Federal Correctional Institute, Butner, NC.
Last Friday (March 21, 1997) a little after one o’clock in the afternoon, the side door of the visiting room at the prison opened, and through it walked prisoner number 09185-016, Jonathan Pollard, accompanied by a guard.
For nearly seven years I had waited for this moment. At times I had despaired that it would ever occur. Then suddenly, it happened. Jonathan Pollard stood before me.
We sat around a small table in the modest cafeteria-like room that is used for family visits at the prison. The guard who accompanied Pollard spoke briefly with the American Naval Intelligence officer who had come especially from Washington, DC. Nearly 12 years have elapsed since Pollard was arrested, and the Americans are still fearful of Pollard — or at least they pretend to be fearful of him. That’s why a special agent was sent from Naval Intelligence (the last place that Pollard worked) to monitor our meeting. “Think of me as a fly on the wall,” the officer said, as he mumbled a few words of politeness.
I didn’t have any problem with his presence, any more than I had any intention of prying any state secrets out of Pollard. Twelve years have passed since the start of this affair, and the only thing that matters at all to Pollard is coming home. And his only home, his true home, his longed-for home, in spite of it all, is the State of Israel.
“What scares me the most,” said Pollard, “is that we won’t have time — Esther and I — to have a family. I want so badly to have children. I want to be a father. Time is running out. I’m not interested in adopting or in anything like that. The whole point is to have our own children. I want to live among my people in Israel, to share in what happens to Israel — the hardships, the tragedies, the explosions. To be an Israeli. That’s all.”
For seven years I have been closely following the Pollard case, and I have never been able to understand the intense uncompromising love Pollard continues to feel for the State of Israel. Even though he was betrayed by the state in the cruelest way imaginable; even though he was exploited by the state over an extended period of time, and then just thrown to the dogs; even though he was thrown out of the Israel Embassy in Washington into the waiting arms of the FBI; and even though in the end he was incriminated by the state he had served and risked his life, his family and his future for. In spite of all this, Pollard continues to speak of the state with great adoration as one would speak of a long-lost love.
He is a true patriot. When the conversation has to do with Israel or with Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces), his eyes sparkle. He expresses himself in terms that were more common in the early days of the state. Zionism, in his eyes, is not a dirty word, but a true ideal, and he is not ashamed to call himself a patriot.
Only now, after so many years, has Pollard begun to receive some recognition — a kind of breast-beating “mea culpa” flowing in dribs and drabs from “his nation” sharing in his pain. Nevertheless, even his Israeli citizenship had to be fought for, and he only received it because of the threat of the petition he had filed with the High Court of Justice. After he pleaded for a visit from the Israeli ambassador, they finally sent some low-level underling, a junior diplomat. The prime ministers continue to bring up his name only under coercion, and even then only in a whisper.
“So how do you explain it,” I asked him. “Why do you still love us so?”
“Nothing will ever change that,” he said with a smile, “even if tomorrow a Mossad hit team comes to target me, I will continue to love Israel. Israel is my country. That is the way I was born, the way I was brought up and the way I was educated. I wish all Jews would feel this way. I hate the Diaspora; I detest living outside the land. America is a luxury hotel — five stars. But Israel is home. Look, they say a man can only truly love one woman, and it’s true. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for America. I’ve expressed remorse for my deeds. I never did and I never would do anything to harm the United States. But for Israel, I am ready to lay down my life, here and now.”
Butner is a small, typically American town in the middle of nowhere. In order to get there you have to fly into the airport at Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, and from there drive west. The countryside is pretty — poetic and green. Little towns dot the countryside, secluded and peaceful.
The town of Butner has only one main street, lots of brown wooden homes, two or three restaurants for wayfarers and a few gas stations. A little farther on, beyond the picturesque curve in the road, the prison appears.
Some 5,000 prisoners are held at the Butner prison complex. On the outside, the place looks like a quality, well-kept vacation guest house. Grass-lined roads, decorative shrubbery, signs pointing the way.
The entry road splits, at a certain point, into two roads. The road to the right leads to the low security facility where prisoners who are not considered dangerous are held. To the left the more secure branch of the prison is laid out. This facility is defined as “medium to high security.”
Pollard is held in the more secure branch of the prison. Squat, gray concrete buildings surrounded by high fences and giant piles of razor-wire piled up in amazingly careful order. Silvery and sparkling in the sunlight.
Everything shines, well-kept, lightly oiled. There’s not a speck of rust or even the slightest hint of neglect or any disorder whatsoever.
Guards patrol the perimeter in white Ford vans. A large team of gardeners bustles between the lawns and gardens on small tractors and cares for the greenery. The overall atmosphere is peaceful, almost pastoral. America.
