Jonathan's Vineyard

Sharon Katz, Editor - VOICES Magazine - February 1, 2006

May be reprinted with appropriate accreditation.

Before Voices went to press, efforts on behalf of Jonathan Pollard had a temporary backslide when Israel's High Court of Justice failed to recognize Jonathan as a Prisoner of Zion, although this status might have meant an easing of the horrendous prison conditions to which Jonathan Pollard is subjected in America, and might possibly have bettered his chances for release.

I could only imagine the feeling of betrayal the Pollards felt after the country for which Jonathan has sacrificed his freedom, turned its back on him. Yet I am sure the Pollards will bounce back. They've been pulling through grueling challenges for many years, and they've never given up yet.


Esther Pollard stood admiring the site. The view was great. The rolling brown and green hills of Gush Etzion. The rain-washed stone houses of Efrat in the background. The air was fresh. The crowd was admiring. She was feeling uplifted. Yet everyone around her was in a slump.

Esther had been invited to Efrat to plant the first sapling in a future grape vineyard named in honor of her husband, Jonathan Pollard. But before the vineyard could be planted, it was stopped by Jewish police.

No planting today, the police said. But Esther wouldn't be disheartened.


The hillside outpost of Be'erot Yehonatan, named in honor of Jonathan Pollard, was started across the wadi from Efrat in order to guarantee the continuity of Gush Etzion's communities.

Dedicated young people had worked to fix up the area, and make it more accessible to local residents.

When police and soldiers broke down the structures that the youth had built there, they decided instead to plant a vineyard on the spot. The young builders, Youth for the Land of Israel, named the vineyard, Kerem Yehonatan, also for Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli agent who has languished in American prison for 21 years. They decided to invite Jonathan's wife, Esther, to oversee the planting. She accepted.

In the morning, a tractor cleared the land. In the afternoon, 250 Efrat, Gush Etzion and Bet Shemesh residents - shovels and hoes in hand - joined Esther Pollard at Be'erot Yehonatan.

Police and army personnel arrived, as if on cue, to stop the planting. They were told, "But Esther Pollard is here, the wife of Jonathan Pollard. She's come here from very far to plant this vineyard." Sympathetically (not), the police relented - on one sapling.

Dressed in a black and white checked top with a big "Free Jonathan Pollard" button, Esther was excited about the vineyard and the entire hillside dedicated to her husband. Even the negative attitude of the police didn't diminished her enthusiasm.

Esther bent down in the dirt and dug out a place for Jonathan's grape vine. After covering it with soil and watering it, Esther said, "This plant - Jonathan's plant - now has its roots planted in the Land. Now that Jonathan's roots are planted here, I feel strongly that a cosmic reality has been created. We will not be uprooted from this land."

"Heaven will watch over Jonathan's sapling," she said.

Turning to Voices Editor, Esther announced her idea for the title of a story, "A Tree Grows in Efrat."

Teenage participants carefully laid rocks in a circle around the grape plantlet, including one large stone. On its russet face, Esther wrote in calligraphy, "Jonathan Pollard's Vineyard - 6 Tevet."

While police stood around to prevent any further work on the land, they had been absent earlier in the day when on the same hill, Arabs illegally planted and cleared fields on Admot Medina (government land).

Esther didn't think about the Jewish grapes that were not planted that day, but about the grapevine that was. Filled with only positive thoughts that have been characteristic of her attitude throughout the struggle she and her husband have undergone over the years, she admired Be'erot Yehonatan and its future vineyard. "I am very excited, and I can't wait for Jonathan to call, so I can tell him he has his own vineyard! I can't wait for the day we will come up here and finish planting the vineyard!"

Esther turned to the young people around her, "I believe this will happen, thanks to your belief and your activities! You are the future of Eretz Yisrael. You, not the politicians - through your faith and your activities - you will save Am Yisrael! Every deed you do has a positive effect in heaven."

Esther explained, "Jonathan said, 'You start with an idea. People translate the idea to action on the land, and from that the redemption is born.'"

While there were many long faces when the planting was halted, Efrat resident Nadia Matar said, "Esther, you give us strength, never to be disheartened. May you build a bayit neeman b'Yisrael, davka on this hill!"

Tekoa resident Anita Finkelstein told Esther Pollard, "When you move here, please give the young people who fought for this hill the first visiting rights." She agreed.

Dedicated Mission

Voices had the opportunity to accompany Esther Pollard and Eleonora Shifrin (of the new Hazit party) back from Be'erot Yehonatan to Jerusalem. While we hoped to find out more about the dedicated woman named Esther Pollard, the conversation constantly returned to Jonathan.

"Jonathan and I are twin souls. He is the love of my life. Even when we are apart, he is always with me. Jonathan is my life," Esther said.

Doing her best to be near her husband, when she is in America, Esther lives in a dismal little room in a cheap motel next to Jonathan's prison in North Carolina. She explained, "We have absolutely no financial support from the Government of Israel. Even though the Israeli Government officially acknow-ledges that Jonathan is an Israeli agent, that it bears full responsibility for him, it has never discharged any of its responsibilities to him, or to us. Unlike ElchananTanenbaum (suspected drug dealer that PM Ariel Sharon rescued from Lebanon) or Azzam Azzam (Israeli Druse, imprisoned by Egypt and rescued by PM Sharon), Jonathan has never received a cent from the Gov-ernment of Israel."

She continued, "When I'm in Israel, I have no home. Some years ago, a very kindly widow, Bella Amiram, heard of our financial distress and of my homelessness. She offered me a room in her three-room apartment in Jerusalem. That is where I live now. Bella has adopted Jonathan and me, and she and her extended family have become our family in Israel."


