There are over 23,000 nuclear warheads in the world today. Of these, over 2,000 are on missiles ready to be launched at a moment's notice.
Research undertaken by NASA used weather forecasting models to explore the global climatic effects of the use of nuclear weapons. The researchers examined the case of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, among others. Such a war, which would involve the use of approximately 100 "small" nuclear weapons on the order of Hiroshima, would lead to a small-scale ice age. In other words, in addition to the deaths from the bombs themselves, and in addition to the enormous amounts of radiation, rising clouds of smoke will cause an average decrease of two degrees Celsius at the earth's surface for at least two years. A decrease of five degrees is enough to bring about an ice age.
This means that countries which export food today will not be able to feed even their own citizens. Estimates show that, during these two years, approximately a billion people will die of starvation. Such a lack of resources could, of course, lead to wars, which could in turn lead to further use of nuclear weapons. A war in which 500 bombs were used would mean the end of the human species as we know it.
This, along with the fact that nuclear weapons are intended for use against civilians and cities more than against armies, makes the debate about these weapons not only a legitimate topic of that we can discuss as citizens, but one that we should discuss.
Why Are We Not Talking?
Israeli ambiguity regarding its nuclear program is a success story that deserves examination in its own right. While the entire world is constantly discussing Israel and its nuclear capability, within Israel, ambiguity is alive and well and the "issue" has become taboo. If we as a society give any thought to the nuclear issue, it is to the Iranian nuclear weapons, which has not yet become a reality. If the subject of nuclear weapons in the Middle East is raised among us, we immediately point to Iran. Like the hunchback who does not see his hump, we do not see, hear or think about our own weapons, nor do we question their necessity beyond saying from time to time that we can always strike Iran with nuclear weapons. Even then, we say it without considering the fact that Israel is a nuclear state.
Beyond the fact that the issue of Israel's nuclear weapons program has become taboo, we as a society are not waiting for threats from our government. Maintaining the secrecy makes all of us participants in the defense of Israel, partners for a purpose and, therefore, partners in the feeling of togetherness and responsibility. We, too, are contributing - without thinking about it.
Despite our being an audacious society that questions everything, when it comes to matters of security in general and weapons of mass destruction in particular, we believe that we do not really understand the issue and, therefore, have no right to discuss it. Only political and top military leaders have this exclusive right.
Of course, our understanding - reached coincidentally, or not so coincidentally - that ambiguity enhances Israel's security almost as much as the weapons themselves do has also contributed greatly to making the issue taboo.
When I meet with groups of students or peace and environmental activists, one of the first things I discuss with them is the issue of ambiguity. This is the only way to be able to hold such a discussion. The explanation - that the policy of ambiguity is an Israeli-American arrangement intended to allow the Americans to support us without official embarrassment - usually surprises the listeners. Despite this, every discussion includes "roundabout" approaches to ambiguity. In other words, even assuming there is a need for ambiguity, it is possible to talk. It is possible to talk even without exposing the existence of nuclear weapons in Israel. It is possible and even obligatory to hold a serious discussion about the need for nuclear weapons, the dangers they present to the region and the whole world, the various possibilities for disarmament, and so on. If we hold such a discussion in Israel, we can talk not only about Iran but also about crucial issues such as the dangers of radiation; the need for radiation-monitoring for people living near the reactor, like the residents of the city of Dimona; radioactive waste burial; and the absence in Israel of independent monitoring of proper waste disposal or of radiation levels in the city of Dimona.
The Importance of an Anti-Nuclear Movement in Israel
Without a movement and speakers to engage citizens and residents of the state to discuss the issue, these same citizens are exposed to clear and immediate nuclear dangers, while their heads are buried in the sand. All topics are worthy of discussion in a democratic state. Unless it engages in a discourse about the nuclear issue, Israel will always be a little less democratic. And since democracy is an important means of defense for every citizen at one time or another, speaking about the issue and eradicating the taboo would strengthen Israeli democracy somewhat and would provide another means of defense for Israeli citizens.
Israel's practice of hiding in the bunker of ambiguity is perceived as a threat and not as a gesture of non-violence or as an absence of an intended threat. An anti-nuclear movement in Israel that would bring the question of the country's nuclear policy to national and global media attention would reveal a more open Israel, an Israel with which one can talk and, moreover, an Israel with a democratic society that is not monolithic, where different opinions exist and can be expressed.
The option of speaking in various forums, if not in the name of the state, then in the name of civil society, enables discourse with official and unofficial representatives in neighboring countries, at times even allowing the sounding out of official positions as trial balloons. While a silent nuclear Israel might, and apparently already does, contribute to a regional arms race, an Israel with a vibrant civil society and a disarmament discourse could contribute to reducing regional tension and, possibly, reaching agreements by which - with external assistance and security guarantees - we will reach a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
In addition, and perhaps most importantly, for anyone concerned about global nuclear arsenals and about securing a nuclear weapons-free world, it would seem that no state is willing to disarm first. In other words, in order to achieve nuclear disarmament, the disarmament process must be gradual and mutual. To this end, there is a need for a new universal treaty or for Israel, India, and Pakistan to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Without Israel, India and Pakistan, there can be no universal treaty. A movement in Israel could help to achieve such a treaty.
