Ellul is Here...and Jonathan Pollard Remains in the Pit

Special to IMRA - August 7, 2002 - Jonathan Pollard's 48th Birthday

by HaRav Shlomo Aviner

Justice4JP Introductory Note:

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner wrote the following essay to mark Jonathan's 48th birthday, August 7, 2002, which coincides with Erev Rosh Chodesh Ellul. Jonathan has now spent nearly 17 years in prison - more than 1/3 of his life. His life sentence, "a fundamental miscarriage of justice" (Appeals Court Judge Steven Williams), was the direct result of deprivations of his constitutional rights to due process and effective assistance of counsel. For 17 years, the Government of Israel and the American Jewish leadership have - each for their own reasons - closed ranks and turned a blind eye to the injustice of Jonathan's sentence. Their pro-forma lip service to the case and utter failure to act in the interests of securing justice, has broadcast a clear message of indifference to the plight of Jonathan Pollard, which not been lost on 4 successive American Administrations.


It is Erev Rosh Chodesh Ellul and Jonathan's 48th birthday. He mourns silently, without tears. He mourns not for himself, but for Joseph Ha'Tzaddik who was thrown into the pit, and for all the subsequent "Josephs" who were thrown into all kinds of pits. Jonathan is the current "Joseph" through which our nation is being tested. He is mourning for his brothers' still-unrectified sin of selling the original Joseph.


He has been there for almost seventeen years. That is a long time for reflection. He still asks the same questions that remain unanswered. Why is his sentence so much more severe than anyone else who committed a similar offense in the U.S.? Why is he the only one in the history of the U.S. to get a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally? And why is his life sentence more severe than even those who spied for enemy nations?

Jonathan was never accused, indicted or convicted of treason. The only charge against him was one count of passing classified information to an ally, with no intent to harm the U.S. So why did he receive a life sentence, a punishment that the U.S. reserves for traitors? He passed information to Israel which the United States was obligated to share with Israel according to a 1983 letter of understanding signed by the two nations. Why did the U.S. blindside Israel? Why is Jonathan being singled out for such severe treatment? Why are his cleared attorneys not permitted to see the classified portions of his own court docket? Why is such a terrible injustice being perpetrated against him? Why?


He is aching for his brothers who threw him into it. He remembers that they promised him: "You are our brother. We will protect you. If you ever need us, just go straight to the Israeli Embassy in Washington and let us handle everything. Yet when he sought refuge at the Embassy, as he recalls all too well, they threw him out - right into the waiting arms of the law. Not only did his brothers deliver Jonathan up, they also provided the documents that were used to incriminate him.


In the course of his 17 years of incarceration he remembers every one of the numerous episodes of physical privation and pain. He still recalls his first days at Springfield, a prison facility for the criminally insane - he was not a patient. They stripped him of his clothes and his glasses and threw him into a cold, empty cell with nothing in it but a hard metal slab for a bed. He was held in freezing cold temperatures, completely naked, for the entire year of his stay there. Once a month, federal agents would come to the facility to interrogate Jonathan. They would throw a blanket over him so that they would not have to see his nakedness during the interrogation. They would show him a list of prominent Jewish American names and tell him that if he wanted to get out of Springfield to put an "X" beside any of the names as his co-conspirators. Jonathan would not cooperate. He would not sell out his brothers. Not even to save himself.

Even now, Jonathan is still in a pit - the pit of life a life sentence. Other prisoners come and go. The murderers, the rapists, the thieves, the con-men, the drug dealers and baby-rapers, they all go home. Only Jonathan remains. Unlike long-term prisoners in Israel, Jonathan has never had a furlough; he is never permitted to be alone with his wife; he is completely bereft of the opportunity to have children; he does not receive kosher food and is not even allowed to learn in Hebrew. His only ray of light is his beloved wife, Esther, who visits him regularly with great devotion.


In 1985 when he was arrested by the U.S., Israel promptly abandoned him by lying and denying his official connection to the Jewish State. It took 10 years and a series of lawsuits before Israel officially acknowledged him in 1995, granting him citizenship. It took another lawsuit and 3 more years before Israel admitted in 1998 that Jonathan was an official agent of the State -- as if this were some sort of gesture! It was no gesture. These were hard-won victories for truth which Jonathan fought for, both in and out of court, for over a decade! All of Jonathan's tasking orders as an agent were approved by the head of Israel Military Intelligence. Why hasn't the State of Israel moved Earth and high Heaven to free him? Why has it missed so many opportunities? Could there be any greater injustice?


. Over the years, self-serving Israeli officials have leaked cruel lies to the media which undermine Jonathan's fight for freedom. American Jewish leaders do the same in attempt to distance themselves from the case. The Jewish leaders all seem to conveniently "forget" that Jonathan is an Israeli agent in peril. In 1998 the government of Israel admitted that Jonathan was a bona fide agent. But when it suits their purposes, Jewish officials still exploit the old lies that Jonathan was a rogue agent and a mercenary! They lie about his personality and his mental state; they lie about his wife; they lie about his worth. They even make a deal to "trade" Jonathan for 750 Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands. The terrorists are released, but no one in Israel remembers to collect Jonathan! Why was that deal ever made? Is that what Jonathan is worth in their eyes? Does he have blood on his hands? Him??


