Our Man in America
Yediot Achronot Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Pollard
A Special Prison Visit with the Most Famous Jewish Prisoner in America
Yaniv Halily - Yediot Achronot - November 9, 2007
7 Days Weekend Magazine Front Page Feature Article
- Translated to English by Justice4JP
- Released in English November 12, 2007
- Originally titled Badad / Alone
- Click here to read the original Hebrew PDF.
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Alone, disgusted, worn out and fed up, locked up with murderers and pedophiles, Jonathan Pollard believes that the State of Israel would prefer him dead. Twenty-two years after being sentenced to life without possibility of parole, the man who spied for the benefit of Israel and was abandoned by her, fires in all directions taking aim at those whom he sees as being directly responsible for his fate, mainly Rafi Eitan, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak. His last hope, on the eve of the Annapolis Summit, appears to hang upon the Palestinians who are likely to suggest a deal in which Marwan Barghouti would also be released. "I will be very sorry," he says, "if they free me in return for an abhorrent murderer." Yaniv Halily reports from North Carolina.
At the entrance to the prison facility in Butner, North Carolina, hangs a breath-taking poster depicting snowy mountains and faraway horizons, and at the bottom the title: "Possibilities." Perhaps the poster is intended to awaken a sense of motivation in the guards who work there, who are able to take off and enjoy the freedom of a ski vacation any time. But it is impossible to escape the mixed emotions the poster evokes in those who come to this place to visit Jonathan Pollard, locked up in this facility for the rest of his life.
A month ago Pollard marked 8000 days in prison. For 22 years, the former Israeli agent has been incarcerated in different prisons in the United States - Butner is his 4th home behind bars - and the only thing that he can see at the end of the tunnel is another metal door.
Our visit takes place on Halloween which is the American version of Purim. It seems as if the incidental timing of our meeting has symbolic meaning. It is hard to understand the Kafkaesque story of Pollard which starts with espionage in the service of the State of Israel and ends, to date, with Israel's lack of interest in doing something, or even less than nothing for him. With the exception of a few politicians on the right who paid condolence visits to him, no one in Israel is in any rush to demand his release.
And Pollard? He is fading away from day to day as disappointment eats away at what little hope remains. "I am tired" he says with eyes dimmed. "I was awake all night, thinking about what to say to you. I am up to date on everything that goes on in Israel. Esther, my wife, says that it is important for me to be in Israel, even if only mentally. But I am fed up and disgusted. And mainly I am tired of it all."
IN A SECRET APARTMENT IN WASHINGTON
Jonathan Jay Pollard was born on August 7, 1954. In June of 1984, just shortly before his 30th birthday, he was promoted as an officer to the new Anti Terror Alert Center (ATAC) of the US Navy's terror investigation department. His list of responsibilities included the investigation and analysis of intelligence and information relating to potential threats to the United States. He had direct access to classified information concerning the Middle East. When Pollard discovered that the department he worked in was imposing an illegal intelligence embargo on Israel he asked his superiors about it and was brushed off with responses like, "Don't mix into matters that do not concern you."
This policy was in effect as a consequence of a strong anti-Israel atmosphere which trickled down through many government offices at the time of the tenure of Secretary of State Caspar Weinberger. Pollard knew that Israel was also supposed to benefit from the sharing of classified information, as was legally mandated according to a strategic intelligence-sharing agreement between Israel and the USA. He made contact with Aviam Sella, a senior officer in the Israeli Air Force who was in the US on a study sabbatical, who then made the connection between Pollard and LAKAM, a secret intelligence bureau operated by the Ministry of Defense, and headed by Rafi Eitan. In the course of a year and a half, Pollard transferred hundreds of documents to the heads of LAKAM. The information which he provided, as has been previously published, was of high quality and great value, and included information on the chemical, biological, and nuclear capabilities of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya. Pollard supplied Israel with detailed information on the development of ballistic missiles in neighboring Arab states, on plans to launch attacks on Israeli civilian targets, and on weapons deals arming the enemies of Israel. The crown jewel of the stack of information was satellite photos of the secret bases of enemy forces, including maps of the PLO headquarters in Tunis.
