Tag Archives: Prisoners

98. Seven Years is Enough! The Free Vanunu Benefit at the Hackney Empire, 1993

This week, archives telling the story of a benefit concert supporting the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.

Fax of sample poster for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1)

Fax of sample poster for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1)

The concert, on 3 October 1993 at the Hackney Empire, was billed as “an evening of readings, music and comedy”.  It was organised by the British Campaign to Free Vanunu.  Mordechai Vanunu had been abducted in 1986 by Israeli government agents after speaking to the Sunday Times about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme and had later been sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for treason and espionage.   The British Campaign was founded by his brother Meir with a small group of activists soon after, establishing the Mordechai Vanunu Trust in 1991.

With limited resources, the group sought to raise awareness of Vanunu’s plight and of nuclear issues in the Middle East via lobbying, picketing and vigils, using political and media networks.  The Campaign understood the power of the news media and tried to find stunts and angles which would ensure press coverage, such as  mock kidnappings and “cage-ins”.

Advertisement for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

Advertisement for the Free Vanunu benefit Hackney Empire 3 October 1993 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

The benefit was timed to coincide with and highlight the eighth anniversary of Vanunu’s solitary confinement in Ashkelon Prison. It was a new venture for the Campaign, which hoped to gain publicity and new supporters as a result.   The concert was publicised around London with “1000 bold and imaginative posters”.   We have not found a colour version of these posters in the archive, but here’s one from 1996 in a similar graphic style.

From the programme for Free Vanunu benefit Camden Centre 28 September 1996 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

From the programme for Free Vanunu benefit Camden Centre 28 September 1996 (archive reference Cwl VAN 4/1).

Tickets for the 1993 event cost £8 and £12 with 100 specials at £30, which offered the chance to meet the artists at a buffet afterwards.

The evening was compered by the comedian Arthur Smith.  Susannah York read a poem by Vanunu reflecting on the experiences of a whistleblower, “I am your spy”.  Harold Pinter spoke Vanunu’s words in a specially-commissioned dramatic reconstruction written by Michael Rosen, also featuring Julie Christie, Roger Lloyd Pack, and Jenny Stoller, and accompanied by Rivka Gottlieb on the harp.

Postcard featuring image of Vanunu in green under his poem I am your spy.  (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/11).

Postcard featuring image of Vanunu in green under his poem I am your spy. (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/11).

The evening also featured comedians Mark Steel and Arthur Brown, readings by Sarah Dunant, Paul Eddington and Patricia Scott, poets Christopher Logue and Benjamin Zephaniah, and journalist Paul Foot, music from Dave Gilmour, and many more.

Hilary Westlake, the director, reflected on the programme in a fax she sent to the Campaign afterwards.  Generally she felt it had gone well and ran smoothly, though it was too long, over three hours, and most acts could have been a song or poem shorter.  She singled out Susannah York, Benjamin Zephaniah and Paul Foot in particular as “excellent”.

"Successful benefit at the Hackney Empire".  Report in Campaign Bulletin Spring 1994 page 8 featuring image of Benjamin Zephaniah, Arthur Smith and Arnold Brown.  (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/1).

“Successful benefit at the Hackney Empire”. Report in Campaign Bulletin Spring 1994 page 8 featuring image of Benjamin Zephaniah, Arthur Smith and Arnold Brown. (Archive reference: Cwl VAN 5/1).

The event seems to have been seen as a success.  A piece in the Campaign’s bulletin the following spring pointed to considerable press coverage, the impact of the posters, and the way that the event had “brought home the passionate support for Mordechai. It was a great show of strength and a morale-booster for all his supporters”.  The Campaign would go on to held a similar event every year until they wound down their activities following Vanunu’s release from prison on 21 April 2004.

Sources and credits: all images and quotations from the Archive of the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear-free Middle East.  This archive, which we have only recently received and not yet fully catalogued, spans the 90s and 00s, from campaigning via print media and fax into the age of the internet.

 

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30. “A Great Stay and Strength”: Dr Raistrick’s Quaker books

This week’s Object sheds light on another aspect of the life and ideas of Dr Arthur Raistrick (we already encountered his Yorkshire map inscriptions in Object 10).  It is an inscription by Dr Raistrick on a copy of A book of Quaker saints by Lucy Violet Hodgkin, published in 1917.  The book contains mini-biographies of George Fox and other key individuals in Quaker history.  In the inscription, Dr Raistrick explained what the book meant to him when imprisoned as a conscientious objector in Durham Jail during the First World War:

“I think this came into the small Quaker library in Durham Jail soon after publication in 1917.  It was a great discovery for all of us and helped to bring Fox’s Journal, Sewell’s History and a lot of the early journals to life.   Two which I was reading when this appeared were Stephen Grellette and Caroline Stephens, and I bought copies of all three as soon as I could, after my release,  and still value them.  They are very precious.  It was a great stay and strength in jail for many of us”.

The annotation is a wonderful example of provenance: how evidence left by a book’s owner can tell us more about the book itself and the person involved.

Raistrick at the time he was imprisoned was not actually a member of the Society of Friends: he joined later, in 1919.  However he was clearly already sympathetic to their ideas.   This little note shows how important Quaker ideas and history became to him.   It also illustrates his deep interest in the writings of past Friends.   He built up a large collection of such publications, many now held by Special Collections at the University of Bradford, in the Quaker and Raistrick book collections.  His interest in Quaker history also linked up with his love of Yorkshire landscape, as he developed interests in the study of lead mining and other industries with strong Quaker connections, especially the London (Quaker) Lead Company.  Witness books by Dr Raistrick such as Two centuries of industrial welfare, Silver and lead, and Dynasty of iron-founders (about the Darbys of Coalbrookdale).

Raistrick’s books generally are full of intriguing provenance: he was a great annotator and liked to explain how he came by his books.  For instance, this copy of Quaker saints also includes the note, “Arthur Raistrick 1919 given to me on my release from prison Sept. 1919”.

It is particularly pleasing that we have Raistrick’s copies of the other works he mentioned in the featured inscription: a memoir of Stephen Grellet by William Guest,  and Quaker strongholds by Caroline Stephen.  An inscription in the latter gives us another aspect of Raistrick’s wartime imprisonment: “A. Raistrick No. 4559 B.2.17. H.M.P. W.Scrubbs. 1.4.1918.” i.e. Wormwood Scrubs.