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June 2002

Secret Trial In Israel Convicts Israeli American;

Mystery Regarding Charges

By Jim Scanlon

After being held in isolation and confinement for more than a year somewhere in Israel, Itzhak Yaakov, a 76 year old native born Israeli New York resident with dual US-Israeli citizenship, was reported to have been convicted of revealing secret information about Israel's nuclear weapons program in an unpublished manuscript of a memoir he may have sent to US publishers. This information appeared in a 2 inch notice in the New York Times on May 15, 2002. Yaakov, a hero in Israel's 1948 war of independence, and a classmate of the murdered Itzhak Rabin, was head of weapons development during the 1960s when Israel was building its nuclear arsenal. He retired from military service in 1973 and moved to New York where he helped Israel nurture and develop its hugely successful hi-tech industry. He is regarded as the "father of Israeli hi-tech" and has been called, "Mr. Security."

The events surrounding Yaakov's arrest and secret trial are scanty. He is said to have been arrested on March 28, 2001 as he was leaving Ben Gurion Airport with his Russian born wife, after having returned briefly to Israel for a party to celebrate his 75th birthday, a party attended by many Israeli notables including Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres. His arrest was kept secret for almost two months until a report appeared in April in the London Sunday Times. Shortly thereafter Israeli officials confirmed the arrest and released some information.

The secret arrest of Yaakov brings to mind the case of Mordecai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician who, in 1985, provided information to the London Sunday Times on Israel's nuclear weapons program. Vanunu was lured from London to Rome where he was kidnapped and brought secretly to Israel, tried and sentenced to 18 years in prison. It has been rumored that he is being held in solitary confinement. His term should expire in two years.

From May 2001 until the tiny note in the Times last week, details of General Yaakov's whereabouts and his condition (he reportedly has had heart attacks) have been non existent. Basically he has disappeared and no one knows why.

The May 2, 2001 article that appeared in the NY Times by Deborah Sontag reported that a secret court indictment accused Yaakov of "...passing confidential information to unauthorized individuals" and that "he had been questioned about his relationship with a Russian woman (presumably his wife) who may have had access to his work with the Israeli military 27 years ago".

Normally in a court of law, charges are presented in the form of , "on such and such a day, in such and such a place, at such a time, so and so did this and that, in violation of Whatever Statute etc. The information released concerning the alleged indictment does not conform to this model.

Secret trials imply a repressive, despotic system. In the US, almost all trials that involve serious espionage are plea bargained to limit the amount of information on the public record but portions are open. The Walker Spy family, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen all agreed to plead guilty. Michael Townley, an American with CIA connections, assassinated two people in Washington and two in Buenos Aires, plead guilty to a felony, got less than two years time and became a federal protected witness. There are only 79 pages of documents in Townley's public court file, but at least there is a public file.

Sontag related a strange story from a friend of Yaakov about an interview he gave to an Israeli reporter, "making his case for his contribution to Israel's history" after "an incident that hurt him" and "his being disqualified for the state's highest honor, the Israel Prize" [because he lived in New York]. It is difficult to imagine how anything like this could have provoked any Israeli government to take such drastic action and makes the arrest appear to be a kind of bizarre historical dispute with political implications.

Could it have been motivated by some ancient vendetta supported by the Sharon faction of the Likud government? Was Yaakov close to, or working with, US intelligence? Was it a case of "the revolution devouring its children?" A generational conflict? Can one believe any information released about a secret trial?

Sontag also quotes a statement made on the radio by an Israeli general, the Director of the Ministry of Defense, who said "...we are not talking about a spy case" and that the incident, "was very unfortunate" and Yaakov was, "...a man with a history of admirable deeds... [but.]... nonetheless ... the authorities had no choice [but to arrest [him]." The phrase, "had no choice", is often used to justify the most violent deeds.

Yaakov is said to have turned down two attempts by unnamed American officials to assist him, which seems strange on the face of it, particularly since Yaakov's wife is quoted to have said in tears, "It would be unwise for me ...to say anything ... I would love to shout, but I cannot do this now. He is not well."

This was a year ago and since then there has been no new information except that Yaakov has now been convicted and could face up to 15 years imprisonment.

The story of nuclear proliferation in the "free world" is well known by now if only in outline. The United States directly assisted Great Britain in developing atomic weapons. The US aided France indirectly and in a way that provided "plausible deniability" and France, in turn, directly aided Israel in developing its bombs. The French and Israelis even staged the theatrical make believe hijacking of a shipload of uranium ore off coast of Normandy and Israel and South Africa later jointly tested a small bomb in the South Atlantic.

(During the late 1940s, the Soviet Union was immensely aided in its nuclear weapons program by Soviet agents working on the US bomb project and China, Pakistan and India seem to have developed their bombs much later on their own).