Pollard did not act alone. He recounts that the Embassy in Washington had rented an apartment where he would rendezvous every weekend with a large package of top secret documents. He would leave the documents in the apartment and a clerk from the Embassy would copy the documents and then return them to the apartment. At the beginning of each week, Pollard would retrieve the documents and return them to their proper files at his office.
But after someone whispered in the ears of the Americans that Pollard was a spy in the service of Israel, they began to watch him closely. Pollard remembers very well the events of the last days before he was caught. "On the last Friday I spent as a free man, the safe in my office was broken into and when I reported it to my superiors they reacted with equanimity. When I left the office for the weekend, I noticed that one of my colleagues was following me and even reporting on my movements by telephone. I discovered a hidden camera between the bricks on the ceiling in my office, right above my desk. But I could not run away: there were too many documents that I had left there which were important to the State of Israel which my disappearance would immediately have exposed."
Throughout the weekend Pollard recognized secret agents waiting outside his house. They followed him when he went for a walk with his first wife, Ann, and continued to monitor his every move. "The first thing I thought of was that I had to warn Aviam Sella so that he could escape before he was exposed. I sent Ann to speak with him. When she returned, I questioned her: 'Aviam was supposed to take you to Israel with him. Why didn't you go with him?' She replied that she did not want to leave me behind and that Aviam was not interested in taking her with him. I couldn't believe it! I asked her, "What, he deserted you?!"
"MAKE A MOVE AND I'LL SHOOT!"
On Monday, two days before he was arrested, his wife realized that someone had done a thorough search of their apartment. It was not an issue of 'so what?' since secret documents, which had been "borrowed" by Pollard and which he had not had a chance to return, were hidden in their apartment.
That night when Pollard left work and was walking towards his car he was taken by surprise when someone put a gun to his head. "You make one move and I'll shoot," said a voice from behind. Within seconds it became clear that these were the 2 agents who had done the intensive search of his apartment and located the briefcase filled with secret documents which Pollard was now carrying with him. When questioned, Pollard made an excuse about intending to work on them at home with a colleague from the office.
In order to mislead the agents, he told them that he was working for Pakistan. He was detained, questioned for a few hours and then released. But from this point on he knew he was living on borrowed time. "At this stage, I knew I had been burned. I called the emergency telephone number Rafi Eitan had given me, but the number was disconnected. I called a second number and reported that they were on to me and that I need to be evacuated, but the voice on the other end of the phone made it clear to me that there was no plan for my escape. Only the next day was I told to go to the Embassy."
On November 21, 1985, the State of Israel and Jonathan Pollard parted ways. He did exactly as he had been instructed to by his handlers who, he says, promised him that if he were caught he could seek refuge in the Embassy and he would not fall into the hands of the Americans.
"We got up in the morning and saw many secret service cars waiting outside the house. I took Ann and we went to the doctor in order to make it seem like business as usual. From there we continued on to the Embassy, but at this stage there were already secret service cars tailing us, and a number of helicopters circling overhead. At the gateway to the Embassy a car was waiting for me. I followed it inside and the gates closed behind my car. When I got out of the car I took a deep breath. "I'm home, aren't I?" I asked the security guards, and they nodded in the affirmative.
In the meantime American secret servicemen were waiting outside the fence and calling to me to come over. I didn't go. After several minutes an Embassy security officer approached me to tell me that they had spoken with Jerusalem and that I must leave the Embassy grounds. I was sure he was joking. But everyone around me quietly disappeared. My heart sank. I felt like I was in a bad dream. I thought maybe someone had made a mistake. I asked the officer if he knew who I was. He just looked at me and said that these are the orders he received.
I told him, "At least let my wife inside. She is very sick and she is innocent." But the officer refused and ordered: "Both of you have to leave, now!" We got inside the car, and I said good-bye to Ann in a whisper. I told her, "It is all going to be very bad. Be strong and maybe we will make it out of this. They are going to try to hurt you to get information, but don't tell them anything. After the event, it will be told, to her credit, that she really did not say anything."