The visit to Be'erot Yehonaton took place prior to the ruling by the High Court of Israel on Jonathan Pollard's petition asking the Israeli government to recognize him as a Prisoner of Zion. Who would have believed on that sunny Friday afternoon that Jonathan would have been denied Prisoner of Zion status by Israel's High Court! The Israeli public, Knesset members, and former-Russian Prisoners of Zion were shocked at the court's verdict. Matti Golan (former editor-in-chief of Haaretz and Globes) wrote, "Israel's treatment of Jonathan Pollard is a blot on the state. It is not just about the abandonment of a wounded soldier; it is about murdering him. This is evil."

The Pollards' petition caused shock waves around the world when it was filed on May 8, 2005, because it revealed, for the first time, explicit details of the torture and inhumane treatment that Jonathan Pollard has endured in US prisons over the last two decades.

As we drove to Jerusalem, Esther related shocking atrocities that are unthinkable in a democracy that Americans believed had higher morals. Esther said, Jonathan has been electrocuted with an electric cattle prod that left him quivering in convulsions on the floor, unable to speak or move or retain command of his musculature. He has been chained to an iron chair bolted to the floor and had freezing cold water sprayed on him for hours. He has been repeatedly, subjected to extreme sensory deprivation, and he spent seven years in solitary confinement unable to see the sun or a tree, "three stories underground, behind 13 locks and keys". He's been deprived of his glasses, held naked in sub-zero temperatures with no bedding, no blankets, and just a cold metal slab to sleep on. "And yet, despite years and years of cruel and inhumane treatment," Esther said, [thank G-d], "Jonathan remains whole and sane and optimistic. And he's busy working on alternative energy projects for when he comes home to Israel."

Two Decades of Anguish

According to facts on, Jonathan Pollard entered the

21th year of his life sentence

on November 21, 2005, with no end in sight. Indicted on one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States, Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally.

As a civilian working as an American Naval intelligence analyst, in the mid 1980s, Jonathan Pollard discovered that information vital to Israel's security was being deliberately withheld. This included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities - being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets

Over the past two decades, five Prime Ministers and three Presidents of Israel have requested Jonathan Pollard's release from the United States. The State of Israel and the former Chief Rabbi of Israel HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu have pledged to be responsible for Jonathan, who has fully and repeatedly expressed his remorse. Almost released during the Wye Agreement fiasco, Jonathan still remains a prisoner.

Thousands of Jews around the world have demonstrated for Jonathan Pollard's release, but Esther is concerned that her husband's freedom will not be won through the call of his brothers. "Both the government of Israel and American Jewish leadership have turned their backs on Jonathan. We have no support from Israel or any organization, except Rabbi Pesach Lerner's National Council of Young Israel. Rabbi Lerner and the NCYI are doing their utmost, but they simply can't do it all alone."

Esther noted, "Twenty years have gone by, and it appears that Jews have lost the intiative. Whenever the Jews fail to merit a mitzvah, it is handed over to our enemies, to our detriment. It is very disturbing that the Arabs are now lobbying for Jonathan's release in a way that the Jews have never done. They see Jonathan as the key to releasing Fatah terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti."

Esther said, "Jonathan is on record saying that he's absolutely against such a swap. But Jonathan's a prisoner and government offials have never solicited his opinion. When the time comes, they will tell him what to do, without asking for his permission."

Like Yosef in the Pit

Esther said that her husband is often compared to Yosef, son of Yaakov. Jonathan's rabbi, "HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu and many of the great rabbis of Israel, call Jonathan the Yosef of our generation. When Yosef was thrown into the pit, it wasn't his brothers who took him out, but non-Jewish traders. And when he was in prison, again it was not his brothers who rescued him, but Pharoah. The same Pharoah that redeemed Yosef, became the instrument of our affliction for 210 years in Egypt. The Jewish People have had 20 years to get Jonathan out of the pit, but have turned their backs on the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim. I fear for what our punishment will be, if the mitzvah is given over to our enemies."

Esther believes that as his name implies, Yeho Natan, G-d gave a gift to the Jewish people to unite and redeem Jonathan, and in so doing, to redeem themselves. "Every day Jonathan survives in prison is a complete miracle," she said.

Esther recalls the time she met the famous refusnik, Avraham Shiffrin, o'h, (husband of Eleonora). She described to Shiffrin the kind of treatment Jonathan has been subjected to in American prisons. He responded by saying, "All these years, I thought that my imprisonment in the Soviet camps was Hell. Now I realize, from what you are telling me, Jonathan is in Hell; I was only only in the waiting room."

Esther was reluctant to talk about Jonathan's current conditions of incarceration, but she did say, "He lives in a tiny space, so small that if you sit on his bed and stretch out your hands, you can touch both walls. He's an avid reader, but he can't keep many books. All of his worldly good have to fit into a tiny locker."

Speaking with obvious pride, Esther said, "Jonathan is a brilliant man. He has the ability to think out of the box, to take bits of information from a thousand sources and put them together in a way that no one else ever has. This is what made him a brilliant military analyst. This ability has also allowed him to study technology, energy production and water reclamation, and come up with ideas which have the potential to free Israel from dependency on foreign sources of energy and water."

So, even in the prison far away from the land and people for which he has sacrificed more than two decades of his life and his health, Jonathan Pollard still devotes his time to plans that will one day help the State of Israel in its future survival. And Esther Pollard continues to be optimistic that Jonathan's plans will see their fruition - even tomorrow.