“Don’t be impressed by what you saw outside,” Pollard later told me. “Inside, things are completely different.” In recent years Pollard’s daily routine in prison has become more and more difficult. A number of prisoner uprisings in neighboring federal prisons that took place about two years ago have caused FCI Butner to be flooded with dangerous prisoners who were transferred to the facility where Pollard is held.
The level of personal security that Pollard feels is very low. Pollard won’t go into the prison dining hall if he is not sure that there are enough guards around at the time. Pollard doesn’t have any special problem with the guards or the prison officials. His main problem is with his fellow prisoners. His Jewish appearance and the kipa on his head do not help matters any. He has to live by his wits to survive.
In the entry hall of the prison a smiling guard received me, and helped me to fill out the required forms. Afterwards another guard named Kerry Mottern came to escort me into the prison. I had to check all my belongings in a small locker. Even my wallet. It is permissible to bring in only up to $20 in small bills for use in the coffee and sandwich machines that are lined up in the visiting room.
It is forbidden to bring the prisoner anything. No food. No drink. No money. It is forbidden to have any physical contact with the prisoner beyond a handshake, a brief kiss or embrace at the beginning of the visit and again at the end of the visit. Visitors are asked to show good taste in their dress or they may not be permitted to visit.
A long corridor leads to the visiting room. The guard, Mottern, polite and efficient, entrusted me into the hands of the special agent from Washington. We sat together and chatted and waited. The special agent was slightly bored, and I was in a high state of expectation.
Pollard arrived about 10 minutes later. He looked exactly as he did in the many pictures Esther had sent me. A long beard frames his face, his hair is overgrown, and he wears a small kipa. I’m not sure if our embrace was a brief one, as the prison rules stipulate, but the guards turned a blind eye. Pollard sat down, quickly wiped away a lingering tear, shook hands with the monitor from Washington and began to speak. “I’m glad you came, Ben. After seven years, it’s time that we should finally meet one another.”
I was glad, too. Jonathan Pollard spoke for nearly five hours. Fluently, quickly, clearly. He spoke about everything and did not avoid a single question. He spoke about Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon. He spoke about Aviem Sella, Rafi Eitan, Irit Erb, Yossi Yagur. He spoke about Esther, about Anne (his ex-wife), about Amnon Dror, about his parents and his sister. He spoke about Zionism, about freedom, about love and about disappointment. He spoke about life and death — and about what sustains him between the two.
One thing needs to be made perfectly clear: For five hours I scrutinized his words, carefully looking for any hint or any sign of emotional instability. Over the last few years, Pollard has been the victim of an ugly smear campaign orchestrated by certain individuals in Israel and the USA. They claim he is mentally disturbed, not stable, lives in his own world and is not responsible for his words and deeds.
This was never true, nor will it ever be true. Jonathan Pollard is a thoroughly focused individual; he is clear, he is gifted, and he is astonishingly intelligent. He knows what he is talking about, and he is equipped with an endless reservoir of knowledge in many diverse areas. He understands; he is discerning; he reacts and he responds.
No, he is not happy. And why should he be? He is quite angry, as a matter of fact. And he has more than his fair share of bitterness. But Jonathan Pollard is a completely normal person, and all those who try to claim otherwise merely compound their guilt by heaping another grievous sin upon their great iniquity.
A few hours before we met, a suicide bomber had blown himself up at the Apropo Cafe in Tel Aviv. A few minutes before he came into the visitor’s room, Pollard had heard about it on the news. “I’m enraged!” he told me. “He blew himself up in the middle of a coffeehouse, killed three innocent women, and who do they interview on the news? [Palestinian activist] Hanan Ashrawi! As if we’re the guilty ones! We are always the guilty ones! They kill us and still we’re to blame! I just couldn’t believe it! I was sitting there watching TV with a cup of tea in my hand and I had to leave the room because I was afraid I was going to throw it at someone!”
Arab terrorism and the Arab war on Israel were the main motivating factors in Pollard’s decision to work for the state. Within the framework of his job as a strategic analyst for American Naval Intelligence, he would routinely come across vital intelligence information concerning the arming of Arab countries and their efforts to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
When Pollard came across information on the arming of Iraq with chemical weapons, and when he understood that the Americans were not passing this information on to Israel, he decided to act. Not to hurt America, but to save Israel. That’s how it all began.
Six years after he was arrested and imprisoned, Pollard sat in a dungeon cell in the federal prison at Marion, IL, and watched on CNN as Scud missiles rained down on Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” he remembers. “I was helpless to do anything. My worst nightmare was realized before my very eyes. Look, I knew it would happen. I warned them that it would. And they all laughed at me. Avi [Israel Air Force attache Aviem Sella] came down hard on me. He didn’t believe me. I argued with him for hours about this. He just didn’t take the Iraqi threat seriously. I told him that they had the capability to reach Tel Aviv. He dismissed me with a condescending wave of his hand. Avi was a wonderful person, but he had the mind-set of a fighter pilot. He was sure that all you had to do was drop a half-ton bomb on any problem and that’s how to solve it. And that’s not true.
