THE ISRAEL REPORTSeptember/October
by Ben CaspitIt began with a slight discomfort, that gave way to pain, that began to get worse and worse. Then came the check-ups, x-rays, and biopsies. The result: in February, this year, Esther Pollard received the news that she had been stricken with cancer.
Esther was terrified of how the news would affect her husband Jonathan and hesitated to tell him. After 14 years of incarceration in the U.S. for espionage on behalf of Israel, Jonathan is not well himself. In the end, she had no choice but to tell him.
"I was aware that Esther had some sort of medical problem," Pollard recalls, "but I had no idea it could be something this devastating. I thought it was something marginal. I remember clearly the day she told me.
"I remember I was standing in the prison phone booth. I remember she was saying something about cancer and I started to black out. I became completely detached from the world. I reeled backwards and my back hit the glass back of the telephone booth. I slid down and slumped on floor. The receiver was still dangling from the telephone, hanging there in front of my chest. I could still hear Esther's voice as I just sat there with my head in my hands and cried, asking my self over and over again what else is going to happen to us?"
Jonathan and Esther Pollard - each in their own way- for more than six months, have been waging a battle with the cancer that threatens to end their love. Shortly after being diagnosed, Esther Pollard underwent an operation and a cancerous lump was removed from one of her breasts. An operation on the other breast also yielded up another lump, which fortunately turned out to be benign.
Following the operation, Esther refused to undergo chemotherapy. The reason: her insistence on hanging on to the possibility of bringing a child into the world with Jonathan.
Until now, the couple has kept this story secret. Today, on the eve of Esther Pollard's arrival in Israel to seek a meeting with the Prime Minister and other officials, she and Jonathan decided to end their silence.
Esther Pollard: "No one even knew that I was sick. But then, no one ever asked either. We are completely alone in this affair. When I told Jonathan, he was devastated. He went into total shock. Until now, I was always taking care of him - he has an endless number of medical problems and none of them are getting any better. Now suddenly, he had to take care of me, and he had absolutely no way to do so. Since Ehud Barak came to power, the Israeli government has cut off all contact with us so even if Jonathan wanted to ask for help, there was no one to ask.
The way things were, the only one who was able to help was Esther's mother, Rose. Age 72, with severe diabetes and with a serious heart condition as a result, this elderly woman comforted her son-in-law, Jonathan Pollard and told him that she would travel from Montreal to Toronto to be at Esther's bedside throughout her operation and recovery. Jonathan, who up until then had been inconsolable, took a deep breath and swallowed hard. He knew that his mother-in-law was in very poor health herself, and he also understood that there also was no other option.
Esther herself, had fewer reservations. "I was terrified that my mother would not survive the trip. I begged her not to come. She wouldn't listen."
Rose traveled from Montreal to Toronto by bus, took up position in the hospital and selflessly cared for her daughter. Then she returned to Montreal and had a major heart attack. She never really recovered. In between lengthy hospitalizations and treatments, two more heart attacks followed. The doctors had given up hope. " They told us, that she would not make it through the night. They told us to prepare ourselves for the end. We began to make funeral arrangements. As we were doing so, in a complete and unanticipated miracle, my mother revived."
Now her mother is undergoing rehabilitation. "She will never be what she used to be. She can't go home any more. She has had to give up her own house and move to a residence. Even with the extra care she receives, her health is very fragile from moment to moment," Esther explains.
"And in the midst of the treatment I am receiving, - first radiation and then follow-up care goes on for the next 5 years - I am busy running back and forth between the prison in North Carolina to take care of Jonathan, and to Montreal to take care of my mother and back to Toronto for my myself and then the cycle begins again."
Not One Cancer, But Two
Pollard himself, speaking from prison: "I took Esther's illness very personally. It felt to me as if fate were conspiring to rob me of all that I have - of my chances, my hopes, my dreams, my future. I am angry with this miserable government of ours that is responsible for the fact that I wasn't able to hold my wife, to comfort her, to laugh with her, to be by her side for the operation, to wait for the results, which was very hard to do. And then the weeks after the operation. It was Hell. Esther and I were completely alone. There wasn't a single person from the Government of Israel that I could turn to. Not a single ear that I could whisper into, " Please. Help us. Do something for Esther. For me. Support us. Please. - There was no one to talk to at all."
In Pollard's words, they aren't battling just one cancer, but two. "One is the cancer that has stricken Esther. The other is the cancer of the hatred of the politicians towards me. I hope that Esther's cancer is in remission. But I know that the cancer of the government is still metastasizing. As long as Esther has a chance to live, I have a chance. And I blame this cancer that has stricken both of us, on the government."
