Good News Weekend – Pollard comes home!

This week’s Good News Weekend post simply HAS to focus on the amazing – and far too belated – return of Jonathan Pollard to Israel.

Jonathan and Esther Pollard kiss the ground as they land in Israel on 30th December 2020

If you want to know the background to the Jonathan Pollard case, you can read all that I have written about him at this link here.

Here is a very short potted history. He was a naval analyst in the US Navy who passed on security secrets to Israel – information that SHOULD have been passed on to Israel by the US security forces as agreed by the two countries, but the US, for whatever nefarious reasons, refused to do so. Of course Pollard broke American law, and he was caught, after being shamefully abandoned by a very embarrassed Israel, and put on trial. The sentence he received was far above and beyond any sentence ever received by any spy, even for a hostile nation, not to mention for an ally. He served every single minute of the 30 years sentence, was not allowed out for his father’s funeral, spent several years in solitary confinement, and was altogether disgracefully mistreated by the US.

After his release 5 years ago, he was still treated like a dangerous criminal, with a 7pm curfew, an electronic ankle bracelet, and was not allowed to leave his apartment or his neighbourhood at all, never mind come to Israel.

But now, since his parole has ended, and President Trump is leaving office, without any fanfare or advance information, Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther landed in Israel on Wednesday morning.
PM Netanyahu joyfully greets Jonathan Pollard as he lands in Israel, Dec 30 2020

As the pilots prepared to land, Pollard was called to enter the cockpit, where he was able to hear the Ben-Gurion International Airport control tower welcome him to Israel in Hebrew.

Pollard, who was convicted for spying for Israel while working as a naval intelligence officer in the 1980s, received Israeli citizenship during his stay at the North Caroline prison, where he was held until the parole committee agreed to release him in 2015. He was prohibited from leaving the country for five years following his release.

Due to Esther’s medical condition, the Pollards chose to fly by private plane directly from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport to Tel Aviv. The date for the flight was selected to allow her to continue her medical treatments. The Pollards thanked everyone who continues to pray for her recovery.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Pollard and his wife upon their arrival.

A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said the two recited the Shehecheyanu prayer, as Netanyahu presented the Pollards with their Israeli IDs.

“Welcome home. It’s so good to finally see you here,” Netanyahu said. “Now you can start over and live your lives free and happy. You are now home.”

A visibly emotional Pollard said, “We’re excited to finally be home after 35 years. We thank the Israeli people and the Israeli prime minister for bringing us home. No one is as proud of this country and its leader as we are.

“We hope to become productive citizens as soon as possible and move on with our lives. This is a great country with a bright future. [Israel] is the future of the Jewish people and we’re not going anywhere.”

Watch this very moving video as the Pollards kneel down and kiss the ground of Eretz Yisrael as they get off the plane:

It was both a pity and good luck that he landed in the middle of Israel’s 3rd lockdown at 5 in the morning. For both reasons, the roads and the airport were empty. The only person welcoming Pollard was PM Binyamin Netanyahu.

It was a pity of course because he should have had crowds lining the streets, waving flags and welcoming him home.

But for political reasons, so as not to antagonize the Americans and the new Democratic administration even more, it was probably best that the whole arrival was very low key.

Popular commentator Sivan Rahav Meir had the following very relevant comment to make about Jonathan Pollard’s return: (translation is mine):