“When I saw the Scuds falling on Tel Aviv I felt I had failed. I paced my cell like a madman. This was precisely what I had worked to prevent. What I had sacrificed my life for. Where did I go wrong? I prayed that the Scuds did not contain chemical warheads. I knew exactly what would happen if a chemical missile fell. I knew all of Israel’s response plans. I knew what they would activate, I knew what they would use. And I was afraid of that.”
“Do you think Israel reacted appropriately by not responding to the Scud missiles?”
“I will never forgive Yitzhak Shamir, Moshe Arens and Ariel Sharon for not responding. It was a huge mistake — a fatal one. It was catastrophic. It dealt Israel’s deterrence a fatal blow. Look at what has happened to us today. Where is Israeli deterrence? When does any country allow another country to drop close to 40 missiles on its head and let it pass in silence?”
For close to 12 years Jonathan Pollard has languished in prison. He spent the first years in one of the harshest, most infamous prisons in the United States, FCI Marion. He was held there in solitary confinement, in a dungeon cell, without ever seeing another living soul. It has only been a few years since he was moved to Butner. When he was moved to Butner, his conditions improved, but prison life continues to be living hell on a daily basis. The nightmare continues — an unending saga of suffering, loneliness and frustration.
“How do you explain the antipathy on the part of Israel, the fact that the prime ministers have done so little, so late, on your behalf. Is it possible that there is something we don’t know? Some skeleton in the closet that causes everyone to flee as if you had the plague?”
“There is no such thing. I cannot hurt anyone. A lot of time has passed. I have no desire to do anyone any harm. I don’t hate anyone.
“In Israel there are all sorts of groups of people, each with their own special interests. There are those with dirty hands in my case, and as these things go, they have no interest in seeing me free. Then there are those who don’t want to harm the U.S.-Israel relationship. They behave like peasant subj ects of a vassal state of ‘The Empire.’ And if it costs the life of one man, so what? It’s bizarre, but each group has its own reason why not to act on my behalf. The right fears that if the Americans free me, that will prove their commitment to the peace process and thereby intensify Israel’s commitment. The left is totally self-effacing where the Americans are concerned, and fears making waves, so Pollard, they believe, has to be sacrificed. I fall somewhere in the middle, right between the cracks.”
“What about Benyamin Netanyahu? Why is it that he promised you and Esther the sun, the moon and the stars before the elections and now he scarcely remembers how to pronounce your name on his trembling lips?”
“Oh. I do not like that man. I do not know why, but I do not like him. He is all theatrics and posturing. He is not genuine. With Shimon Peres at least you always knew where you stood — for good or evil. What you see is what you get. With Netanyahu, who knows?
“Don’t forget, Netanyahu was the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations during my operation. And don’t forget that Moshe Arens was deeply involved with my activities. He knew everything. He okayed everything. Arens’ fingerprints were on all of the tasking orders I received, on all the operations, on all the directions. And Netanyahu, you mustn’t forget, was Arens’ ‘poodle.’
“Several sources have told me that Netanyahu played a part in the decision to throw me out of the embassy. There is no proof of this; I try to be cautious and I won’t make any accusations in this matter. But I don’t have any doubt that Netanyahu is one of those to be counted with the group that does not approach me with clean hands, and certainly not with clean consciences.”
Pollard asked, “Did you ever hear the real story of how we were expelled from the embassy?”
“Not really,” I replied.
“Then listen now, and you won’t believe…
“Anne and I drove into the Israeli embassy compound through the electronic gate. I was identified at the entrance, and they opened the gate for me. The FBI were following, but they did not enter; they remained outside. I had specific instructions from Avi and Rafi [Rafi Eitan, a member of the intelligence community] on how to behave in such a situation, and that is how I acted. When the electronic gate closed after me, I knew I was home. On safe ground. That I could stop worrying. It was over.
“We went inside. The security officer received us. ‘Do you know who I am ?’ I asked him. ‘Yes,’ he answered. I was glad. I felt relieved. For me and for Anne the tension of the last few days had been overwhelming, and it had exploded all at once. Now Israel was giving me refuge. Now Israel would protect me.
“About five minutes later the security officer went into some room, and he came out a few minutes later. Meanwhile, outside in the courtyard of the compound, there was a big uproar. Israeli security officers were all over the place with guns drawn in their hands. Outside the compound it was possible to make out all the FBI vehicles. Anne and I started to become apprehensive.
“The security officer called to me, ‘You will have to go outside and enter again through the main gate.’ I could not believe my ears. ‘Go outside? What for?! Do you know what is waiting for me outside?!’
“‘I am sorry. Those are the instructions.’