. In Pollard's 16th year of incarceration, the Israeli Government and the American Jewish leadership expended all its political energy to secure a pardon for an American billionaire criminal fugitive from the law, who gave generously to their causes. They used Pollard as the "throw-away" to get the pardon and left Israel's agent to rot in prison. When the deep involvement of the Israel Government and the American Jewish leadership in this scheme was revealed, it caused sufficient embarrassment so that press statements were made pledging to "now redouble efforts for Pollard." No such efforts have ever occurred.


He agonizes over his brothers who used him and then turned their backs on him. He tried every way he could think of to get vital information to Israel legally, but failed. In fear for the Jewish lives that might be lost, Jonathan broke the law by giving the information to Israel. He deserved to be punished, but surely the punishment ought to fit the crime. Thanks to Jonathan, Israel learned about terror attacks being planned against its citizens and thanks to Jonathan Israel learned that Syria, Iraq, Libya and Iran were preparing atomic, chemical and biological weapons for use against it. Today there are gas masks and sealed rooms in every home in Israel, thanks to Jonathan.

For this, Jonathan was singled out for the harshest treatment that the American Justice System could dish out, and Israel never said a word. Israel never protested even when the Americans broke every promise they made, including the promise not to use the documents Israel returned against Pollard; and the promise to free Jonathan as an integral part of the Wye Accords. Even when Michael Schwartz, the non-Jewish American Navy officer who spied for Saudi Arabia, got not a day in prison for the same offense that landed Jonathan a life sentence, Israel never protested.

Once a year in the Knesset, they make grand speeches about Jonathan, give wonderful press statements, and hold photo-ops ... but 17 years later Jonathan is still in the pit. Sometimes government officials even make promises. But they have yet to keep a single one. When Pollard's name appears in the Israeli press, it is not for his benefit, but so that they can exploit his plight for unrelated and unholy purposes. Jonathan is suffering in the pit; but what hurts him most of all is the way his own brothers have betrayed him.


His brothers forgot him, but he did not forget them. He still cares deeply about Israel. He loves Israel. He worries about Israel. He is a very bright man, a man of rare genius. He is constantly thinking about the future of Israel, searching for solutions to resolve the country's energy crisis, her economic situation and security dilemmas. From his scant resources - neither he nor his wife receive a cent from the Government of Israel and they are in dire financial straits - he contributes to charitable organizations in Israel; he prays for those wounded in terrorist attacks; and sends his wife to comfort the mourners of terror victims. Recently she brought Jonathan's message of comfort and strength to the bereaved parents and family of Elezar Liebowitz z"l, as they were sitting shiva in Hebron. Dear brothers! Jonathan does not forget us! How can we forget him!


He weeps tears of blood. For almost seventeen years Jonathan has been in the pit. He touches the cold walls, touches the darkness, touches his aching head and his diseased sinuses. He thinks when will I get out of here? He no longer believes in salvation coming from the Chief Butler or the Chief Baker, from this Minister from America or that one from Israel -- but only from the Master of the Universe.

Yet he is not alone in the pit. G-d is with him. G-d is his Rock and Fortress, shining His countenance upon him and sustaining him through it all. Even in the pit, Jonathan remains righteous like Joseph Ha'tzaddik. There are negative influences all around him seeking to corrupt his soul, but he holds fast to his faith and to the truth. G-d is always with him in the pit.


. During Ellul we intensify our prayers, building spiritual strength for Rosh HaShana - the time that Joseph Ha'tzaddik was released. We owe a debt of gratitude to Jonathan and long to see him here in Israel so that we may escort him to the Kotel to kiss its holy stones. All Jews, wherever they are, must intensify their prayers for Jonathan [Yehonatan ben Malka] and increase their efforts on his behalf. He should not have to spend another day in prison, much less another birthday!


"As for our brethren of the whole House of Israel, who are in distress and in captivity, on land or on sea, may G-d have mercy on them and deliver them from dire straits to relief, from darkness to light, and from servitude to redemption, speedily and very soon!" Amain! (Excerpt from Shacharit prayers).


And may there soon be fulfilled through the brave and courageous Jonathan, the words: "O L-rd, You have raised my soul from She'ol [Hell]. You have kept me alive, that I should not descend to the Pit." (Psalms 30:4) Amain! Ken yihi ratzon!

Biographical Note

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is the author of over thirty books on Jewish Law, Philosophy and Biblical commentary. He is regularly featured in many newspapers and magazines, commenting on current events and topics of Jewish interest. Rabbi Aviner is currently Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Kohanim in the Old City of Jerusalem and Rabbi of Bet-El.

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