September 18, 2003
What does the Rambam consider to be the most important of allmitzvot, the precepts by which we live’ Is it recital of Shema Yisrael twice a day, when we accept upon ourselves the rule of G-d’ Is it the weekly observance of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath’ Or perhaps the dietary laws of Kashrut, or laws pertaining to family purity’
The Rambam writes, ‘There is no greatermitzvah than the redemption of a captive,’ or as it is known in Hebrew,pidyon shvuyim. His ruling is based on the Talmud, where it is written, ‘And Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘The sword is worse than death, hunger is worse than the sword, and captivity is the worst, because it includes them all.’’ Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, a later compilation of law based upon the Rambam’s earlier work, adds, ‘Every moment that a captive is not redeemed, when redemption is possible, is as if one is spilling blood.’
Israel has always maintained a cardinal rule of redeeming captives, prisoners of war. Every Israeli who dons a uniform knows that should be fall into enemy hands, the state of Israel will do anything and everything possible to bring about his release and return home.
In the past, Israel released over one thousand Arab terrorists for the return of four soldiers. More than likely other deals, not always made public, have been implemented to bring Israeli captives home. For over twenty years, the government has attempted to find and bring about the release of soldiers missing in action from the War in Lebanon. Unfortunately, without success. Dealing with Syria and Hizballah is very close to impossible. Yet, Israel has not given up and surely, one day, their fate will be determined and they will be brought back home.
However, there is oneshavui, a captive, who is not in the hands of the Syrians, the Hizballah, or any other Arab country, for that matter. He has been held by Israel’s ‘best friend.’ And he has been rotting in an American federal penitentiary for over eighteen-and-a-half years.
Jonathan Pollard is no different from any other Israeli MIA or POW. He provided Israel with intelligence information vital to the survival of the state, information the United States neglected to turn over to Israel. The information withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities – being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets. Israel was legally entitled to this vital security information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries.
Jonathan Pollard never had a trial. At the request of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, he entered into a plea agreement, which spared both governments a long, difficult, expensive and potentially embarrassing trial. He fulfilled his end of the plea agreement, cooperating fully with the prosecution. Furthermore, Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States. He was never indicted for compromising codes, agents or war plans. He was never charged with treason. He was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. Yet, Pollard received a life sentence and a recommendation that he never be paroled – in complete violation of the plea agreement he had reached with the government.
A Court of Appeals, in a two to one ruling, rejected Pollard’s appeal, mostly on procedural grounds. In a dissenting opinion, Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Williams called the case “a fundamental miscarriage of justice,” and wrote that he would have ordered that Pollard’s sentence be vacated.
In October, 1998, the US President Bill Clinton promised to release Pollard as part of the Wye Accords, signed by Yasser Arafat and Binyamin Netanyahu. At the last minute, Clinton reneged, due to threats by CIA chief George Tenet to resign should Pollard be released. This is the same George Tenet who missed all signals leading to 9/11, and who recently fed President George W. Bush false information about Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium, which Bush mentioned in his now-famous State of the Union address.
Ehud Barak could have requested Pollard’s release by executive clemency on Clinton’s last day of office. But he didn’t.
It is now clear that many of the episodes Jonathan Pollard was thought to have a hand in, bringing about the deaths of American agents in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, had nothing to do with him. Rather, that was the work of American spies, former CIA employee Aldrich Ames and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen.
Yet, Pollard is still in jail.
Sunday, September 21, has been declared ‘International Solidarity Day for Jonathan Pollard’, when people around the world will demonstrate solidarity and support for the release of Jonathan Pollard.
Activities worldwide will consist of prayer vigils, studying themitzvah of redeeming captives, learning about Jonathan Pollard, petition-signing for the release of Jonathan from prison, a letter-writing campaign to President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, demonstrations, marches, etc.
A major event is being planned at Independence Park, opposite the American Consulate in Jerusalem, consisting of speeches by rabbis, members of the Knesset and other well-known public figures and famous singers. Jonathan Pollard will also be presented with the Am Yisrael Medal of Honor in recognition for his tremendous self-sacrifice, which led to his saving, literally, hundreds of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish lives during the Persian Gulf War. The day will culminate in a silent candle-light vigil/march to the Knesset.
I call on Jews and non-Jews worldwide to take an active role in organizing and participating in this most vital event. Remember, every day Jonathan Pollard sits in prison, it is as if we are allowing the spilling of his blood. Let’s assure that this comingRosh Hashana, Jonathon Pollard will hear the Shofar, together with his wife Esther, in Jerusalem.