Now is the time to save Jonathan

Makor Rishon Feature Interview with Esther Pollard
Dikla Gal-Ed - Makor Rishon - January 21, 2008

[Originally published in Hebrew, January 4, 2008. Translated to English by J4JP.]

The Knesset has decided that the State Comptroller will investigate Israel's handling of the Pollard case; members of the Jerusalem City Council will hold a ceremony to dedicate a public square in honor of Pollard; and many expect Olmert to raise the issue of Pollard as a main point during the visit of George W. Bush. Esther Pollard is skeptical about Olmert, but she believes in Jonathan.

After a slight delay - about

23 years

- a decision was made in the Knesset that Micha Lindenstrauss, the Israel State Comptroller, will investigate the overall handling of the Pollard Case by the State. Apparently, just the kind of thing that one would expect those who are fighting for his release to celebrate, but Esther Pollard, Jonathan's wife and head of the public struggle for the last 18 years, is not impressed. "There is a time to investigate and there is a time to act expeditiously to save a life," she says. "After 23 years in prison in harsh conditions Jonathan's life is literally hanging in the balance. Every day he struggles to survive in spite of his failing health; in spite of the harsh conditions he is held in; and in spite of the violent, anti-Semitic environment. Jonathan has served more than 5 times the usual sentence for the offense he committed, including 7 years in solitary confinement. Israel has already paid the full price for Jonathan at Wye (the release of 750 terrorists with blood on their hands). In a very few days from now, President George Bush will arrive in Israel. Now is the time for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to ask President Bush to make a gesture to Israel: to free Jonathan Pollard now. The time to save Jonathan's life is now. To bring him home safe and sound. When Jonathan is home and out of harm's way, there will be ample time to investigate.

Makor Rishon: Is it really that bad there?

Esther Pollard:

Every single day that Jonathan survives is a complete miracle. American officials have even told us that they themselves have never seen such an amazing thing - for an abandoned agent to hold on for such a long time without giving up.

Makor Rishon: Really, how does he do it? What's his secret?

Esther Pollard:

It's because of his endless faith and trust. What kills an abandoned agent is not the afflictions or the violent environment, but the loss of hope. The knowledge that he is abandoned and alone and that no one cares about him. But for Jonathan, things are different. He trusts the Borei HaOlam (the Creator of the World) without exception; he has me, and he has hundreds of thousands of supporters who work for his release, who write to him, and who pray for him. This is what keeps him alive.

Makor Rishon: Doesn't the investigation by the State Comptroller raise his spirits?

Esther Pollard:

The decision is a fine one, but the timing is not. Now is the time to free him, not to investigate what was not done and why he is still there. Investigations of this sort drag out for years. Even if the State Comptroller would come to insightful conclusions, it would make far more sense for him to do so once Jonathan is home and out of harm's way.

The Mayor won't be there

It's not only Pollard's wife who says that his health is failing and continues to deteriorate from day to day. This is the impression of a number of people who have visited with him lately. He is in dire need of medical care, of living conditions far more reasonable than the ones he is currently held in, of appropriate medication, and of on-going medical surveillance by proper doctors. What he gets instead is degrading treatment, a cramped cell, a violent and anti-Semitic atmosphere, and the kind of food and living conditions that even a healthy person could not handle.

The sense of urgency has given rise to a slew of initiatives for Pollard in time for President Bush's arrival in Israel. On Monday afternoon at 2:30 in the afternoon, two days before the arrival of the President of the United States of America, members of the Jerusalem City Council will be holding a ceremony, led by Rep. Mina Fenton (NRP), who holds the folio for Foreign Relations, the Jewish People & Israeli Heritage folio, and is also the Chairperson for the Committee for the Advancement of Women.

Makor Rishon: 2:30 in the afternoon, Rep. Fenton, isn't that a strange hour to hold a demonstration?

Mina Fenton:

It's true that this is not a time traditionally associated with demonstrations, but we see this as a plus. We are not interested in holding a demonstration. We are arranging a ceremony; an official, respectable ceremony. We anticipate that those who will attend the ceremony will be the kind of people who support Jonathan Pollard, but who do not, as a rule, participate in demonstrations.

Makor Rishon: But it won't be really be official, will it? The Mayor won't be there.

Mina Fenton:

Unfortunately, the impending visit of the President of the United States does not allow us the time needed to hold orderly hearings and for an official decision to be made with all the i's dotted and the t's crossed. The name of the square will be changed to FREEDOM FOR JONATHAN POLLARD SQUARE, not under the official auspices of the city, but under the auspices of the members of the city council. We believe that in time we will overcome all of the legal red tape to expedite the approval process and ensure that the name change will retroactively become "official".