Israel, with perhaps the fifth largest integrated armored strike force in the world is considered by the NY Times to have the sixth largest nuclear force (it might actually be the third or forth!) and it is often spoken of as the only genuine democracy in the Middle East. It has a parliamentary form of government consisting of fragmentary coalition governments which allow disproportionate influence to fringe, and fanatical religious parties. It's population is a majority of mostly recent Jewish migrants (within a century and a half) and a large minority of semi assimilated second class Arab Israelis citizens. In Judea and Samaria, the so called Occupied Territories, a small minority of ideologically committed Jews receive special subsidies and are protected by the army and favored by the government, while and the native Arab majority live under a harsh military occupation and a legal system inherited from the Ottoman Empire.

It is difficult to imagine any democratic society, except perhaps the apartheid government of South Africa, or Indonesia that has held a subject population in such abject misery for so long. A highly trained army equipped with US weapons systems has regularly attacked and obliterated guerrilla militias equipped, at best, with light weapons and virtually no logistic support. Over the years, thousands of men have been rounded up and imprisoned by the army, in a kind of limbo between no rules, military rules and civil (Israeli and Ottoman) rules. Homes, automobiles, trees and crops have been destroyed, often for no apparent reason. The Palestinian economy has recently been obliterated and the Israeli economy and its public image severely damaged. One might ask, "For what?" To keep from being pushed into the Mediterranean or to annex ancient Judea and Samaria with 3 million restive non Jewish native residents? Is it a nation victimized in World War II fighting for its existence, or a nation, like the similarly victimized Serbs, engaged in slow motion ethnic cleansing?

If the Israeli government can treat a well known scientist like Yaakov the way it has, is it a surprise that it treats Palestinians with such contempt and loathing? It is extremely difficult to understand why Yaakov, who holds American citizenship, would choose imprisonment (if that is what he did) and a secret trial rather than ask for accept assistance from the United States government. Of course what role US representatives might, or might not be playing, is unknown and probably unknowable.

What does it mean to hold US and Israeli dual citizenship? Is Yaakov being held hostage, or being blackmailed for something or other? Since the Israeli government only admitted detaining him after the story appeared in the London Sunday Times, should he not be considered as having been kidnapped? Has he turned his back on and rejected America? Was he ever and American? Citizenship and identity are not the same. Was he drugged or tortured like Vanunu? Did any US official ever talk to him directly? Should his citizenship be revoked? Is there an American publishing company involved? You, dear reader can supply your own questions.

There have been several cases of American Jews fleeing to Israel to avoid criminal charges in the US, the fugitive financier Mark Rich, who was recently pardoned by president Bill Clinton, is perhaps the most prominent, but the Yaakov case is unique and the exact opposite, and leaves one with the nagging sick feeling that a monstrous injustice is being committed to a sick old man.

Can a state legally kidnap a person? Can a state openly kill its opponents inside and outside its borders continuously? Iran, Libya, Syria and North Korea, are the so called rogue states, that form most of the "Axis of Evil. What have they done in comparison?" Have any of them launched air attacks or missiles at other countries or a subject populations? Saddam Hussein, the creation of US Intelligence is, of course an exception.

Why is it that the story of Dr. Yaakov has gotten so little attention in the press and media? Nature and Science, the two most important scientific journals in the world, which regularly report on the difficulties of embattled scientists the world over, have remained silent. If an American of Chinese ancestry is jailed in China for something or other, it is big news. If Russia or Peru or Iran jails someone it's big news. Usually we have some idea of the specific charges, but with Yaakov we can only scratch our heads wonder what the hell is going on?

Yaakov's telephone number is not listed in the New York directory, nor are the names of any of the principals in the high tech firm he once headed. The data storage company that once traded as high as $31.00 on the Stock Exchange, now trades for pennies. It has changed addresses three times in the last 3 years and its current address is the apartment of the current chairman. No one answers the telephone, just a recorded message. The Coastal Post's calls were not answered.

According to the NY Times of May 24, 2002 "some" Jewish American organizations have organized boycotts against the NY Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, CNN and NPR because of a perceived bias, or imbalance, in reporting Palestinian suffering over Israeli. WBUR FM in Boston reportedly lost $1 million in pledges this year and a CNN executive reported up to 6,000 protest e-mails a day.

The Coastal Post has been regularly criticized and threatened with economic sanctions over the years by various individuals for publishing articles perceived to be anti Israeli and anti Semitic by Edward Miller and Karen Nakamura.

On the other hand, virtually the only responsible criticism of the Israel's military occupation and "settler" domination of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria has come from American Jews.

It is the impression of the author of this article, who has not done a scientific survey, or consulted experts, that the people of Israel and the Untied States are basically decent people who want to live in peace but are both under the control of democratic governments that do not represent them, are out of balance and out of control-both unruly, rogue states-both highly armed with the most potent weapons imaginable, both nervous, frightened and dangerous.

One government has lured and trapped one of its own, the other ignores one of its own who is trapped.

 

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