When we left the Embassy, the agents arrested me immediately. I remember looking behind me one last time, and all of the blinds on all of the windows of the Embassy were being drawn shut, one after the other. I looked at the Israeli flag which was fluttering in the strong wind, as if it too were not comfortable with what it had just witnessed. It was a very dark and rainy day."
A ONE-SIDED PLEA AGREEMENT
During the initial interrogation Pollard refused to admit guilt and even refused to hand over the names of his direct handlers (Aviam Sella, Rafi Eitan, and Yossi Yagur, head of LAKAM in New York). His reticence enabled them to escape securely from American soil. Pollard recounts that it was only when his interrogators put a box in front of him full of the documents he had given to Israel, still bearing his fingerprints, that he realized that he had been abandoned and he admitted his guilt.
In order to spare both countries the embarrassment of a trial, a plea deal was worked out in which Pollard admitted his guilt and was charged with one count of espionage only. Days before sentencing, then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger submitted a 46 page memo to the sentencing judge. Later it was learned that in the document, whose contents have not been revealed publicly to this day, Weinberger claimed that Jonathan had done serious damage to American intelligence and therefore should be given the harshest possible sentence.
On March 4, 1987, Judge Aubrey Robinson (who was not obliged to honor the plea deal) decide to impose a life sentence on Pollard, without possibility of parole. His wife was sentenced to 5 years. Pollard fulfilled his end of the plea deal but has been rotting in prison ever since.
Dennis Ross, former American Special Envoy to the Middle East, provides an explanation for Pollard's long on-going incarceration. Ross states that Pollard is a bargaining chip that the US needs to hold onto until results are achieved in the final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians. In his book, "The Missing Peace" (published in 2004), Ross recounts how he sabotaged a unique opportunity for Pollard to be released by President Clinton at Wye: "I told [Clinton], you don't have many cards like this one in your pocket, save [Pollard] for later."
THE STRUGGLE FOR RECOGNITION
In recent years there has been a devaluation in the status of Pollard and in his value as a spy which was ascribed to him in the 80's. Few in the US are interested in him today, nor see in him any real threat. Few are opposed to him in the halls of Government, and even the American Jewish leaders who once ignored him, today are in favor of giving him public support. "After all, how long can one go on being opposed to a spy who was active in the days when the Soviet Union was still a political entity, and is now a distant memory," an American intelligence officer told me this week.
Yet all of the American officials that I spoke with this past week raised the same point with profound astonishment: how is it that Israel is not taking any meaningful action to free the agent who worked on behalf of the State and in its name? How can the State abandon a man who risked his life to save the lives of Israeli citizens?
Pollard feels this way as well. "There are people and institutions in Israel that are trying to save their own blood by spilling mine. We are talking about people who were thoroughly involved in my operation. If I were returned home they would be very embarrassed and perhaps find themselves subject to legal action. I am talking about politicians who have denied involvement in the espionage operation, when they knew every single detail of it. People like Shimon Peres, Rafi Eitan, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have a personal agenda against me. They resent the embarrassment that I caused Israel and they are furious that I am still alive. Some of them flaunt their warm relations with the Americans and with their ability to come and go in the corridors of power. If the relationship between Israel and the United States was so wonderful, why did they need my service?"
"But you know what hurts me the most in this whole story? That we have become a nation whose leaders are opportunists. Each one thinks only of his own position, of his political career, and about how best to achieve his own personal interests. The Government of Israel is concerned only with perpetuating its own existence. Look at what is going on with the police and with education in Israel. You are talking to me, a man who has been in captivity for 22 years, but ask yourself as well what is going on with the rest of our captives and MIAs: where are they? Why is no one concerned about bringing them home?"
Throughout his years in prison Pollard fought for recognition as an official agent who was run by the State and with the knowledge of its leaders. In 1995 Pollard requested Israeli citizenship, but his request was denied by then Minister of the Interior Ehud Barak, who had also been the head of Israel's Military Intelligence when Pollard was caught. Only after Pollard appealed to Bagatz (Israel's Supreme Court) and proved that during the operation he had been granted an Israeli passport under the name of Danny Cohen, was Barak forced to sign off on Pollard's citizenship application.
