Where is Jonathan?
HaRav Shlomo Aviner - IMRA - April 30, 2004
[May be reprinted with attribution]
Where is our brother, Jonathan Pollard? In his nineteenth year of captivity in an American prison.
Prison is a devastating place. We learn how terrible captivity is from a verse in Tenakh (Bible): "Thus saith the L-ord: Those who are meant for death, to death; and those who are meant for the sword, to the sword; and those who are meant for famine, to famine, and those who are meant for captivity, to captivity." (Jeremiah 15:2)
Rabbi Yochanan (the Talmudic sage) explains: "Each punishment mentioned in this verse is worse than the punishment which precedes it. The sword is worse than death. Famine is worse than the sword. Captivity is the worst of all, since captivity includes all of the other punishments." (Bava Batra 8b).
That is why down through the generations the Jewish People have always made great sacrifices to redeem captives. We often went so far that our sages were afraid that this self-sacrifice on behalf of captives would lead to our ruin. Therefore the Rabbis saw fit to attempt to set limits with a revised general ruling that "we ought not to pay more to redeem a captive than the captive's market value."
All the same, throughout our history, we never heeded this Rabbinic ordinance, because our hearts would fill with compassion and we would redeem captives at far beyond their market value (See Yam Shel Shlomo on Gittin, Ch. 4, Siman 66). Fortunate is the Nation whose sins are such as this -- may G-d forgive us!
And now, we are leaving our brother Jonathan to rot for the nineteenth year in his dark prison, and we dare to enjoy the sunlight?! Incredible! People do not understand what it is to be in an American prison. Jonathan does not have the minimal humane rights an Israeli prisoner has. Jonathan has never once had a furlough in 19 years; he was not even permitted to attend his mother's funeral. He cannot be alone with his wife --ever!
For the first seven years Jonathan suffered in solitary confinement in extreme temperatures and harsh conditions. The US prosecutor condemned him and declared, "You will never see the light of day!" Thus Jonathan languished for years in a dungeon cell, three floors below ground, behind 13 locks and keys - in the toughest unit of the harshest prison, with America's worst criminals.
Jonathan is no longer in solitary confinement but prison life remains harsh. It is deathly monotonous. Each day is identical to the one preceding it. It is overcrowded, there is no privacy and the noise is deafening, 24 hours a day. Worse, there is no Shabbat, no Yom Tov and no holidays, in prison. Every year Jonathan has to fight for things as simple as Pesach observance and Matzoht.
Jonathan is forced to work eight hours a day. His prison job is cleaning toilets and washing windows. Previously he worked in prison factories. In one, he suffered numerous injuries from the10 kilo blade he had to use to cut cloth to make uniforms for the US Navy. In another, he suffered excruciating headaches, extreme nausea and vertigo from the fumes and chemicals that he was forced to work with. Now he cleans toilets.
He certainly has no kosher food. Only in his heart he has G-d. He has faith. He is a deeply religious person. He wears a kipa and tzitzit, at great personal risk -- these signs mark him as an observant Jew in an anti-Semitic environment. And we dare to enjoy the sunlight?!
We would have to ask ourselves this question even if Jonathan were just an ordinary prisoner. How much more so, when so many of us owe him our lives! Briefly, here is the story:
Jonathan was a civilian analyst working for American Naval Intelligence in the early 1980's. He became aware that information vital to the security of the State of Israel was being intentionally, illegally embargoed by the US. This information dealt with the development of atomic, biological and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles by Syria, Iraq, Libya and Iran, for use against Israel, as well information on upcoming terror attacks against the citizens of Israel.
According to a 1983 letter of understanding signed by the two countries, America was obligated to transfer this information to the State of Israel. Pollard became aware that the lives of many Israelis were in danger due to this information being concealed. He therefore did everything in his power to renew its lawful flow. When his efforts did not bear fruit, he began to transfer that vital information straight to Israel.
He did this on his own initiative, without thought of reward. He is a righteous man, a tzaddik, and a hero of Israel. It is thanks to him that the State of Israel is prepared for the threat of non-conventional war. Thanks to him special bomb shelters were built and gas masks were distributed. Thanks to him that every new home in Israel must now, by law, be equipped with a sealed room. Before Pollard acted, we lacked even a minimal readiness to deal with the threat of biological and chemical weapons of war.
That's it. Pollard did his share and we abandoned him, left him to face the consequences, to sit in a dark prison and clean toilets.
In 1985 he was arrested, and for the next eleven years the State of Israel remained silent. Behind the scenes, Israel paid for a non-Jewish lawyer of Lebanese extraction who deprived Jonathan of his constitutional right to effective counsel. This lawyer never even filed an intent to appeal Jonathan's life sentence - something that is unheard of ! This failure deprived Jonathan of the right to ever appeal his unjust life sentence!