It's not certain that this optimism is warranted. Or that the problems at City Hall are just bureaucratic. City officials tell of how for a long time now, many appeals have been made to the Mayor, Uri Lupolianski, to make some sort of symbolic ceremony or gesture in support of Jonathan Pollard. There were a number of ideas proposed, ones that would not have been difficult to realize, and certainly not dangerous to anyone, such as granting a certificate of honor, or giving him Yakir HaIr status, naming a street after Pollard --- the kind of things that would have raised his spirits and would have sent a message to the Americans to lay off and stop afflicting him in prison. However, Lupolianski, somehow or other, always came up with an excuse to reject every proposal: once it was because he was not old enough (you have to be 70 years old to be considered for Yakir HaIr status); another time it was because the "rules" would not allow it.

City Hall was not always so hung up about the rules. After the Twin Towers were destroyed, for example, when Ehud Olmert was the Mayor, overnight he changed the name of Jaffa Street to New York Street, as a gesture of solidarity with the Americans, without so much as a by-your-leave from anyone. Olmert did this on his own say-so, without thinking twice, and without regard to any rules or to the law.

By the way, one of those who appealed to the Mayor on behalf of Pollard was the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu. He even wrote an official letter to Lupolianski. Sources close to HaRav Elihyahu say that the rabbi was deeply disappointed when his request was spurned.

Perhaps precisely because of the controversy

Makor Rishon: Rep. Fenton, why you and why now? And why indeed do you see the Jerusalem City Council as the right body to do this?

Mina Fenton:

I'm a Jew, a citizen of the State of Israel, the State of the Jews, and I am obliged as we all are, to arevut hadaddeet; to be responsible for each other. It is very simple: as one who was born here and educated in the Land, and brought up with the moral values of love for the Land and the People, I feel an enormous obligation to our kidnapped soldiers, to our MIA's and our captives, and among them Jonathan Pollard. Every one of them is flesh of our flesh. We are entering into his 23rd year in prison, where he is held in dismal conditions at FCI Butner in North Carolina. Throughout the years the administration has changed many times; there have been so many opportunities for Prime Ministers, Presidents and MKs to what was needed to secure his release. None of them made the requisite effort, except perhaps Netanyahu, who at the last minute was stabbed in the back by Clinton and forced to return home without Pollard. So why the Jerusalem City Council? Because of everything that the city of Jerusalem stands for. And also because Esther Pollard, in her personal struggle for his release, chose Jerusalem as home. She is the hero who motivates everyone else.

Makor Rishon: Do you believe this will help? After all, there have been so many symbolic events for him like this.

Mina Fenton:

It is not just a symbolic event, this is a public demonstration of our feelings, our expression of sorrow and pain. It includes our hopes and prayers, and this is a powerful time, as President Bush is about to arrive in the Land.

Makor Rishon: Why should President Bush want to do anything at all with this issue, to start a conflict with the CIA?

Mina Fenton:

He has nothing to lose. Like all those in his position, (similar to what we previously witnessed with Arik Sharon) Bush is concerned about his legacy and how the pages of history will remember him. In this instance, he has a once in a lifetime opportunity; and perhaps he will want to do it precisely because of all the controversy surrounding the issue. Look, nothing is going to collapse or fall apart there because of this. I understand that Bush is a man of faith, and he has humane touch, after so many years of such suffering, this release would be a humanitarian deed of the first order. He is a man of humanitarian gestures, even though today humanitarian gestures no longer occupy a place of honor in the world. Bush is a man known for going with his intuition and his inner sense of truth, even when controversy may be involved.

Like Regev, Goldwasser and Shalit

The oft expressed "hope" that at the last second before he leaves the White House, Bush will free the eternal hostage, is one that profoundly annoys his wife. "People speak of the end of his term as if it were next week," she says, "but in fact, it is January 2009. A year from now. Jonathan is in mortal danger right now! People do not understand that every single day is critical; every day that he survives is a miracle!"

Pollard wants people to recognize the fact that her husband is a prisoner of Zion, and a captive, no less than Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser and Gilad Shalit. Each and every one of them, as well as the MIAs has the psak din of the mitzvah of Pidyan Shvuyim (the redemption of a captive). The heart and attention of the nation is focused mainly on the youngsters in captivity, while the older captive is kicked to the side and abandoned.

These are difficult times for Esther. She made a decision with her husband and with their rabbi, HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu, who considers Pollard like a son, that it is time for Jonathan to return home, and that she should settle in the Land to wait for him here. In essence that means that she no longer meets with her husband in prison. But she speaks with him by phone every day, using his small daily allotment of telephone minutes (which he must pay for at an exorbitant cost per minute). When I ask her when the last time was that she saw Jonathan, she starts to cry and I along with her.