Pollard has no criticism of his wife's decision to refuse chemotherapy. "It was her decision, and it reflects her total commitment to raising a family with me, without consideration of the danger to herself. I wish the government of Israel would have a scintilla of the kind of courage that she has, when it comes to what it takes to bring an agent home.
Esther Pollard is expected to arrive in Israel today. Ever since Ehud Barak's victory in the elections, the Israeli political establishment has cut all contact with Pollard. The man into whose hands the Pollard file has fallen, is Dani Yatom. The couple disparagingly call him "the address". The problem is, this address doesn't answer. People who have spoken to him have reported to the Pollards that Yatom has no intention of lifting a finger for them. A source close to both sides told Jonathan Pollard that when anyone brings up his name, Yatom makes a face as if he were going to vomit. "We have already done everything for him" said Yatom, according to this source. "Now, there is nothing more to do. We will wait for an opportunity."
A few weeks ago, the Pollards' attorney, Larry Dub, sent two letters to the Prime Minister's office: one to the Prime Minister himself, requesting an urgent meeting (for Esther), and the other to the PM's chief administrator, Yossi Korchik, requesting that he set the date for the meeting. Dub waited and waited for a reply. After weeks of waiting, Dub finally received a reply from Korchik, "We have received your letters and the subject is being handled."
When the President Wants to, He Can
The subject whose name is Jonathan Pollard has already "been handled" for 14 years now. An aggressive change of strategy on Pollard's part, with the help of the High Court of Justice, caused the Government of Israel to acknowledge him as an Israeli agent and extend him citizenship. For as long as he can remember, his relationship with the government has been a series of ups and downs. The high point, from his point of view, was during the time of the Netanyahu government, when many cabinet ministers traveled to visit with him in prison. The issue of his release was also brought up by Netanyahu during the Wye summit.
Q: "And today?"Pollard: "Ever since Barak was elected, my situation has gotten worse. The impression that he and his people left here when they visited Washington was one of cold-blooded indifference to my fate. His declaration that my case was an "internal American problem" did me immeasurable harm. It started even before the elections, when he refused to sign a letter to the president of the United States for me. I get the feeling that he is more concerned about protecting Clinton and the boys at "the Kyria" ( the Israeli Ministry of Defense) than he is about securing my release. He has also sent messages to the American Jewish leaders not to do anything for me, claiming that he himself will take care of it behind the scenes, and yet I know for certain that he has done nothing for me."
Q: "Perhaps it is worth trying this new way of doing things? Perhaps Barak can succeed in convincing Clinton quietly that the time has come to let you go as part of the arrangements with the Palestinians and the prisoner releases."Pollard (laughs): "That's nonsense. Here's the real story. Netanyahu trashed the list of prisoners that he had agreed to free at Wye, because he had been promised that he would get me. There was a verbal agreement that another 400 security prisoners would be released only if he got Pollard. Then Clinton reneged. But even then it was clear that they were still supposed to release me following the "review" of my case that Clinton promised to do at Wye. I know with certainty that Netanyahu and Sharansky reported to the cabinet that I would be released after the review, and then parallel to that, the security prisoners would be released. That is why in the meantime Netanyahu only released common criminals and a very few security prisoners. It was clear that he was waiting for me. Then along comes Barak and completely ignores the whole deal. He is willing pay the price but won't get the merchandise. I understand that he will free hundreds of security prisoners, but he seems to have forgotten that he was supposed to get something in return. He has completely abandoned me. I feel like someone who is trying to pull himself up out of a grave and along comes the Prime Minister and pushes me back in again."
Another story robs the Pollards of sleep lately: the bizarre and startling decision of American President Bill Clinton to offer clemency to 16 Puerto Rican terrorists (members of the FALN) who are responsible for a long and deadly list of terror actions in the United States, (which resulted in scores of injuries and at least 5 deaths.)
It appears that Clinton is using this offer of clemency to try to improve his wife Hillary's chances in the New York State Senate elections by pandering to New York's large Hispanic community. He didn't even consult with the terrorists first to find out if they even wanted this clemency offer. This week they snubbed his offer and refused to express remorse for their crimes. Clinton is ignoring the recommendations of the American Intelligence and Defense agencies which strongly oppose freeing the terrorists (just the way that they oppose freeing Pollard) and is clearly showing that when a president wants to, he can.