A year later, it was Prime Minister Shimon Peres' turn to reject Pollard's request for recognition as an official agent of the State of Israel. Pollard again appealed to Bagatz, and in 1998 he was granted the status he sought, in the form of an official letter which reads in part: "Jonathan Pollard was an Israeli agent, handled by high ranking Israeli officials in an Israeli authorized official bureau, LAKAM." This wording was not incidental: Pollard was run by LAKAM, but the State of Israel continues to deny that her top officials and leaders, amongst them Shimon Peres, Rabin, and Arens, knew about Pollard's operation and authorized it.
Two years ago, Pollard's wife Esther and representatives in Israel met with the State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, and appealed to him to investigate the government's handling of the case. Lindenstrauss promised he would investigate, but more than a year later he responded that Pollard's case is not within his jurisdiction.
Israel, at the outset, maintained that Pollard was an insignificant agent run by LAKAM, a small and unimportant intelligence agency in Israel. The Americans didn't buy it. Immediately after his arrest, the Americans demanded an explanation from the Government of Israel and a public acknowledgement of their complicity in the espionage operation. Israel refused to admit it, but instead gave the Americans a "gift" which buried Pollard in prison: a box of documents which Pollard had passed to Israel with his fingerprints on them. When the Americans examined the documents they were stunned: the documents were of great intelligence value and pertained to a number of American intelligence departments.
Judging by the range of the documents, the Americans understood that the Pollard operation was not a small one. Which is to say the Americans did not buy the claim that top government officials did not know about Pollard. Nevertheless, the highest levels of the Israeli government persisted in their denial.
Shortly after Pollard was exposed, former American Secretary of State George Shultz agreed to put an end to the affair. The only thing he asked was to receive sworn affidavits from the officials involved in the operation in order to be able to assess the extent of any damage. The task fell to Leonard Garment, a Jewish attorney, and former legal advisor to President Nixon, who had been retained to represent Aviam Sella, Pollard's handler who had escaped from the US.
Garment arrived in Israel, met with those who were involved and collected affidavits from them. One evening, Garment and Sella arranged to meet for a private conversation. Sella, who was the architect of the Pollard operation, provided Garment with a detailed description of how Pollard had been run over the 18 months that he provided information to Israel. Sella's account did not match the affidavits of the rest of those who were involved in the affair. Garment advised Peres and Rabin to change the affidavits they had given, with regard to the level of their involvement, because the Americans did not "buy" it. Garment says they both refused.
A short while after, in 1986, an Israeli delegation came to Washington to meet with Garment. The delegation, which included people from the Foreign Ministry, handed over to Garment the affidavits of all of those who had been involved in the affair (a new proffer for the Justice and State Departments). Garment recounts in his book that he had a look at the affidavits and told the members of the delegation that these were false affidavits and the Americans would find it very easy to prove that the statements were not true. When the members of the delegation expressed astonishment at how Garment knew that the statements were false, Garment pulled out the notepad where he had documented his private meeting with Aviam Sella. What happened next, Garment describes in his book, "Crazy Rhythm", which was published in 2001. From what Garment writes, the members of the delegation demanded that he hand over his notes and when he refused, they panicked and even decided to fire him as Aviam Sella's attorney.
The reaction was not long in coming. George Shultz read the Israeli affidavits and was enraged. The Americans decided to pursue charges against Sella even though he had already escaped from the United States. A short time later, a report appeared in the Los Angeles Times which announced that Aviam Sella had been promoted to the rank of Commander of Tel Nof Air Base and reported the promotion of Rafi Eitan, the second lead player in the affair, as CEO of Israel Chemicals Ltd. These promotions were interpreted by the Americans as proof that the Government of Israel knew about the running of Jonathan Pollard and was now rewarding his handlers.