Bella Amiram, a Jerusalem widow who heard about Esther's distressed situation, opened her home and her heart to her and offered her a room in the apartment where she lives. Esther thanks HaKadosh Baruchu for this kind hospitality that has been on-going for a number of years now, but points to the total lack of financial support by the Government of Israel, as further evidence of the government's indifference to her husband. She adds that the entire time that Jonathan, who is recognized as an Israeli agent, has been in captivity, neither she nor her husband has received a single cent from the Government of Israel. She has legal documents in hand, in which the Government of Israel openly admits that it owes full support to the Israeli agent; but none of these commitments has ever been fulfilled.

Makor Rishon: Do you think that the issue will be raised in talks between Bush and Olmert?

Esther Pollard:

No. The best that I can hope for is that both sides will not succeed in avoiding the issue, but it does not seem to me that Jonathan is currently on Olmert's agenda for the meeting with Bush.

Makor Rishon: On what do you base your pessimistic expectations?

Esther Pollard:

On experience. The minute that there are serious talks for a release, they need to involve us in order to secure our cooperation. Before the Wye Summit, American officials, and Israeli officials (the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary) made sure to meet with us, to tell us what was expected to occur, and to instruct us on how we were to comport ourselves. We were also enjoined from speaking to the media. As well, when the late Prime Minister Rabin was about to begin negotiations with President Clinton for Jonathan's release, we went through the same drill. Today, no such steps have been taken. That is why I have no reason to believe that the issue is on the agenda.

Clinton reneged on his commitment

"Unfortunately, Pollard adds, "the only ones who do bring up the issue from time to time, are the Arabs, who exploit Jonathan's value as a bargaining chip. Both the Arabs and the Americans understand Jonathan's value as a bargaining chip for the Israeli public and they exploit his plight to secure painful concessions from Israel. A classic example of this kind of exploitation occurred at the Wye Summit in 1998. The Americans committed to release Jonathan in return for Israel's release of 750 Palestinian terrorists and murderers with blood on their hands. But at the last minute, acting on the advice of Dennis Ross, Clinton reneged on his commitment and refused to free Jonathan, because of his "great value as a bargaining chip" which would be needed for future negotiations. The 750 murders went free, but Jonathan remained in prison. This is what Ross writes in his book "The Missing Peace."

Makor Rishon: How do you deal with this difficult story. What keeps you going?

Esther Pollard:

Jonathan keeps me going! He is an amazing person. He has such faith and trust in the Borei HaOlam. He is the one who inspires me; he encourages me to carry on. He believes that ultimately justice will prevail. He believes that with G-d's help, he will soon be home. I believe that Jonathan is the key to the fundamental rectification of which Israel is sorely in need. His abandonment lies at the heart of all of the abandonments that followed and of all of the abandonments which are on-going today: the abandonment of our soldiers in the field; the abandonment of Mudhat Yosuf at Kever Yosef; the abandonment of the SLA collaborators in Lebanon; the expulsion from Gush Katif and the Shomron; the abandonment of the soldiers and people of the North during the Second Lebanon War, and of course the long, on-going abandonment of the people of Sderot. Don't you see the obvious line of causation which connects all of these abandonments? It all started with the abandonment of Jonathan. His abandonment is the root of all the others, and it is the place where the tikun (rectification) has to start. Jonathan is the opportunity that HaShem gave to us to redeem ourselves. Jonathan is as his name suggests, Yeho-natan ("G-d has given"). G-d has given us the opportunity to unite around an issue that is so essential, the mitzvah of Pidyan Shvuyim. By redeeming Jonathan, ultimately we shall redeem ourselves.

The interview ends and just as I am about to take leave of Esther, she receives a telephone call from Galei Tzahal (IDF) Radio. They want to interview her about the announcement that the State Comptroller intends to begin an investigation about Pollard. It is obvious to the onlooker that she struggles hard not to say 'no.' In real life, Esther Pollard is completely different than the way some media outlets have portrayed her, as someone who seeks media attention and enjoys it. Publicity is difficult for her. Being on stage is a trial for her. I notice that when she answers the questions that the Galei Tzahal interviewer asks, her hands are shaking.

Esther took on this mission at the request of her husband, who believes that she is the only one who can run the campaign for his freedom properly; and she does it, but without joy. The interviewer on the other end of the phone line is surprised and disappointed that Esther is not overjoyed by the news.

Esther does her best to convey the same message that she just finished explaining to me a few minutes before: now is not the time for investigations. Now is the time to free Jonathan. The interviewer is irritated. It seems like she is not accustomed to an interviewee who does not answer questions the way the responses were anticipated, so that the next questions planned by the interviewer and her editors would naturally follow. The expectation on the part of the radio station, was to be able to conduct and conclude the interview without anyone having to think too much about what was being said.

Perhaps this closing vignette is an analogy for the entire Pollard case. It bespeaks the necessity of doing things to win Jonathan's freedom by taking unforeseen, unpredictable initiatives; routine-busting steps and thought-provoking action.

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