The Difficulties of Creating a Movement and Obstacles to Avoid
The first difficulty in creating an anti-nuclear movement is the same as the difficulty inherent in creating any movement: people power. Recruiting supporters is tedious work that naturally begins at the moment the movement is created and continues for as long as the movement exists.
Because this movement speaks about a taboo issue and inspires strong feelings among people, we found that open invitations to all to participate should be avoided in the initial phase. This does not mean that the movement will not be exposed to criticism, or that it will not be able to weather it. Nonetheless, those meetings that are devoted to establishing the movement and to educating and providing resources for its members do not need voices telling us why we are all traitors and why just talking about this issue is a life-threatening blow to state security. These are accusations that we do and will continue to face every day, but there is no need to bring them into closed meetings intended to strengthen those who believe they can act or speak as part of this movement.
Therefore, the solution is to recruit initial members among the usual suspects, as well as youth and students who, after lectures or workshops, take interest in the issue. For every seven people who sign on to such a movement, there is, of course, only one who actually comes to the meetings. Thus, recruiting members, at least during the early phase, will be very slow.
Even after people join the movement, there are problems. Since we have all grown up within Israeli society, the taboo continues to create doubt about whether our goal is achievable. This second obstacle may sound like a marginal one, but it is a real one when motivation and readiness to cooperate on a voluntary basis are needed and at a time when so many other goals exist and are seemingly more achievable.
A third obstacle is lack of information. As social activists, we are used to knowing our subject matter. In fact, when we act on an issue, we typically do so because we feel we understand it, among other reasons. When the subject matter is nuclear, whether civilian or military, any information here is close to non-existent. Material in Hebrew is hard to find, and information in English on the Internet is overwhelming and difficult to sift through for relevance.
The possible solution is, of course, information transfer. Sites such as "Armagedon," (www.armagedon.org) created by Yehuda Atai, Amir Halel and Gideon Spiro, provide specific information in Hebrew about what Israel has according to foreign sources. Another website was translated into Hebrew as a gesture to the anti-nuclear movement in Israel: www. nucleardarkness.com. And the city of Hiroshima sent a photo exhibit and movies for the new movement to use. This, of course, is a first step. Seminars with expert lecturers are also needed.
The most important concept to grasp, however, is that it is not necessary to understand how a nuclear bomb is built or what a centrifuge is in order to know that nuclear weapons are dangerous and prohibited. It is essential that we understand that we have the right to talk and think about nuclear weapons, and this, of course, is the first mission of the movement's members when engaging in such a discussion with new listeners.
A fourth obstacle to be avoided is the danger of silencing. This, after all, is not the first attempt to create an anti-nuclear movement in Israel. When the struggle over whether Israel should move towards a nuclear option took place in the early 1960s, a group of prominent intellectuals formed the Committee for the Denuclearization of the Israeli-Arab Conflict. The movement to free Mordechai Vanunu became the Committee for a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Israeli branch of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) became Israeli Physicians for Peace and Preservation of the Environment. And former Knesset Member Issam Makhoul made a courageous speech at the Knesset about the nuclear question. Yet years later, a meaningful movement, or even a small movement, does not really exist.
One of the explanations is that while past efforts to discuss the nuclear issue may have provided a form of catharsis for some, it was frequently perceived as a threat by listeners and the media. Linking the issue to harsh and categorical criticism of Israel might even undermine the goal. The perception is that "they oppose the state in any case and are, therefore, willing to expose it to existential threats."
Although it is appropriate to criticize the state for various practices and to consider what it does or does not have, this writer favors restraint and the presentation of the issue in a less threatening light, in a way that will cause listeners to unblock their ears and, for starters, at least to listen.
One such way is to present the issue as a global problem. Nuclear weapons threaten the planet and, therefore, threaten us as well. The only solution is international negotiation. Therefore, Israel must participate.
Another way is to discuss the Iranian threat. Discussion of the Iranian threat is particularly lively here. The potential link between disarmament and the Iranian threat - that is, the possibility that the only way to ensure that Iran does not pursue nuclear weapons is through Israel's willingness to talk, to open its facilities to inspections and, perhaps, even to commit to disarming - this link enables us to speak to frightened audiences without being seen as threatening our own security.
The fact that Greenpeace is a founder of the new movement is also a sort of solution. The organization is typically perceived as creative but not threatening, and it sparks people's curiosity that an organization known for environmental work is taking on the nuclear disarmament issue.