Jonathan will forgive the comparison) Azzam Azzam is out, even Tannenbaum is out, and only Pollard who is held in a friendly country still sits in prison, in deplorable conditions, his health deteriorating, suffering from serious medical problems, and the rattle of the keys that will let him out of his prison cell is no where to be heard.

The head of the Knesset Lobby for Pollard is now M.K. Orit Noked, who became involved in the issue two years ago, and who has even managed to visit Pollard in prison. A year ago, Noked along with MK Gilad Erdan sponsored an initiative to plant a Freedom Forest for Pollard, "so that we could all see Pollard planted amongst us in person," she said. "Unfortunately, it did not happen."

Noked, who today, is the Deputy Minister to Shimon Peres, recently wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sharon in which she requested that he demand Pollard's release as an American gesture in return for the freeing of Palestinian prisoners by Israel. She also participated in an appeal to Limor Livnat (Minister of Education - Likud) to have all the schools do an 'educational hour' about Pollard on the eve of Passover (no response from Livnat), and she says that she is trying to raise the Pollard issue at every opportunity.


Bottom line: Pollard is still in prison. Where do you point the finger? Who's guilty?


"I too, have the same questions. I am a member of the Government, but I was not allowed to write a personal letter to the American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which I had intended to do. Such things are just not done."


The Labor Party is now a respected party in the Government. Perhaps through the party, you can bring the issue up to be discussed in the Government?


"I really will try to bring it up, at the Ministers Forum. That's a good idea."

In the meantime: in order to get closer to the Torah, this week Sharon will meet with the American president. The Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home is not waiting for a tardy salvation to come from Knesset Members. The Committee has already set in process a series of initiatives. Whoever dials the Prime Minister's office in the coming days and tries to say the word "Pollard" will get, in the best case scenario, the response, "the matter is being handled," just before the receiver is slammed down in their ear. (This has been tested and verified).

This is the fruit of a 'virtual demonstration' for Pollard which has been on-going on the internet - a blitz of telephone calls to the Prime Minster's office about Pollard, which will continue until the time the two leaders are scheduled to meet. Starting tomorrow, posters will be plastered at junctions all over the country which read: "Sharon, don't come home without Pollard!" Next week the activists will place a large cage in Kikar Pariz (in Jerusalem) and will man it with volunteers who will impersonate Pollard, in the style of today's reality TV shows.

Before Sharon leaves for the US, he will be given a historically unprecedented letter signed by seven Chief Rabbis of Israel - past and present - for President Bush. In the letter the Rabbis call upon Bush to free Pollard before Passover, as a gesture to the Jewish People for Passover, the Jewish holiday of Freedom. And we still haven't mentioned the radio campaign and the movie made by Midreshet HaTorah V'HaAretz which has just come out.

"If anyone had told me years ago that I would go into prison and emerge one day, after many years, with thousands of children who bear my name, I would have thought them mad!" So, wrote Jonathan Pollard to his Youth Movement volunteers on the eve of Chanukah 5764. (See article.)

"But indeed that is the miracle which has taken place! Noar L'man Pollard, the thousands of youngsters who belong to the Pollard Youth Movement in Israel are all my children! Each and every one of you is precious to me, and I could not be prouder or happier that you carry my name. You are a credit to our People and bring honor to G-d and Torah. And each one of you is as dear to Esther and me as if you were blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh - because in fact you are!" he wrote.

And Jonathan, typically Jonathan, does not think only of himself and his own problems:

"My case is a vessel through which G-d is calling his Holy People back to Him and back in line with Torah-true values and Torah-true lives. Standing up for truth and justice for me, is part and parcel of the same struggle that we face today in standing up for national and territorial integrity and in standing up for our right to national security without an enemy population lodged in our very midst. Forcing Jewish leaders to take responsibility, to stop cowering before the goyim, and to do what is good and true in G-d's eyes, applies not only to the individual and the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim, but to the redemption of the whole House of Israel in the Land of Israel!"

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