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Paynesville Press - September 29, 2004

Rice Lake couple to accept peace award at U.N.

By Michael Jacobson

Mordechai Vanunu - the adopted son of Rice Lake residents Nick and Mary Eoloff - will receive the 2004 LennonOno Grant for Peace in October, named for musician John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono.

The biennial award, founded in 2002, is meant to promote truth, humanity, and peace.

Vanunu, who served 18 years in prison after disclosing the existence of an Israeli nuclear weapons program, will share the 2004 award with investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who reported the prison abuse in Abu Ghraib in Iraq this year in The New Yorker.

eloffs The honorees this year reflect Lennon's song, "Gimme Some Truth," according to Ono.

In October, Nick and Mary Eloff will receive a peace award at the United Nations on behalf of their adopted son, Mordechai Vanunu.

"This year's grant honors people who have spoken out for the benefit of the human race by overcoming extreme personal difficulties and, in doing so, have allowed the truth to prevail," said Yoko Ono in a news release announcing the award.

The Eoloffs, who have had a summer cabin on Rice Lake for almost 35 years, will accept the award on Vanunu's behalf at the United Nations on Thursday, Oct. 7.

The Eoloffs learned of Vanunu in 1995, when Mordechai was in the ninth year of his prison term. For the first 11 and a half years, he was kept in solitary confinement.

The Eoloffs started adoption proceedings in 1997, in an effort to help Vanunu, who was disowned by much of his family after converting to Christianity. While their adoption did not get him released any earlier, it did allow Nick and Mary to visit Mordechai in prison in Israel on a number of occasions.

eloffs guy Vanunu was released in April after serving his full prison term of 18 years for treason. Nick and Mary spent three weeks in Israel in April, going early to see Mordechai one last time in prison and to lobby for his early release, which would have avoided some of the hostility at his actual release, they said.

Mordechai Vanunu, who served 18 years in prison in Israel, was named a recipient of the 2004 LennonOno Grant for Peace, along with journalist Seymour Hersh. Vanunu's adopted parents, Nick and Mary Eoloff of St. Paul, who have a summer cabin on Rice Lake, will accept the peace award on his behalf in October.

When he was released, a crowd of 100 or so supporters was kept across the street, according to the Eoloffs, while protesters - Vanunu is viewed as a traitor by most Israelis - were allowed right next to the prison gate. Vanunu is so hated by some that he has received death threats.

Still, according to Nick, Mordechai stood on the prison wall, after being released, and declared: "I'm Mordechai Vanunu. They did not break me, and I'm free."

But Mordechai is not really free. The Israeli government subjected him to several restrictions upon his release from prison.

The Eoloffs view the continuing restrictions on Mordechai as unlawful punishment. He already served his entire 18-year prison sentence, noted Mary, and was not given parole two-thirds of the way through his sentence, as is standard. He cannot speak with foreign media, does not have a passport, must report any change of residence at least 24 hours in advance, and cannot go within 100 meters of a foreign embassy or within 300 meters of a foreign border, said Mary.

Mordechai challenged his post-prison restrictions in the Israeli Supreme Court but lost. According to Mary, the open court session lasted 15 minutes, but the prosecution met for two hours with the judges privately, hardly a fair trial in their eyes.

While restrictions were threatened, the Eoloffs did not think the Israeli government would actual enact any. "We never dreamed that this would happen," said Mary. "Nobody did."

So, instead of seeking political asylum, instead of starting a new life at age 50 in a new country, Vanunu is staying at the Cathedral of St. George's, an Anglican cathedral in east Jerusalem. While this gracious church is a good, sheltered place for him to be while he readjusts to life outside of prison, said Nick, it is impossible for Mordechai to lead a normal life in Israel, where he is recognizable and well known.

"He's served his time," said Nick, who adds that the continuing restrictions are vindictive and restrictive to Mordechai's freedom of speech.

"Not only did they give him a cruel sentence, but they continue to imprison him after he's served it," said Mary.

His restrictions are reviewed every six months. But the Eoloffs are not overly optimistic. The chances of Mordechai's restrictions being lifted are "not very good."

"They still maintain he has secrets," said Nick.

"He'd come here in a minute," said Mary. "He'd go to any country to get out of there."

"I think they should just let him go and it would be all over with, all the publicity," Mary added.

The Eoloffs still believe that Mordechai did the right thing in disclosing the secrets at the nuclear reactor. All Mordechai wanted, Nick said, was for there to be open dialogue about nuclear weapons in Israel and for the Israeli people to decide if their country needed them.

Instead, the Israeli government maintains an ambiguous official policy towards nuclear weapons, and Nick feels it is silly for them to do so and to make such a big deal about Mordechai when everyone knows that Israel has nuclear weapons.

Nick also finds it ironic that the United States government - which was never particularly helpful in lobbying the Israeli government on Mordechai's behalf - wanted Iraqi scientists to divulge details about supposed weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq before the ouster of Saddam Hussein while Mordechai - a whistleblower in Israel, a key U.S. ally - is punished for revealing the truth.

The Eoloffs, who have six other children, are proud to accept the LennonOno Grant for Peace on Mordechai's behalf, they said. Whatever happens with Mordechai, the grant will help him financially.

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