Jonathan never had a trial. In keeping with the needs of both Israel and the United States, Jonathan agreed to a plea bargain in order to spare the two countries the embarrassment of a lengthy trial. He cooperated fully with the prosecution, confessed and expressed contrition, but the American Government lied and cruelly reneged on its obligations. Thus, Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment with recommendations that he never be paroled.
It should be noted that Jonathan was never charged with causing damage to the United States, such as revealing codes, spies or war plans, and neither was he charged with treason, but only with transferring classified information to an ally. The median sentence for this type of offense is two to four years in prison. Pollard got life.
At the time of Pollard's arrest, the American Secretary of State, a friend of the State of Israel, was interested in resolving the matter quietly, and to send Pollard to Israel, on condition that Israel come clean about the affair and return all of the transferred documents, so that the Americans might know precisely what was at issue. Yet this plan too went awry, for the Israeli government, thinking they could fool the Americans, provided them with a false affidavit (See Excerpt from "Crazy Rhythm and All That Jazz"). The Americans were infuriated by Israel's deviousness and took it out on Pollard.
Israel abandoned Jonathan and remained indifferent to his plight. After 10 years, Jonathan began a series of lawsuits in Israel to force the Government to stop lying and to take responsibility. As a result, in 1995 the Israeli Government awarded Jonathan Israeli citizenship, and in 1998 he was recognized as an Israeli agent.
In the framework of the Wye Summit Accords, in the fall of 1998, the American President promised to free Pollard. As soon as the deal was made and the papers about to be signed, he reneged. Israel kept her end of the deal but has yet to collect on Pollard's release. (See the Wye Double-Cross Page.) Let us once more mention that Pollard caused no harm to the United States. He has never been accused, indicted or convicted of intending to harm the US. He has been repeatedly falsely accused only in the media, never in a court of law where he might challenge his accusers.
Despite the efforts of many good people on Jonathan's behalf, the Government of Israel has never really stepped forward in a meaningful way, and the US Government has exploited Israel's dereliction towards her agent. The bottom line is this: our wounded soldier has been abandoned in the field. Let us pray that his condition does deteriorate, and may G-d preserve and save him!
In any event, if a Government official says to you, "We are dealing with the Pollard matter quietly behind-the-scenes," don't believe it! What you can believe is that what they are doing is very quiet indeed. So quiet that behind-the-scenes no one has ever heard about it.
King David went to war in order to save members of his family from captivity (Samuel I 30:2). Abraham, even for his sinful nephew, Lot, risked his own life and went to war (Genesis 14:14).
One might say: "Jonathan Pollard is not my family." If not, then what is he? An alien? Or a brother? Are we brothers, or not? After all, even for one maidservant taken captive, Moses and all of Israel went to war (Numbers 21:1, Rashi).
If Israel were a world power then, Biblically speaking, it would be incumbent upon us to go so far as to declare war on America in order to free Jonathan. This is clearly not the case in modern times. Nevertheless, we cannot exempt ourselves from doing whatever we can to free him and from at least engaging in a public campaign to raise the profile of the case.
There are those who say, "Why bother when we cannot free Jonathan? America is too intransigent and the Israeli government too derelict. Nothing we do will help Jonathan." This is not true. Only the Almighty will determine the value and effect of our actions. The Almighty is the true judge. It is up to man to do the legwork, and the Almighty will do the rest.
We must demonstrate before every American emissary who comes to Israel, and before every American embassy on earth, and we must shout, "Where is Jonathan Pollard?" Moreover, every day we must call the Prime Minister's Office and ask, "Where is Pollard?" (02-670-5511). Even better, one should send a fax every day (02-566-4838 or 02-651-2631).
Likewise, whoever is willing to volunteer for work (manning information booths, home hospitality, parlor meetings, regional coordination, providing transportation, doing errands by car, disseminating materials, youth activities, computer work, bookkeeping, printing, translations, typing), should contact The Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home and/or Nissan GanOr. [Details on the Freepollard.org website.]
Jonathan, our brother, we have not forgotten you. May the Almighty speedily realize in you the blessing: "As for our brethren, the whole house of Israel, who are handed over to distress and captivity, on sea or on land, may G-d have mercy on them and grant them relief, bringing them from darkness to light, from servitude to liberty, speedily and very soon and let us say, Amen!"
Bio Note: Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is the Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Rabbi of Bet-El.
*J4JP Note: An earlier version of this Op-Ed appeared in Hebrew in "B'Ahava U B'Emunah," a weekly publication of Machon Meir, Jerusalem. It was translated from Hebrew and updated by J4JP for publication in English by IMRA with the permission of HaRav Aviner.