“‘Are you crazy? Have you gone out of your minds?!’ I asked him. ‘You know very well that they are waiting for me outside!’ He lowered his face, and did not answer. I knew I was finished. I knew I was fighting for my life.
“‘Listen!’ I said to him, ‘I’m Dani Cohen!’ [Pollard’s code name under which he was run, and the name under which he was given an official Israeli passport in the course of the operation.] ‘I know,’ he answered. ‘It’s me, Dani Cohen! Jonathan Pollard!’ I told him. He did not answer me. Tears ran down the cheeks of the security officer, and he didn’t answer. ‘Check it again!’ I begged him. ‘Don’t take a decision like this upon yourself! You’ll have it on your conscience for the rest of your life!’ ‘The decision has already been made,’ he said, ‘And not by me. I’m sorry.’
“I looked at Anne. She was devastated. I knew what awaited her. I knew what awaited me. I was less worried about my own fate than I was about hers. I knew she was innocent, that she was not involved, that she didn’t know. And I knew what suffering lay ahead for her.
“We went out. I stopped the car outside of the embassy compound. The FBI agents were upon us at once. They behaved appropriately. They had me bend over the hood of the car and they handcuffed me. I knew it was the end.
“I looked back at the embassy, and I saw my flag, blue and white, proudly flapping in the breeze. I felt the world was collapsing upon me. I raised my eyes to the windows of the embassy. Many pairs of eyes were staring back at me. At least two of the people that were watching me from the window were people I knew very well. People who had been involved in running me. And now that they saw me, the curtains were starting to close. The window blinds were drawn, one by one. Within moments the entire embassy was shrouded and locked up tight. I felt as if a large eye that had been watching over me the whole time had just closed. And I remained totally alone.”
Conscience is a sensitive word with Jonathan Pollard. He has left behind him many a troubled conscience. Many of the personalities involved in the affair have not been interviewed since the story exploded in November 1985. Such as, for example, Rafi Eitan, who was the chief of Lakam, the bureau of intelligence contacts that ran Pollard throughout the affair. And such as Aviem Sella, the air force officer who discovered Pollard, enlisted him and became his friend, his Secret Service contact and his confidant.
“I really like Avi,” said Pollard, who is in Federal Correction Institute in Butner, NC, for providing Israel with classified U.S. intelligence information. “No matter what, I like him very much. In spite of it all. He is a wonderful person. We spent a lot of time together. We spoke for hours. We were very close. He is a special man, very talented. He’s the kind of man I would be willing to follow into battle; I would follow him anywhere. If Avi ordered me to jump from a helicopter, I would jump. Okay, maybe not jump, but I would know that there was some very good reason that I was being asked to jump. He is a decent person.
“I believe that what happened to me with him was an exceptional case, because with me, in the end, he was not decent at all.
“Avi promised me all along that if something should happen, he would protect Anne [Pollard’s wife at the time] and get her out. We had an agreement that if something would happen, he would take Anne with him. Even if she didn’t want to go, he would put a gun to her head and take her with him, whether she wanted to or not.
“As far as I was concerned, I was prepared to do whatever I had to do in order to protect him, and I did. I did not turn him in; I made it possible for him to escape. I knew he didn’t have diplomatic immunity and that he would be lost if they got to him before he could get out of the country. I knew he was a thousand times more important to Israel than I was. I had already done what I could; he still had lots to offer. He was an outstanding officer and a distinguished pilot — the air force needed him.
“So I was astonished when Anne returned home the day that Avi fled the country. I asked her if he had asked her to go with him. She said that he had mentioned some sort of possibility of that kind but that she had said she wasn’t interested and he backed down. I was very disappointed. Hey, Avi, haven’t you forgotten something? You promised me you would get Anne out!
“Later, when I was being interrogated, they pulled out the testimony Avi had given in Israel. The interrogating agents, for some reason, allowed me five minutes to read it. They simply left it out in front of me and went out of the room. I was in handcuffs and the testimony was composed of more than 100 pages. I scanned the pages and I was floored. His words shot through my head. Bang. Bang. Bang. I had done everything I could to protect him, and he just sold me out.”
“And what about Rafi Eitan?”
Pollard’s face froze. “Look, I don’t want to hate anyone. I don’t have any extra energy to devote to hating. I need to use whatever strength I have to survive here. And believe me, that isn’t easy. Rafi? I am not angry and I do not hate him. What was, was. You know what bothered me more was in the middle of my plea session they suddenly announced that he had been promoted to be the head of Israel Chemical Ltd.
“And in the same breath, they announced that they had promoted Avi to be the commander of a large air force base. This infuriated the Americans. It would have had to infuriate them. Not only did they spy in the United States, they then fled the country and were rewarded with promotions. So why shouldn’t the Americans avenge themselves on me? I think that at such a sensitive time, they simply did not think things through.”
