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eye witness:

Free at Last, Free at Last

After 18 years in Israeli prison, 12 of them spent in solitary confinement, Mordechai Vanunu walked out today, proud of having disclosed the secret of Israel's nuclear arsenal, and calling for nuclear disarmamment of the Middle East. Fillmmaker Rachel Jones reports from outside the prison gates

Rachel Leah Jones

21 Apr. 2004

18 years to prepare (well, in my case only 12, as it was in 1992 that I first learned of Vanunu and his deeds), or even 3 hours (we assembled at 8:00, i arrived at 8:30, by 11:30 he was released) -- and I was still caught by surprise.

Because we were all crowding and pushing and negotiating our places in a four-pronged tug of war: supporters vs. opponents vs. police vs. journalists. Each party vying for his/her privileged spot. His/her right to be there and act as they please (and arguing between them: supporters with supporters, opponents with opponents, journalists with journalists, and cops with cops). The prospect of a stampede was palpable. And then he emerged: starched white shirt, hands raised high. V for victory, certainly his to claim if he wants.

Struggling to zoom in and catch a glimpse. As I replay the footage, I see my little white hands pushing someone's little white arm out of the frame (Susannah York...). And Gideon Spiro's "Welcome" sign flapping in the wind, covering Vanunu's face intermittently. What my right eye saw through the viewfinder, isn't what my left eye saw in front of me: a tall, brown, healthy, silver-haired man approaching the front gate with assurance and pride.

No Israeli Prison Service issued sweat-suit for our spy. You've probably seen it better than me. As seen by the press pool. From behind. But his approach was just that: he came to us. As though he had been waiting for us for 18 years, and 3 hours, not we awaiting him. It was suddenly so clear. Of course he had. Not us, per se, but what lay on our side of the gate. It was as though he had come to strengthen us, not the other way around.

He didn't just approach the gate, he jumped up on it, held onto it, and continued to wave. V. Vanunu will forever be associated with his hands, first with his kidnapping message, like a stop sign, telling us all to wake up and act. And now with this banal but triumphant gesture.

And he came to us first. Only then did he go to the press.

I could have joined the pool, the "insiders" view. I have the credentials.

I chose to stay on the outside, and my footage is worthless.

But I was caught by surprise.

Vanunu is free. Maybe freer than we.


Rachel Leah Jones is an independent director/producer born in Berkeley, California, and now living in Tel-Aviv. Her debut film, 500 Dunams on the Moon, was screened at Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, New York, 2002, to name one venue.