Pollard: "It's an unbelievable story. The president gets up one day, offers clemency to terrorists - people who have committed murders - and nobody says a word. George Tenet, head of the CIA, every time my name gets mentioned he goes crazy, but in this case he has nothing to say. Not a word."The story gained a startling momentum when the Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani - Hillary's likely opponent- was asked his opinion about the president's offer of clemency to the FALN terrorists. Giuliani stated that he did not know enough about the case to state whether or not the offer was political pandering and said that he would like to see the case file before making any such judgment. When asked about Jonathan Pollard, Giuliani stated that unlike the case of the FALN, " The Pollard case s a case that I do know well.." The mayor was referring to his years as the number 3 man in the Justice Department. Giuliani went on to say "I have seen the file on Pollard. The documents in it do not justify his sentence. It is way out of proportion to what any one else has gotten for a similar offense. He should be released."
I Am Paying the Price for All the Cowards
The Pollards say that the government of Israel not cooperating with them. Some time ago they asked for a copy of Jonathan's Intelligence service file which also contains copies of all the secret documents related to the case. The request was made by their attorney, Larry Dub to the Ministry of Defense. To this day they have had no response.
Pollard: "One of the documents in my file at the Ministry of Defense is a master list of all of the documents that I gave to the State of Israel. If I can get this list, I will finally be able to defend myself here (in the U.S.). It will be possible to prove that all of the false charges in the media against me are not true. But, Israel, which did not hesitate to supply the prosecution with documents to incriminate me, now refuses to give me any document which might allow me to defend myself. For the last few months I have had absolutely no contact with the State of Israel . The Embassy just disappeared. All of our requests for meetings. for information, for any kind of contact have been ignored. Barak has completely ignored me, apparently trying to undermine whatever strength I do have. After all these years and all the hard work we have put into the struggle to go from darkness into light..."Q: "The government recognized you as an Israeli agent."
Pollard: "True, and I am grateful for that. But there really was no choice. After all, I was an Israeli agent. I received direct orders. I had received a valid Israeli passport from Rafi Eitan. I was an agent right down to the last detail. The problem is that all those who had some part in this affair are now afraid that their participation may be exposed. I am paying the price for those cowards."Throughout the years, Pollard has assembled an impressive list of personal contacts in both Washington and Jerusalem - people who are active on his behalf and people who have access to the corridors of power in both the government and the Administration. "Everyone who has returned from Jerusalem recently," Pollard recounts, "tells me 'G-d -in -Heaven, Jonathan, they just aren't interested in you! As far as they are concerned, they would rather you remained in prison.' "
Pollard did not spare the Americans any criticism either: "You will see the two-faced hypocrisy of the Americans, no matter which way you look. Back then, I identified documents that clearly showed the Syrian violations of the Disengagement Agreement with Israel. Serious violations, deadly, and dangerous. The Americans willfully withheld this information from Israel- information about planned chemical and missile attacks on military and civilian targets. I gave Israel the information. I remember having a heated argument with Avi Sella. I had seen the material on the build-up of Syrian missile weapons. He belittled the threat of missile warfare, saying that the air force could take care of a few Syrian missiles. But even back then, I knew that Syria had both the chemical and ballistic ability to blanket the entire face of Israel.
Pollard reckons that the reason that the Israeli national security establishment does not want to release the documents he has requested is that these documents will prove the extent of the American betrayal of Israeli security during those years, for all the world to see. He passed most of the information concerning Israel's vital security to Israel when he realized that America had no intention of sharing it. The reason the security establishment prefers to suppress this information, even today, is simple: Israel is about to sign some very problematic peace agreements with Arab states. The Americans are supposed to be guarantors of this peace and of Israeli security. It is not a particularly good time, according to Pollard, for such betrayals to become known. So he continues to sit in prison- and it has already been 14 years.
The Pollards are weighing a possible return the High Court of Justice with a new petition. It would be a simple petition: Jonathan Pollard versus Ehud Barak. The court system has stood with the Pollards in the past, and they hope that it will again.
"It is sad that a nation as magnificent as Israel is so poorly served by such a miserable government",Pollard says.
" I have this awful feeling that even Esther's illness makes them happy. They know that I am upset about the threat to my wife's life, and that it weakens my ability to continue to fight to force them to bring me home. When I heard that Esther was sick, for the first time in my life I got down on my knees, and I cried. And I begged G-d to hear me. I begged Him to save me. And I cried out to Him to answer my prayers."