The subtitle of this post might be the same as the subtitle of the film, Dr. Strangelove: “How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.” Dimona’s bombs, that is.
In the past year, the Israeli Atomic Energy Agency launched a website dedicated to extolling the virtues of its Dimona. Not the place itself, which is a bit of a backwater company town devoted to the community’s main (perhaps only) industry. But to Israel’s plutonium reactor around which the town coalesced. That’s the reactor that churned out its first nuclear weapon around 1970 just in time for Moshe Dayan to suggest it should be used as a warning shot during the 1973 War when the fighting was going badly for Israel in the initial stages. It’s the same reactor which churned out another 200 or so nuclear weapons since then, making Israel the most dangerous–and so far, the only–nuclear power in the region.
This report on the world nuclear arsenal indicates Israel has only 80 nuclear weapons. But it adds that Israel is testing a new generation of ballistic missile, which is a substantial escalation of the regional nuclear arms race.
Dimona is also the same reactor which has poisoned hundreds or even thousands of workers who’ve died of various cancers . The same one which has poisoned the water in the plant’s vicinity. None of which may be reported openly by the Israeli press.
But if you examine the website you wouldn’t know any of this. From the “History” page, you wouldn’t know Dimona produced nuclear weapons at all; which is the main, indeed only reason it exists. You’d see bright shiny faces; the pretty blond locks of a female white-coated scientist presumably seeking a cure for cancer. Or the delicate toes of a baby held in the firm, supporting hands of an adult under the caption: “a secure, responsible place of work.” You’d see flowers. You’d see copy that reads like a Hallmark greeting card. Copy which extols Dimona’s mission as a “matter of national social responsibility.” That is, the authors of this tripe would have you believe that the production of nuclear weapons in Dimona is done in a manner that is environmentally responsible. This is real Alice in Wonderland stuff. Where words mean what the liar speaking them wants them to mean, “nothing more, nothing less.” It’s something like extolling Alamagordo or Auschwitz as environmental sanctuaries.
The website’s About page is titled: “Vision and Values, a Social Responsibility.” It continues: “In recent years the values of the Negev Center for Nuclear Have Been Articulated Anew.” Those values include the reactor staff volunteering in various projects to make their communities better places. Not a single word about the mass destruction Dimona’s products are capable or raining down on the world.
The launch of the website is in itself interesting. It indicates that some bureaucrats running the nuclear program felt it was important to join the modern age and feature a website to promote Dimona. That’s a break from six decades of total opacity regarding the nuclear program. Six decades of lies and denial regarding the purpose of the reactor. Avner Cohen notes in his recent Haaretz op-ed that Israel’s nuclear program isn’t even ratified under law. Rather, it exists in a netherworld called “residual powers.” This means the government may engage in any activity which the law doesn’t preclude it from doing.
Though on the surface, the new website does mark a break from the past, in reality the change is little more than cosmetic. Little has changed. Israel and the website still lives in a state of denial. It can’t even admit in the website what the real purpose of this place is.
But there is one meaningful break with the past. The site contains archival photos (displayed above) of the construction of the original reactor in 1958. According to a specialist I consulted in the nuclear weapons program at a DC think tank, he believes these pictures may never have been published before. So congratulations are in store to the nuclear bureaucrats at Dimona for finally revealing pictures that may have sat in a vault for sixty years.
Publishing these sorts of pictures is what brought Mordechai Vanunu’s life to ruin. He took ones of his own and they were published in the Times of London. As a result, Vanunu spent 18 years in an Israeli prison, 11 of them in solitary confinement. To this day, the State hounds him mercilessly, restricts virtually everything he does and penalizes him if he so much as looks the wrong way.
So the publication of these pictures on the Dimona site is an act of utter hypocrisy. When an Agency official publishes a picture, he gets a pat on the back for finally opening up Dimona to the outside world, while Vanunu’s life is made a living hell for doing only slightly more than that.
On a related note, an Israeli lawyer I know, Yossi Nakar, appeared at a hearing at the Dimona court-house last week. He took a picture of the building and accompanied it with the whimsical caption:
“If you’re only passing through Dimona, do you need to bring iodine tablets with you? Just askin’…
The lawyer received a request from a judicial panel devoted to protecting the reputation of judges from defamation (yes, there is such a monstrosity in Dimona). She asked him to remove the post. Which he thought both outrageous and almost comic:
“Seems to me that someone has lost all proportion. And that’s putting it mildly. Apparently, Liat Yosim doesn’t know the connection between iodine tablets and Dimona.”
Needless to say, he refused. But this is how far the cult of secrecy has crept into the Israeli soul. How it has perverted everything. Turned a joke into a national security threat and imagined defamation of the good judges of Dimona.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.