Pollard signed a plea agreement with the US Government which was supposed to lead to a sentence of somewhere between 4 and 7 years, as was usual for those sentenced for spying for an ally. Even though the prosecution signed the plea agreement, the judge, Aubrey Robinson, decided to ignore the plea deal and sentenced Pollard to life in prison without parole. Given the absence of any other senior Israeli official on the ground, Pollard became America's whipping boy.
In a telephone conversation [with Yediot this week], Leonard Garment recounted how he tried to work to calm the affair and bring it to a comfortable resolution for both countries but Israel's overwhelming intransigence torpedoed the mission. "I met with Peres, Rabin and Arens, as well as with the rest of the people involved in the affair. Each one of them denied involvement in the operation, but the Americans wanted them to take a step forward and just admit to running an agent. In other words that they should admit that there was government involvement in running Pollard and that this was not about a freelance agent who acted on his own.
"I prepared an affidavit which said that the Government of Israel knew about the operation. The affidavit was authorized by the American Justice Department, and the Americans promised that once the Israelis signed, they would cancel the charges against Aviam Sella and reduce Pollard's sentence. I sent the affidavit to Prime Minister Shimon Peres, but never heard back from him."
Yediot: Why, in your estimation, did the Government of Israel refuse to admit involvement in the operation?
"They feared the political fallout from this kind of admission in Israel. It was likely to impact severely on the political life of every one of the top officials of the Israeli Government and on their political futures."
Yediot: If the Government of Israel were to admit today that it knew about running Pollard what damage is likely to be caused to the relations between the two countries?
"I don't think it would do any damage whatsoever. On the contrary, I am convinced that such an admission would lead to the release of Pollard. In my opinion the justice system's handling of his case was not fair."
And what does the prisoner, Pollard himself, have to day about this? "I knew this very well, right from the outset. When Peres made a deal with the Americans that the Americans would not use the documents which Israel returned to the US to prosecute me, it was clear to everyone in Israel that that was the end of me. In the 1987 Eban Commission report, which was the report of the Knesset Committee appointed to investigate the affair, it states that even Olmert testified at the time that the return of the documents would result in my death. In the last Bagatz which we filed (in Israel's Supreme Court) not long ago, the Government denied that any such deal existed between the Americans and Peres. The conclusion? Peres has lied the whole way, from start to finish."
Yediot: Have you ever tried to approach Peres to ask for his help?
"After Peres lost the elections to Bibi Netanyahu, my wife Esther appealed to Peres and he wrote her a hand-written letter in which he committed to work for my immediate release. But his words were empty promises; he has never done anything for my release. Not long ago he was here, visiting a place not far away from the prison, but he did not bother to visit me. Last month, during a trip to the Golan Heights he was asked about my release, and he responded, 'It is not in Israel's hands,' but it is indeed in Israel's hands."
Yediot: Why are you so convinced of that?
"Nine years ago, after filing in Bagatz and a long struggle, I won official recognition as an Israeli agent. The official document, signed by the Government's Legal Counsel Shimon Stein, was given to my attorney. But in all the time that has elapsed since then, Israel has not done a thing with that document. No copy was ever officially sent to the American Government so that it would know that the Government of Israel is behind me, and that Israel is serious about securing my release. Nor was an official copy even sent to the US Bureau of prisons so that I could have an easier time of it in prison. To this very day I am here with the status of a common criminal, not an agent in captivity. If that document were presented officially to the prison authorities I would be recognized as an agent and would receive better treatment."
Yediot: Prime Minister Olmert claims that he is working secretly for your release. Why shouldn't you believe him?
"I don't believe him, just like most of the people of Israel don't believe him. Physiologically, Olmert is incapable of telling the truth. We have some well-placed contacts both on the Israeli side and on the American side. And no one, on either side, has heard anything about any serious efforts by the Prime Minister to secure my release. The only consistent message that I get is that as far as the State is concerned I am dead."
Yediot: Do you still have any hope that someone in Israel will work for your release?