אם להתעורר לפנות בוקר, אז לחדשות כאלה: בחמש בבוקר החלו להתפרסם התמונות של יונתן פולארד נוחת בישראל. מה היה כל כך מרגש ברגע הזה?
1. פולארד ירד מכבש המטוס, ואז סימן לראש הממשלה שבא לקבל את פניו להמתין רגע, עם כל הכבוד, ולפני הכל נישק את אדמת ארץ ישראל. מעבר לסיפור הפוליטי, המדיני, מעבר לאינטרסים של נתניהו וטראמפ, זה סיפור של יהודי שחוזר הביתה.
2. רגע, חוזר הביתה? הוא הרי אמריקני מבטן ומלידה, וזה בדיוק הסיפור. אלי ויזל אמר פעם שיהודי לא צריך להיות בארץ ישראל כדי לקרוא לה בית. בפרשת השבוע, פרשת “ויחי”, כותב רש”י על רחל אמנו, שמחכה עד היום לכל אחד מבניה, לכל מיליוני הפולארדים שעדיין פזורים בעולם, עד לקיום ההבטחה: “ושבו בנים לגבולם”.
3. פולארד עשה עוד משהו בשניות הראשונות שלו בישראל, לפני הנשיקה לקרקע: הוריד את המסיכה. בסוף, אחרי 35 שנים של ציפייה, הוא מגיע הנה בעיצומה של מגיפה עולמית קטלנית. מי היה מאמין שכך תיראה ההגעה שלו לכאן, בלי חיבוק אחד אמיץ שאפשר לחבק אותו. במקום להמשיך יחד עם אלפי אנשים אל עצרת תפילה חגיגית בכותל, הוא יצא ישר לבידוד ביתי. אולי טוב שכך, מבחינת היחסים שלנו מול האמריקאים.
4. אז אפשר להתעסק עם השאלה למה בכלל ריגל (ההאשמה פה אינה נגדו, ברגע שישראל חתמה איתו על הסכם – יש לה אחריות כלפיו) ואפשר לדבר על הנזק ליחסים עם ידידתנו הקרובה (סביר להניח שלא יופעלו עוד פולארדים). בשורה התחתונה, אדם שהפך לסמל, שבמשך 35 שנים התפללו עליו (יש נערים ונערות, בעיקר בציונות הדתית, שהקדישו את מיטב שנותיהם למען “יהונתן בן מלכה”), אדם שהקריב ושילם מחיר כבד, שלא זכה להביא ילדים לעולם – יוצא כעת לחירות.
5. ואז הגיעו המילים של פולארד עצמו. “זו מדינה נהדרת”, אמר האיש בלי להתלונן שהופקר, שהושאר מחוץ לשגרירות, שנשכח. “אנחנו רוצים להיות אזרחים פרודוקטיביים”, אמר, והזכיר לנו שזה לא סוף פרשת פולארד, כפי שהכריזו חלק מהכותרות, זוהי ההתחלה. פולארד מתחיל כעת את החיים שרצה. “יש למדינה עתיד מזהיר, היא העתיד של העם היהודי”, הוא המשיך. חשבנו שהנאומים הפוליטיים החשובים מגיעים בשמונה בערב, לפעמים אפילו בקצב של שניים במקביל, אבל מתברר שהנאום הכי חשוב לתקופה הזו נישא בחמש בבוקר בנתב”ג. נאום פשוט שמזכיר, בימים של פילוגים וסכסוכים פוליטיים מכוערים, שיש לנו סיפור משותף.

If we have to wake up early in the morning, then at least it’s for news like this: at 5 in the morning pictures started to be published of Jonathan Pollard landing in Israel. What was so exciting about that?

  1. Pollard descended from the plane and then signaled to the prime minister, who had come to greet him, to wait for him, with all due respect, and before everything else he kissed the ground of Eretz Yisrael. Beyond the political story, the diplomatic one, beyond Netanyahu’s and Trump’s interests, this is a story of a Jew who returned home.
  2. Wait a minute, came home? He is after all a born and bred American, and this is precisely the story. Eli Wiesel once said that a Jew doesn’t need to to be in Israel in order to call it home. In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayechi, Rashi writes about our Foremother Rachel, who waits until today for all of her children, for all the millions of Pollards that are still dispersed throughout the world, until the promise is fulfilled “And the sons shall return to their borders”.
  3. Pollard did something else in his first seconds in Israel. Before kissing the ground, he removed his mask. After 35 years of waiting, he arrives here in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. Who would have believed that this is how his arrival would look! Without one brave embrace. Instead of parading with thousands of people to a celebratory prayer at the Kotel he went straight to home quarantine. Maybe its best like that, considering our relations with the Americans.
  4. So we can discuss the question of why did he spy at all (the accusation is not against him. The minute Israel signed on an agreement with him, it had a responsibility towards him) and we can talk about the damage to our relations with our close friends (we can assume there won’t be any more Pollards). Bottom line, the man who became a symbol, who for 35 years people prayed for him (there are young boys and girls, especially in the religious Zionist circle, who have dedicated the best of their years for “Yonatan Ben Malka”), a man who sacrificed and paid a very heavy price, who has not merited to bring children into the world – has now come out free.
  5. And then came Pollard’s own words: “This is a wonderful country” said the man without complaining that he had been abandoned, that he was left outside the embassy, forgotten. “We want to be productive citizens” he said and mentioned that this is not the ned of the Pollard story as the headlines declared, this is the beginning. Pollard now begins his life as he wishes. “This country has a glorious future, it is the future of the Jewish people” he continued. We thought that important political stories are broadcast at 8 pm, sometimes even two in parallel, but it turns out that the most important speech of this period was delivered at 5 am at Ben Gurion airport. A simple speech, that reminds us, in these days of divisiveness and ugly politics, that we have a common story.

What beautiful words, both from Sivan and from Jonathan Pollard.

Welcome home Jonathan and Esther! May you have an easy klita and may Esther have a refuah shlema.

ברוכים הבאים. ושבו בנים לגבולם.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!


Posted at Anne’s Opinions as Good News Friday

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