Free Jonathan For Me

July 17, 1998 - Yaffa Goldstein - Hatzofeh (Translated from Hebrew) - May be reprinted.

Esther Pollard is back with us again. It seems that Israel's official recognition of Jonathan as an Israeli agent which occurred two months ago has not, in the meantime, moved things forward at all. With the full support of the Rishon Letzion, Ha Rav Mordecai Eliahu, who has ruled that Jonathan's case is a mitzvah of Pidyan Shvuyim, Pollard's wife has returned to Israel to see to it that his case is not allowed to sink into oblivion.

Is Pollard's situation being influenced by the current state of bilateral relations between the US and Israel, which are not exactly brilliant at the moment?

Esther Pollard reacts indignantly to the question. "It is a complete farce to see Jonathan's situation as being dependent on the relations between the two countries. When the last Government (Labor) was in power and the relationship with Israel was at its best, did they release Jonathan? Or in any way advance his case? Just the opposite!"

According to his wife, Pollard does not receive kosher food in the American prison, nor does he receive proper medical treatment, appropriate to his medical condition. He lives and works in sealed rooms where the temperatures are burning hot, and there is neither air conditioning nor appropriate air circulation. As the only visible, kipa-wearing Jew, his life is in constant danger in prison, which is a hotbed of anti-Semitism.

"What's more," she fumes, "the fact that Israel publicly announced that Jonathan was an official Israeli agent signaled to the Americans that Israel was ready to begin intensive negotiations for his release. Two days later, the Prime Minister arrived in Washington and spoke before AIPAC's national convention. He did not even mention Jonathan's name." This she says was extremely damaging to the American perception of Israel's serious intent. While the Prime Minister did say to Esther in a meeting last week that the current government has done more than any previous government for Jonathan, Esther responds that making a public declaration and then failing to follow up with intensive action behind the scenes sent a clear messages to the Americans that Israel is not seriously committed to securing Pollard's release. Esther Pollard will meet with the Prime Minister again this week.

"We received phone calls from highly-placed contacts in Washington and on Capital Hill, mostly non-Jews, expressing their surprise that Israel had not yet contacted them to begin the process of intensive negotiation in order to free her agent. When more time passed and Israel still did nothing, the Americans drew the conclusion that the whole issue of Jonathan's change in status was nothing more than a public relations stunt designed for local consumption. This gave the green light to the Washington Post (which is not known for its support of Israel) to publish a devastating article about Jonathan and Israel. "Both Jonathan and I were portrayed as crazy people, and the Israeli Government was portrayed as foolish in an article which was nothing but lies, lies and more lies."

Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. Recently, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Schwartz, a non-Jewish American naval officer who spied for Saudi Arabia received not a single day in jail, for the same indictment as Pollard. His only punishment was dismissal from the Navy and loss of Navy pension and rank. Others have gotten relatively short sentences- some only a few months. In the worst cases 10 years. Another American (Peter Lee) who recently gave American nuclear munitions information to the Chinese, received a sentence of only a year in a half-way house. Other than Pollard, no agent who has spied for an ally has actually served more than five years in prison. Even though the maximum sentence for spying for an ally has since been limited to 10 years, the Americans have made no move to reconsider Pollard's grossly excessive sentence.

In an article that was published last week in the Jerusalem Post, the author quotes Angelo Codevilla who was one of the advisors to the Senate Special Committee which investigated espionage cases in the United States during the time of Pollard's arrest and conviction. Codevilla says that Pollard's great sin was that he was ahead of his time regarding America's disastrous policy of arming Iraq- at that time no one yet dreamed of the Gulf War. "Those most strongly opposed to Pollard's release are those responsible for arming Iraq- Schultz, Weinberger and Inman - and for withholding this information from Israel. It is precisely because of the information that Jonathan gave to Israel that the concept of preparing sealed rooms was born."

Esther Pollard adds that US law does not consider espionage as treason unless one spies for an enemy nation. This means that the sentence Jonathan received (i.e. one that has only been meted out to those who spied for enemies of the US) teaches us little about the offense that Jonathan committed, but teaches us a hard lesson about the way the US relates to Israel.

With her uncompromising approach, Esther Pollard has made enough enemies. This does not bother her- since her greatest detractors are the ones most responsible for foot-dragging in advancing Jonathan's release. Even when Pollard's family -who once held the heart of the Israel public - were active (and were in touch with her then, but have since cut the contact), nothing was done to secure his release.

Her attractive face becomes distorted with great anger whenever the name of any group is brought up or some story is mentioned about how attempts were made to "help" Pollard. Empty gestures for public consumption. As far as she is concerned, the litmus test is that he is still in prison.

She is extremely angry and frustrated with the silence in Israel. She likens Jonathan's situation to a terrible car accident. A crowd gathers around the victim who is lying on the ground bleeding heavily. All the bystanders keep saying that it is such a tragedy but absolutely no one makes a move to save him! "They all have their own excuses for not helping," she says, "including the spurious excuse that they won't help because Esther Pollard is too aggressive."