“Speaking of your plea agreement, what was it that happened with it in the end? You were supposed to get a relatively light sentence and ended up with a life sentence. Who betrayed you?”
“It happened in court, on the day that I entered my plea. Suddenly someone came into the room with a James Bond attache case handcuffed to his wrist. He approached the judge, took a bunch of papers out of his attache case and said, ‘One moment.’ He then replaced the original plea agreement with the copy he had brought. There were interesting changes. In the place where I had been described as an ‘Israeli agent,’ a line was drawn through it and the definition had been changed to ‘rogue agent’ [which means an agent who had no official authorization or who worked for officials who were not authorized]. In the place where the operation had been identified as an Israeli espionage operation, an additional line had been drawn to cross it out, and the words ‘rogue operation’ had been penned in.
“With one stroke of the pen they turned me from a foreign agent who had worked on behalf of the State of Israel into a freelancer who worked for himself — some wild-eyed, nationalist fanatic. Hey, that’s not true! Ben, you’re looking at Dani Cohen! At an Israel agent who worked for the Lakam intelligence office, who at one point received a salary and who has an Israeli company registered in his name! Who even had a date for deactivation! December. The month after I was arrested I was supposed to have been deactivated, to leave it all and move to Israel to build a life there.”
“At what point did you start to receive money for your activities?”
“The beginning was not on a monetary basis. My initiative had nothing to do with money. I had no interest in money. Rafi took care to pay me, but he did it in a strange way. He would send me different places, on errands and he would ask me to pay for things with my credit card; he would give me back the money in cash. I told him that it was crazy, that my credit card could incriminate me and he just said that that is the way it has to be done.
“By the way, he tried to convince me to bring him information on American agents in Israel. He said he was willing to pay any price for this. I absolutely refused. I had my red line. It was very clear to me that I would never do anything to endanger America or American lives. That’s not for me. I didn’t work for money; I wasn’t willing to do any such thing. I never had anything against America. I only wanted to save Israel.
“Suddenly they all abandoned me. Suddenly they don’t recognize me any more. Look, everyone knew about my activities, everyone from the bottom right up to the top. So what happened all of a sudden? The paritz [landlord] was angry? They were overcome by fear? Why didn’t they think about that beforehand?
“It was really sad to witness this kind of behavior, the confusion, the panic. Just like all the years in the Diaspora. Nothing had changed. It does not reflect honor. Why die on your knees in the ghetto? Isn’t it preferable to die a proud death on the field of battle? This is the mentality of eternal victims. Those who live in fear of ‘The Empire.’ In fear of the goyim.
“Why not stand courageously in the face of reality? To admit what happened and to move on from there? To stand up and act like a sovereign state, with pride? We have always been ruled over by different foreign empires, even to this day. ‘The Empire’ once sat upon the banks of the Nile, then upon the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris, then upon the Tiber and the Thames. Now it sits on the Potomac.”
“Who in fact was behind the changes in your plea agreement that ultimately resulted in a life sentence?”
“Look, I don’t exactly know. It was done in the usual way. There were two signatures on the two changes. One in blue, which was for the American representative, and one in red, which belonged to the Israeli representative. The signature in blue was the initials A.S. and I recognized them. It was the signature of Abe Sofer. The Israeli signature remains a mystery. I did not figure it or the initials out. I really want to know. I want to understand who the man was who sold me out. Because I want you to know that the man who was capable of selling me out is capable of selling out anything.”
Pollard’s troubles did not begin when the plea agreement was suddenly altered, but in fact well before then. It was Israel that helped to incriminate him. The confusion that gripped members of the political and intelligence leadership in Israel following the exposure of Pollard resulted in their complete loss of composure. A sharp team of Americans that was sent to Israel to investigate succeeded in pressuring the Israeli cabinet and in taking from Israel all the proof and documents necessary to indict Pollard.
“The incriminating evidence against me,” he says, “were the documents that I had given to Israel. After I was arrested, the Americans didn’t have any real way to prove anything. Via my attorney at the time, I sent a message to Israel and offered to make a deal. I asked that Israel not turn over any documents or papers to the Americans, and in return I would remain completely silent and never ever say a single word from now until eternity. As if I didn’t even exist. Believe me, I would have kept this promise.
“Then suddenly, I’m sitting in the interrogation room and they are laying out in front of me all of the documents I gave to Israel with my fingerprints still fresh upon them. I was in complete shock. I was prepared for almost anything, but not for this. I don’t think that there is a precedent in history where one country helps another country to incriminate its own agent.
“Israel thought that by behaving this way it could save itself. It pacified the Americans. And what happened? Nothing. Not only did we force ourselves to eat the rotten stinking fish, but we were still driven from the town. I’m in prison; Avi’s career is shot and where is Rafi? What good came out of this? It is hard for me to understand this kind of behavior. After all, the offer I had made to Israel was excellent all around. I didn’t ask them to free me; I didn’t ask them to do anything on my behalf. Just to be quiet and I would be quiet too, as is accepted practice in these situations.”
