“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Abraham Lincoln
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REVIEW of Beyond Nuclear: Mordechai Vanunu's Freedom of Speech Trial
and My Life as a Muckraker
By Mark John Maguire
Eileen Fleming's book Beyond Nuclear: Mordechai Vanunu's Freedom of Speech Trial and My Life as a Muckraker is a fascinating insight into the life and mind of an activist pursuing a moral crusade against the might of a nation - in this case Israel.
It also provides a journal of such an individual's experiences in the complex and protracted struggle of the Middle East. Her journey of faith and belief in support of the Palestinian cause - and in particular that of Vanunu Mordechai, the Israeli dissident who served 18 years in prison for revealing Israel's illegal nuclear programme - has been a remarkable one: she clearly believes she has a purpose and that she is guided by a higher will and perhaps this is the secret to the huge radical energy she exudes.
Her book is an expression of that energy and of the uncompromising commitment she shares with Vanunu in attempting to right the injustices she sees in the daily lives of Palestinians.
Her conflict, which is charted in the book - and to a lesser extent Vanunu's - has been the wider Palestinian problem and the human rights abuses of the Israeli State
Her visits to Israel and her meetings with Vanunu and others in her efforts to publicize the story the mainstream media largely ignore - especially in the US - is inspiring.
There are few who would doubt the hardships and injustices suffered by the Palestinian people in Israel and its adjacent lands, nor the inadequacy of the international community's efforts to lessen their plight, but Beyond Nuclear brings this sharply into focus.
It also puts the Vanunu Mordechai case in the spotlight - the story of his abduction, his incarceration and the subsequent restrictions placed upon him are all recorded here.
But it is the humdrum indignities that are suffered by Vanunu, the petty restrictions, the heavy handed reactions of the authorities that are most striking: the sense of isolation which Vanunu endures daily, an outcast from his own people - a man on the outside - which has become a metaphor for the Palestinian situation: the Middle East has always been a cauldron of tension and conflict - it is the story of the Old Testament - but it has never been more complex than it is now; a web of related issues: nuclear, racial, religious and geo-political are stirred into an explosive mix. Vanunu's plight seems to epitomize this concoction: he is a Jew who converted to Christianity, a stranger amongst Palestinians, a man with whom the international community is ill at ease.
Nor are the problems of the Middle East likely to be resolved soon - the international resolve, as well as that of the immediate combatants is simply not there: in August 2009 - in the wake of a long catalogue of such wrongs - Fleming recounts how the eviction of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah area of Jerusalem drew international censure from the European Union, the UN, Britain and the USA: yet nothing has been done to this day to address such breaches of international law.
Indeed, one of the recurring themes in Eileen Fleming's book and in Mordechai's many interviews given since his release from prison in 2004 has been the fact that although the international community tacitly acknowledges Israel's nuclear capability, it has never subjected Israel to a single Atomic Weapons Authority Inspection. It is the white bear in the corner no-one will speak of.
There is much to exercise activists like Eileen Fleming. In some ways Beyond Nuclear is a dispiriting tale of episodic and endemic complaisance by the international community to serious abuses of international law, an unending cycle of oppression, resistance and terrorism; but it is also an affirmation of the ability of human beings to speak out, their willingness to take enormous risks with their own personal safety and to refuse to be cowed by the might of the State.
And there are the occasional brighter moments - for instance, the Israeli soldier playing with Palestinian children and Fleming's making contact with him from a Palestinian position and exchanging gestures of goodwill. It is a reminder that human beings populate such stories, committing kindnesses and atrocities with seeming equal randomness.
But a state is not the sum of its people, it has its own personality. Israel, as a State, is determined to defend itself and believes its prime objective is to protect its security by whatever means it deems necessary.
Fleming quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying that after a visit to Israel in 2006: "Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people."
Such wisdom and perceptiveness seems to fall on deaf ears, however - even when it is spoken by respected people like Tutu and it is hard not to escape the conclusion that until people of good will on both sides control the argument, progress will not be made.
Eileen Fleming's book reveals the frustrations of the truly committed in dealing with the half-committed - and the merely good-willed.
There is no doubting the strength of her own convictions and sense of mission - she will always, one suspects, have difficulty in finding people who can match her relentless energy and conviction.
In the end, Beyond Nuclear: Mordechai Vanunu's Freedom of Speech Trial and My Life as a Muckraker is an extraordinary tale of courage and conviction and the struggle of the individual's right to tell the truth and the State's determination to obscure it or subvert it for a perceived greater good:
The truth, as Oscar Wilde observed, is rarely simple and never pure.
And by the same token, the lesson Eileen Fleming would have us draw would be that the perceived good is seldom so good as to be worth it.
MJ Maguire, Author of The Night Traveller