About Minister Sharansky who has recently been in the United States several times and yet still hasn't found the time to fulfill his long time promise to visit Jonathan. She said she recently met him in the corridor near the Prime Minister's office. She shook his hand and held it firmly as she asked him how it was that a man like himself who had been in prison could be so indifferent to her husband's suffering, after he sacrificed his life on behalf of Israel. She is no less astonished at the behavior of the religious public. She said that not a single one of the top NRP officials have ever been to visit Pollard, nor have the religious ministers and Knesset members. While it is true that M.K. Chanan Porat wrote to him, why she asks haven't the religious ministers and M.K.'s made Pollard's release a national priority, even conditioning their votes on his release. That would be fuel to fire the Prime Minister's efforts, she said.

Her well-groomed appearance and the determination in her eyes is all part of her uncompromising dedication to the fulfillment of one objective: the release of her husband. She does not take any time for herself. She also is not interested in talking about herself. Every minute of her time is taken up with meetings and conversations about her husband's case. When I ask her how long she plans on staying in Israel she answers me with irritation that that question bothers her more than any other: "Jonathan's life is hanging in the balance and they keep asking me how long I'm staying- as if I am here on vacation! Look, every minute that he manages to stay alive in that place is nothing but a complete miracle!"

When I tell her that Jonathan doesn't look bad in the pictures we've seen, in spite of the hardships he is undergoing, Esther answers me saying, " When I was on a hunger strike two years ago, I too did not look bad, even though I went some 20 days without food. Ha Rav Eliahu said that this was a sign of HaShem's personal supervision over us. It is clearly Divine Providence which guides us from above, for there is little if any help from below. And she adds "People don't understand that there isn't any time left for starting groups and forming committees, holding demonstrations or writing letters. It is too late for those things! M.K. Rechavaam Ze'evi who is a member of the Knesset lobby for Pollard recently warned the Prime Minister that unless the government takes immediate intensive action to bring Pollard home now- just the way they did for the agents in Jordan and in Switzerland- they are liable to bring Pollard home in a way that will be a tragedy for all the nation."

Esther Pollard has been with Jonathan for 8 years, and has been married to him for 5 - yet has never had the privilege of being alone with him. She started to write to Jonathan when she read a notice in the newspaper asking people to write to him to give him support and encouragement. At that time she did not remember that she had previously met him when the two of them were in Israel on youth group programs. At the time they shared a common love: love of the land and the people of Israel. When Jonathan received her letter, he had only 5 stamps and 25 letters to respond to. He felt an inner compulsion to respond to Esther's letter. His first letter , she says softly, touched her very deeply. It was only later on that the two of them remembered that they had been in Israel together.

Esther Pollard lives in Canada where she works as a teacher in Special Education, a job that she regards as challenging. All the rest of her time is devoted to Jonathan, "Without him, I have no life."

In order to visit her husband she has to take time off from work, and undertake a long and expensive trip from Toronto to North Carolina. Losing any part of her salary, which is the sole source of support for herself and Jonathan is very difficult, as is paying for the trip and all of their expenses. Nevertheless she manages to visit him at least once a month, and they speak on the phone every day. Originally they had to fight for the right to have her number included on his strictly limited phone list. She also had to fight for two years for his right to call her at an additional number in Israel. She has to send him money in advance to pay for the daily phone calls.

Four hundred prisoners share 2 telephones, so Jonathan spends long periods of time waiting in line so that he can call Esther. They often speak of their faith and trust in Divine Providence, and about their unending disappointments in man's efforts. And sometimes they speak of a time and a place when things will be better, in Israel, the land of their dreams, which was the first love they shared in common. Of a time when Jonathan will be free and they will have children which they so badly want.

Esther says that her only desire is to be a housewife and mother and to help Jonathan to accomplish the important projects he has planned. "He has many projects planned that will free Israel from her dependence on foreign energy sources, and that will solve her problems regarding water supply. Jonathan is an amazing man. He is the source of all of my strength. He keeps me going, even though we are now very weary and can't go on fighting alone any more."

This month Esther has not seen Jonathan. She doesn't have the means to pick up and make a quick trip from Israel to the United States. And she will not allow herself to leave until she has done everything possible to get the Government of Israel to move decisively. Which is to say until Pollard is free. Preferably tomorrow.

Some time back Esther rented a room in Katamon. She was thrown out when the owner became irritated by the media attention surrounding the case. Friends in Canada called on their connections and found a kind, pious widow in Jerusalem who offered Esther a room in her home. This is the place that Esther now calls "home" in Jerusalem. It was hard at first for Esther to be convinced to accept this kindness. She does not ask for money or even for encouragement or sympathy. All she wants, she says, is the "chessed" of the fulfillment of the mitzvah of "pidyan shvuyim".

"When I was on a hunger strike here in Jerusalem 2 years ago and the month of Ellul arrived, HaRav Eliahu blessed me. He said to me, Until now you were the only shofar blowing to wake up the nation. Now the month of Ellul has arrived and many shofars will be blowing.'

"Two years have passed. Here I am back again. Once again I am a shofar trying to wake up as many people as possible. Very soon it will be Ellul once more.

I am shouting as loud as I can. Trying to wake people up, before it's too late..."

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