"The only person who might work on my behalf is Bibi Netanyahu. His heart is in the right place, but his lack of involvement for the last 9 years since Wye is outrageous. He is well-known in the United States, his opinions are respected, and he could work on my behalf, if only he wanted to. He is the only politician in whom I have any hope."
Yediot: What about Defense Minister Ehud Barak? He was the head of AMAN (Israel Military Intelligence) when you were caught. He surely knows the story well.
"He was directly involved in my operation. The tasking orders which I received came from AMAN. Rafi Eitan would ask AMAN what kind of information was needed, and he would task me to secure it. Many times, especially during the period preceding my arrest, I received orders which came to me on stationery with the AMAN logo. I also know that Barak came to the US shortly after I was exposed to testify that AMAN was not involved in running me. He has lied the whole way through. G-d help the State of Israel if Barak should be Prime Minister again!"
A MEETING AT THE MANSION IN PARIS
A central and disturbing part of Pollard's story has to do with the accusations against Rafi Eitan. Pollard says that Eitan, who gave him an Israeli passport during the operation, wants to see him die in prison to settle an old score: Pollard refused to provide Eitan with information not directly related to Israel's national security. Among other things, he reiterated these charges which I had heard before in a previous interview.
"In the summer of 1984, Eitan invited me to a meeting in a mansion in Paris, far from the watchful eyes of the Americans. During the course of the meeting, he asked me to provide him with a list of the names of American agents operating on Israeli soil and for me to pass him political information that could be used against Arik Sharon's political enemies. Of course, I refused. I refused to hand over a list of American agents, on the grounds that that would be an outright betrayal of my country; and I would not hand over political information because that was not my mission."
Yediot: Eitan claims that in his current status as a minister of the Government of Israel, he is working quietly for your release.
"When Rafi Eitan says 'quietly' he probably means as in the following example: a few years ago he met with Esther, my wife, and told her that he had made a big mistake in this affair. Esther expected that he would say he was sorry that he had abandoned me, but instead he said, "I made a mistake on the morning of Jonathan's arrest beside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, that I did not put a bullet through his head."
Pollard, prisoner number 09185-016 is incarcerated at FCI Butner, a federal prison facility, next to the sleepy town of Butner, North Carolina. The road to FCI Butner is reminiscent of a trip through the winding roads of the Galilee.
When you arrive at the Federal Correctional Institution, which is the official name of the facility, the atmosphere changes completely. On the outside, however, a serious attempt has been made to retain an outward facade of tranquility. Anyone who does not know that this is a prison is liable to think that he has arrived at a high tech suburb with new buildings and expansive lawns. But the entrance to the prison is the entrance to a parallel world.
In terms of American prisons, the conditions of Pollard's incarceration are considered reasonable. But the road to Butner was not an easy one. He endured years of severe conditions and harsh afflictions at a number of federal institutions, starting with USP Petersberg, Virginia which was his first facility after the sentencing hearing. According to his testimony (detailed in Bagatz submissions), he was repeatedly subjected to freezing showers for hours on end, and frequently forced to endure intrusive, humiliating body cavity searches without reason or rhyme.
WITH MURDERERS AND RAPISTS
In the prison with Jonathan now, more than 100 prisoners are locked up in the same unit, amongst them murderers, rapists, and many pedophiles. His last cell mate died of cancer recently, after a lengthy illness which Pollard was not only forced to witness, but also to care for him. His current cell mate came to prison after an illustrious career as a drug dealer. It is reasonable to assume that Pollard is the only prisoner with a Master's degree, and that he does not have many friends within the prison walls.
His daily routine is the same. He gets up at five in the morning. Immediately afterwards there is a count of prisoners to check that none of the prisoners have committed suicide or escaped. Pollard's first activity of the day is prayer, to which he devotes about an hour. "My prayers are a set routine that includes Tehillim; prayers for my wife; prayers for Israel; and prayers for the welfare of the soldiers of the IDF."
Daytime hours he spends scrubbing the unit's bathrooms. Every few hours he is permitted to walk outside onto the prison compound, but most of the time he avoids going outside during the day since he suffers from a circulatory illness which prohibits exposure to the sun.