And that was not the only deal he offered to make with Israel. During the time when he was first incarcerated, worst of all was that his wife Anne’s health began to deteriorate seriously. At a certain point she dwindled down to 40 kilograms (88 pounds). She was simply fading away.
“I was worried. I sent a clear and desperate message to Israel asking them to send an Israeli medical team here. I sent the message to the prime minister and to the minister of internal affairs, who at the time was Aryeh Deri. I promised that if they would send a medical team to take care of her, I would ask nothing further of Israel and would never make any further contact with Israel. I promised to be quiet forever. To play dead. I intended to honor this promise, but the response I received stunned me. Deri said that he would pray for us. We got no response from the government. We really could have dropped dead for nothing. It wouldn’t have made any difference to them.”
“Is it true that you forced Anne to sign a plea agreement in which she would receive a light sentence while you would receive a harsh one?”
“That is completely true. With this hand that you are looking at right here, I took her hand and put a pen in it and forced her to sign together with me. She didn’t want to. I forced her.”
Jonathan and Anne’s divorce was, as they say, a difficult one. Laden with emotion and tears and obstacles. But in the end the get (Jewish divorce) was granted with the assistance of Rabbi Avi Weiss and another rabbi, an elderly man of 90, who carried out the proceedings with Pollard by telephone from New York.
During the course of our conversation, Pollard expressed interest in Anne’s fate and in what she is doing in Israel. He doesn’t have any complaints against her today. As far as he is concerned, she is a part of the past, part of his former life that keeps growing ever more distant. Pollard is completely engrossed at present, and has been for many years now, in what he describes as the love of his life — his current wife, Esther (Elaine) Pollard (formerly Zeitz).
Jonathan Pollard works in one of the factories at Federal Correctional Institute, Butner, NC. He stands there every day for eight hours sticking stickers on small boxes for glasses. At least 10,000 stickers a day.
“It gives me time to think,” he joked. “I’m good at it. I’ve developed great dexterity. I can do it very quickly and at the same time, use the time to think.”
His health is not good. One problem after another. Not long ago he had an operation to remove a growth from his nose that was causing him to hemorrhage. For three long months, Pollard, who is in prison for providing Israel with U.S. intelligence information, waited for the operation, which was delayed because of the extensive security that surrounds him.
Unlike what has recently been published in Israel, Pollard is not a prisoner like all other prisoners. He is subject to a number of security regulations that pertain only to him, such as the special agent that was sent from Washington to monitor our conversation. He, for example, is not allowed to wear a watch and he is not allowed to have a radio (so he listens to the one his cell mate has). They still treat him as if he poses some deep dark mysterious security risk that nobody quite knows how to define.
He is highly educated. He reads voraciously. There isn’t a history book, a biographical novel, or treatise on Israel, its rebirth or its military history that he hasn’t read. He speaks about the country as if he had grown up and lived his whole life there. Yet, in fact, he was only there twice; once on a youth program, and once in August 1985, two months before he was arrested.
He knows every nook and cranny of the country. He talks about the army, about Tel Aviv, about the tensions between the religious and the secular, about the political map, about the chances for a national unity government, about the problems of Arab terror — and displays remarkable knowledge, far broader in scope than the average Israeli.
He speaks about the country with great love and great longing. “I just want to be part of the Israeli experience. To live in the land, to have a stake in the issues with you. It is a part of me. All of my life I dreamed of this.
“You know what makes me really sad. I didn’t have to be here at all. Everything that happened didn’t ever have to happen at all. I had decided to move to Israel after college. To make aliya, to go into the army and to do reserve duty. To be an Israeli. But my family was very opposed. ‘After all we invested in you,’ they said, ‘all the best schools, how could you do such a thing to us?’ And I like a fool, put my plans off. And now I’m here. It simply did not have to happen.
“And you know what? I am, all in all, a failure. I am an agent who failed. True, there were mitigating circumstances. I was not trained for my mission; I wasn’t a professional. I made lots of mistakes. But that doesn’t change a whole lot. History will remember me as one who failed, as one who did not fulfill his mission. And that is really a shame. For that reason, it is so terribly important to me to have a family, to have children of my own. To leave my genetic imprint — half mine, half Esther’s — in the world. Not to remain a failure like this forever.”
The flow of Pollard’s words was unaltered throughout our conversation. In the meantime, the visiting room had filled up with prisoners and their families. Small black children were scattered about, chattering and making quite a racket. Couples were secretly “involved” between the tables and trying hard to escape the notice of the watchful eyes of the guards. But Pollard ignored all this and went on talking.
