Theater of Cruelty

Exciting about loyalty and obedience

Mordechai Vanunu has become Israel's number one enemy of Israel. The lawyer and peace activist Fredrik S. Heffermehl gives a slightly different picture of him in his book Vanunu.


"The dissent and the dissenters are the oxygen of democracy. Society needs those who do not keep pace, those who report injustices and mistakes, those who have the courage to prevent leaders – private and public – from taking the inner swing of their subjects by hiding important information that the public is entitled to. "

The quote is from the preface to Fredrik S. Heffermehl's book on nuclear engineer Mordechai Vanunu. In the book, he rolls up Vanunu's story from birth and upbringing in Marakesh, Morocco via the move to Israel as a nine-year-old in 1963. Vanunu quickly revealed himself as a man of courage and own opinions.

Will to nonconformity

Joseph Rotblath, the 1995 Peace Prize winner, has stated the following: "Willingness to go one's own ways and deviate from adopted norms is crucial to the development of civilization." Heffermehl's book documents that Vanunu had such a will.

Who is Vanunu? He was the nuclear engineer at the Dimona reactor who revealed Israel's nuclear weapons program. First for a Colombian journalist, then for the British newspaper The Sunday Times. Vanunu, in 1986, after quitting his job at Dimona, kidnapped by Israeli agents in Rome, was taken to Israel and sentenced to 18 years in prison for breach of confidentiality. In 12 of the 18 years he sat on a six square meter cell in total isolation. He was released on April 21, 2004, but is still not allowed to leave Israel.

Ethical dilemma

Vanunu is what we, in English terms, call a "whistleblower", or a whistleblower which is the Norwegian word. Heffermehl believes alerters in given situations are absolutely necessary. "Alert occurs in a tension between loyalty and conscience," he writes. It was thus in this voltage field that Vanunu found himself after he quit his job at the nuclear reactor. We do not need much imagination to realize that it is uncomfortable to be in this field of tension for too long.

When should an employee, wherever he or she has to work, keep a secret? When should he or she become an alert? Heffermehl never conceals that there is an ethical dilemma here. He also discusses this explicitly throughout much of the book as the issue is one of the central themes. And since he has something concrete to show, the example of Vanunu, or a case called journalism, the topic becomes more than theoretical pointed skills and academic training exercises for lawyers and philosophers.

Zoo for people

The book on Vanunu, of course, is also about the atrocities of the Israeli state against a single person, and against the Palestinians, and shows that the biblical belief in being God's chosen people can unfortunately go wrong. It is one of history's strangest and most incomprehensible paradoxes that the Israeli government, which today represents a people that, more than many others in world history, both on body and soul, has felt the consequences of a similar men's view, does not understand what they themselves are doing.

However, the book is not completely silent. In some places, Heffermehl has an urge to reflect a little too much on who he himself is and what he has done for the cause of peace, for the other thinkers and for the dissenters. This could possibly be defended as the book's subtitle is His fight and the fight for him. I have no doubt that Heffermehl has done what he says he has in the book, but it would have dressed exactly this book if he diminished his efforts here, because this should not be about him.

And for a reviewer who has some insight into the Norwegian prison system, it is interesting to read yet another book that shows that prison is hardly the solution. Vanunu writes about the case: “Prison is a zoo for people. In prison, people lose their humanity, the animal in them grows. "

I couldn't say better.

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