He reads a book a day, either on Jewish history or physics. For years, he has been laboring on engineering plans and a portfolio of sketches for the creation of alternate energy power plants. "I hope that one day I will be able to realize my dream to design power plants in Israel."
Until he realizes his dream, Pollard is forced to be a witness to nightmarish scenes and to live under constant threat. " There is constant violence amongst the prisoners. Most altercations end fairly quickly and the guards don't even know they occurred. In prison one has to develop a sixth sense to be able to anticipate when something is about to happen and to get as far away as possible. But it is not always easy. Not long ago a prisoner was walking opposite me and another prisoner came along behind him and whacked him with a metal ball, cracking his skull open. What did I do when this happened? I distanced myself as far as possible, as quickly as possible, and I never looked in the direction of the wounded prisoner, because that would invite the next attack to be on me."
Yediot: Is it hard deal with such sights or does one become indifferent over time?
"The hardest thing is my inability to help another prisoner who is wounded or under attack. Too many times I have been a witness to the sexual assault and rape of prisoners by other prisoners. These are especially gruesome sights. Many times I have been torn between my desire to help the prisoner under attack, and my obligation to get as far away as possible so that I myself do not become a victim of sexual assault. But even when I distance myself, I can still hear the screams of the prisoner being raped, and it is very hard for me to deal with the fact that I am not able to do anything. There have been times when I have just broken down and cried."
The hardest times of all for him are Shabbat and Chagim (Jewish holidays). Pollard, who completed the process of tshuva (becoming observant) behind prison walls, is forced to spend the Sabbath and holidays alone. "Most Jews here are sex offenders and pedophiles. I am not capable of sitting down at the same table for Shabbat with people who raped their own children. Many who claim to be Jews here, are not Jews at all, but they pretend to be, in order to try to extract extra benefits, like holiday meals. Last Succot, the prison authorities erected a succah for the Jewish prisoners. I walked in, took one look at the faces of the pedophiles and non-Jews sitting there. I took a little schach, walked out and went off to the side to spend the holiday alone."
A WARM EMBRACE WITH NICK
The interview with Pollard takes place under the careful supervision of a prison guard and in the presence of Nick, an officer of the Department of Naval Intelligence, the same department where Pollard used to work. Nick makes it clear that during the interview we are to speak only English. Pollard is forbidden from revealing secret information to me or from discussing specific details of the espionage operation. For security reasons and for the sake of privacy, the interview is conducted on Wednesday, a day when visits are not held in the prison.
I am ordered to check my belongings in a special locker near the front entrance to the prison; and I am allowed to enter with only pen and paper. Following a thorough security check, I am asked to hand over to Nick the writing paper I brought with me. Only after he checks it carefully, am I permitted to bring it in with me. We pass through two electrified steel gates and there ahead of us is a long, sparkling clean corridor leading to the visit room.
A few minutes after we enter the visit room, Pollard sweeps in from within the prison compound. His hair, which had grown long over time, has surprisingly been shorn short. "To get ready to come home soon," he explains.
Pollard and Nick are glad to see one and other again. Later Nick explains to me that, "Jonathan is an extraordinary man, brilliant, and refined."
His life in prison has changed radically. He not only became religiously observant and married again, but also severed ties with his past. His ex-wife Ann was released from prison in ill health, mentally and physically, after serving 3 years (of a 5 year sentence) in prison. When she was released from prison she was served with divorce papers. "There were many casualties of this affair, and unfortunately my first marriage was one of them. I am not in contact with Ann and have no reason to be. I wish her all the very best."
His mother died a few years ago and he was not permitted to accompany her on her final journey. He has severed his relationship with his father and his two siblings. "When I am home, I hope to renew contact with my family," he says. He recounts that up until a few years ago, he used to receive visits from Mossad agents, "They told me that if I were as much of a patriot as I hold myself to be then I ought to commit suicide in prison. I call the Mossad the 'chevra keddishe' (the burial society) because what they most want of me is for me to kill myself. You can tell them not to hold their breath; it is not going to happen any time soon."