Three hours after we started our conversation, Pollard was called to the four o’clock count of prisoners. When he returned, I bought us each a cup of coffee from the nearby vending machine.
In Pollard’s cup, a medium-sized insect was floating. Pollard didn’t get excited. “It’s protein,” he joked. “I’m used to this.” He flicked the insect out of his cup and drank the rest of the coffee with pleasure.
“So what in fact do you want the government of Israel to do for you?”
“It should fight. It should act as if I exist. It should acknowledge that I worked on behalf of the state and for no one else. It should stand up and face the facts. After all, the Americans already know everything. Without fear, Israel will get results. All it takes is to act like a sovereign state. Why are we behaving like Honduras? Like Nicaragua? Like the smallest, most insignificant banana republic. Why?”
Pollard asked to speak about Yitzhak Rabin. The murder of the prime minister hit him hard. “I remember a letter that Rabin wrote for me to President Clinton. Amnon Dror showed me the letter. Rabin denied that the government had run me, but he did accept moral responsibility for my activities. That was what I had requested. He stated that if I were freed he would guarantee that I would not be interviewed, that I would not speak, that I would not receive a hero’s welcome in Israel, and that I would not run for parliament — Who me? Run for parliament?! Anyway, in short, Rabin was willing to go the whole nine yards. The letter, by the way, was never publicized.”
“Why did you fire Amnon?”
“I don’t really want to get into that. I don’t know who Amnon was taking his orders from; it certainly wasn’t from me. I do know where he was getting the money from. I know that he is in some way connected to the Mossad. The whole episode with Amnon, as far as I am concerned, is part of the past. He has no part in the effort to secure my release.”
“Now you are an Israeli citizen. Finally, the state stands behind you.”
“I wish. Look, even back then, even before I was sentenced to a life sentence, they brought Leonard Garment to Israel; he was appointed legal counsel to Avi Sella. He met with the cabinet, with Shamir, Peres, Rabin and Arens. Even then he told them that according to the evidence, Israel was in trouble and there was no point in trying to avoid it by denying involvement in the affair. They got rid of him. They tried to take his notes, and then they fired him. If they had listened to him then, I would be home today. I am sure of it.”
“I continue to hope. I can’t give up. I’m not built that way. The worst thing that could happen to me would be to accept the situation and just become resigned to it. To wait to see what would happen first, the end of the sentence (at least 20 years) or death. And I don’t want that to happen. I am always working; I am always thinking. Esther and I are always working. It is a shame that so few people are helping us.”
Pollard is about to submit a legal petition in America with regard to the Michael Schwartz case — a non-Jewish American naval officer who was caught not long ago passing classified information to the Saudis.
“He got off without any punishment, and he worked for the Saudis for two years. Has anyone in Israel ever asked themselves just what information it was that Schwartz gave to the Saudis? He worked for the navy at the American base at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Now what would the Saudis be interested in? About Jordan — they already know everything; also about Egypt.
“The only information that would interest the Saudis would be information on Israel. Exactly the information that the American navy has. I am convinced that Schwartz supplied the Saudis with all the information on the Israeli army, on the Israeli air force, on all of the Israeli military. But when you tell this to Israelis, they laugh and then keep very quiet. They are afraid to even check it out.
“What really saddens me the most is the shattering of the myth. I grew up with the belief that we don’t abandon wounded soldiers in enemy territory. I used to believe it. Yet the fact is that I am here, and no one cares.
“So how can we send our soldiers now deep into enemy territory? Let’s suppose I was in the reserves now and they would say to me, ‘Pollard, you’re going to Lebanon.’ I would think twice about it. Where is Ron Arad? Where is Zachary Baumel? Where are all the rest of our boys? How could Yitzhak Shamir have agreed to attend the Madrid Conference without first of all conditioning our attendance on the immediate resolution of the problem of the Israeli hostages and MIAs? What happened to Israeli pride? What happened to the myth? Where has it disappeared to?
An Israeli soldier who crosses over into enemy territory is simply expendable. He can no longer expect that he will be rescued, that they will do their utmost to save him, that they will take risks to do so.
“I grew up on Exodus, on the new Zionism, on the new sense of national pride, on the new Jew, who is re-vitalized, who isn’t afraid. I detest Diaspora mentality. I detest defeatism and Jews who are motivated by materialism to live in America.
“Not so long ago, I felt I was a front-line soldier forgotten deep in enemy territory, taking a last stand on a small hill. He fortifies himself on the hill surrounded by the enemy on all sides, but he has plenty of ammunition and lots of supplies. And they can’t defeat him. From time to time he ventures out, tries to break through the enemy lines encircling him, but he doesn’t succeed. No one helps him. The rescue column never arrives. But he survives, and continues to do damage to the enemy.”