Alternately, visits from friendly faces are few and far between. HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu (former Chief Rabbi of Israel) who has worked for Pollard's release for years, makes a point of visiting him regularly, so does Rabbi Pesach Lerner (Exec. VP of the National Council of Young Israel) who accompanied me on this visit. A few politicians, mainly from the right, have come to visit in recent years. Pollard made it possible for them to launder and air public statements about how they were going to work overtime for him and even provided them with photo-ops. But in the end, Pollard says, not a single one did anything for him.
The struggle for his release in Israel is identified, more than anything else, with an energetic, strong-willed and articulate woman: Esther Pollard, his second wife. Until a few years ago, Esther lived in Butner, in a cheap roadside motel near the prison. She decided to relocate her home base to Israel to be able to work hands-on for her husband on the ground.
The story of their marriage is a sad one. The relationship blossomed when Esther, a Canadian-born Jew, heard his story and decided to write him a letter of support. They began with an exchange of letters which ended with a secret marriage which was arranged for them by a rabbi, and without permission from the US Bureau of Prisons. If this story reminds you of another famous couple, that is where the similarity ends. Unlike Yigal Amir, the assassin of the Prime Minister, Pollard is not permitted conjugal visits with his wife, not even one. His appeals to be allowed to bring children into the world with his wife fell on deaf ears. They have been together for 17 years, but have not had the privilege of realizing their love.
Yediot: Have thoughts of suicide ever crossed your mind?
"No. A Jew does not commit suicide. Ever. It is very difficult for me, but I never think of giving up, only of opportunities. Genetically I am not programmed for surrender. I spend every day thinking about what I will do when I get out of here."
ON THE ROAD TO A PACKAGE DEAL?
The official excuse for this interview was the Annapolis Summit which is set to deal with negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Traditionally, the question of Pollard's release has only come up in the context of negotiations with the Palestinians. Clinton first promised Prime Minister Rabin z"l that he would pardon Pollard, but his decision met with strong opposition from branches of the Intelligence Department. Later on, the issue of Pollard's release came up as well at the Wye Summit, but on the advice of Dennis Ross, Clinton chose to keep "the bargaining chip" - their words - for a later date and the signing of a hoped-for final agreement. There was great hope that when Clinton left office he would pardon Pollard on humanitarian grounds amongst all of the prisoners granted clemency by the president as his final act in office. The day came and Pollard's name was not on the list.
In recent months, Pollard's close contacts have been kept updated on his release by senior Palestinian officials. They are interested in advancing his release as part of a deal that would lead to the release of Marwan Barghouti, who is in prison in Israel. Pollard is not enamored of the idea. "I will be very sorry if they free me for the release of an unrepentant terrorist and abhorrent murderer." If it should happen, I would make a point of apologizing to the families of the victims he murdered.
"Nonetheless, I have great respect and appreciation for the Palestinian leadership's dedication to freeing its prisoners. It is amazing to see how the Palestinians do not forget their own people. That is a lot more than I can say about the Government of Israel."
Yediot: What are your expectations of the Annapolis Summit?
"I expect that my name should be brought up with the Americans and my immediate release demanded, unconditionally, and not as part of any prisoner swap. That is enough. What else needs to be done to get me out?"
Yediot: In hindsight, would you go back and spy for Israel again if you knew the price that you would pay for doing so?
"I would act upon my concerns for the State, but I would find a legal means to do so without endangering myself."
Yediot: What is the first thing you want to do when you get home?
"First of all, I want to enjoy being with my wife, to have the pleasure of doing ordinary things together, without having video cameras and overhead monitors following my every move, every single minute. This is what I lost and what I miss most in the last 8000 days I have been in prison, this the freedom I long for. After that, I will go and eat some shawarma."
May be reprinted provided the following conditions are met:
- Article must be reprinted as is, without editing and without insertions or deletions.
- Appropriate credit must be shown as to author, Yaniv Halily; original venue, Yediot Achronot 11/9/07; and source of translation, J4JP: Justice for Jonathan Pollard.
See Also: the original Hebrew PDF article.