“Now it’s a little different. My optimism has waned. Now I feel more like a ghetto fighter. Trapped, he knows his fate is sealed, it’s just a question of time. But in the meantime he fights. He inflicts losses on those who oppress him. He will die, but it’s too soon to eulogize him yet.”
And then Pollard pulled himself back, became boyish, smiled and said, “Relax, Ben, I have no intention of going down easily. If anyone in Israel is hoping that I will do him the favor of simply disappearing, of just drifting off into the mist, he should forget it. I’m here and I’m alive and kicking. You can’t escape from me. I have no intention of just slinking off into the night. I am not some worn-out figment of your imagination. I am real. And I intend to continue to fight until the truth comes to light.”
It’s no secret that there has been a major rupture between Jonathan and his wife, Esther, on the one hand, and the rest of the family (his parents and his sister, Carol) and the Israeli establishment that looks after the case, on the other hand. Pollard didn’t avoid this issue either. The things that he said were, in part, quite harsh, and they won’t be repeated here.
In any case, Pollard made it abundantly clear that the only people who represent him are his wife and his Israeli-American attorney, Larry Dub, who resides in Jerusalem. Pollard characterized the attempts that have been made to hurt Esther through the media as “cruel, false, slanderous and divorced from reality.” An article that was recently published in Israel on this subject caused him immense pain.
“I love my parents,” he said, “but at this stage, I have come to terms with the fact that as far as I am concerned they are dead. Not in the literal sense of the word, but as far as our relationship goes. I’ve crossed over the line on this matter. I am alive because of Esther. I am functioning because of her. She is the motivating factor in my life; she is my heart and my inspiration. I don’t understand how it is possible to wickedly attack a woman who has devoted her life to her husband. And I have to sit here, infuriated, witnessing it all, and I can’t defend her; I can’t even lift a finger. It’s a terrible feeling.”
He and his wife manage a sophisticated and broad range of activities, which includes sending out hundreds of faxes and hundreds of letters, making contact with an endless number of sources and keeping up with public opinion. All of this requires enormous amounts of work in public relations, as new ideas continue to sprout in Pollard’s mind with lightning speed.
Their activities, which cost a great deal, are funded by Esther’s modest salary, which she earns as a special education teacher in Toronto. The Pollard couple has never asked for financial help. My request to publicize their financial hardship has been rejected time and time again.
Nevertheless, I am for the first time here breaking my promise to the couple with regard to this matter: They need help. practical help, and financial help. Esther flies to Butner at least once a month. Jonathan’s phone calls cost a fortune, so do faxes and letters and the rest of their initiatives.
“The worst problem of all are the pangs of loneliness. I just miss her all of the time. She is the love of my life, and I just can’t wait for the day to realize that love forever.”
Twice in the course of our meeting, Pollard cried. Once, when he was telling me about a good friend who had made aliya and was killed in the helicopter disaster in the Beka’a a few months ago. “He always wanted me to fly with him on patrol some day,” Pollard recounted. “He was a very special man. Outstanding. When he was killed there in the crash, I felt as if a part of me had been torn away. To this day, I’ve never gotten over it.”
The second time that Pollard cried was when he spoke of several deeply personal matters, and I was asked not to write about them. Both times that he cried, the tears were not abundant nor were they an outburst of weeping. Rather, his tears were few in number, and they rolled down his bearded cheeks and were quickly wiped away. Pollard is a strong man; he won’t be easily broken. Or at least, that’s what he promised me.
I asked him when he intends to get a haircut. His hair has grown wild, almost to his shoulders. “I’ve already been asked that,” he smiled. “I intend to have my hair cut when they take me out of here. I hope that my hair won’t reach down to the floor until then.”
The visit came to an end. Five hours I spent with Jonathan Pollard, and I wanted to spend another 15. Pollard stood, embraced me again and smiled the saddest smile I have ever seen in my whole life. “We’ll see each other soon in Jerusalem,” he said. “Wait for me.”
Shai Bazak, the prime minister’s media adviser, relayed the following response: “The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is working tirelessly to seek the release of Jonathan Pollard and has spoken many times with senior officials in the American administration on this matter. The State of Israel is doing all it can to bring Pollard home as quickly as possible.”
Moshe Arens responded to Pollard’s words, saying: “These things are not true and I am not prepared to respond any further than that.”
It was not possible to obtain the response of Rafi Eitan, who was out of the country.
It was not possible to get a response from Aviem Sella by the time the paper went to press.
Ben Caspit is a staff writer for the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. His article about his visit with Jonathan Pollard appeared in the March 28 Ma’ariv weekend magazine, Sof Shavu’a. Their meeting marked the first time since Pollard’s arrest that he met with an Israeli journalist; this article, serialized for the past three weeks, marks the first time Pollard is being quoted directly and not through a third party since his last interview 10 years ago with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes. Reprinted here for the first time in English translation, with permission of Ma’ariv.