Letter from Peter Weiss
to certain Members of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament)
-in connection with possible debate in the Knesset regarding nuclear weapons
23 January, 2000
As many of you know, I am a longtime member of the Executive Committee of Americans for Peace Now and previously of the Board of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. I am taking the liberty of writing to you today in a totally different capacity: as President of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and of its U.S. affiliate, the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. I have visited Israel many times since I first picked plums on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet in the summer of 1950 and am fully aware of and sympathetic to its unique security needs. But as an international lawyer and global peace activist, I have also for many years participated in the campaign to rid the world of what is undoubtedly the greatest threat to the survival of life "as we know it" (or perhaps as we don't know it), the continuing existence and growing proliferation of nuclear arsenals, the fiercest, least controllable and by far deadliest weapons of mass destruction.
Like other "official" and "unofficial" nuclear weapon states,
Israel views its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent; a shield against its enemies rather than
a sword directed against itself. But two factors, in my opinion, make it more of a sword
than a shield: (1) The by now well established fact that, as long as any country, large or
small, relies on nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of its security, every other country
will feel that it has a moral right (and military duty) to follow suit, including all of
Israel's actual and potential enemies, and (2) the fact that the short distance from which
attacks on Israel have been launched in the past and may again be launched in the future
negates the possibility of nuclear weapons being used defensively by Israel without the
direst consequences for its own population. Deterrence depends on credibility: I once
asked one of your leading generals if he could envision any scenario in which Israel would
actually use nuclear weapons; his answer was "Of course not."
In addition to these practical considerations, there are moral and legal reasons for Israel to review its nuclear policy, reasons to which I know all of you to whom I am addressing this message are sensitive. From a moral point of view, a nuclear war is one of the few scenarios to which the word "holocaust" - a much misused word, as Elie Wiesel keeps reminding us - could properly be applied. Should Israel, of all countries, be in a position to be a party to another holocaust? As for the legal dimension, the International Court of Justice, in its 1996 Advisory Opinion to the General Assembly of the United Nations, declared that nuclear weapons are incompatible with the dictates of humanitarian law and that all states have an obligation to "pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."
Uncomfortably aware of the saying of Juda ha-Nasi that "the bashful go to paradise and the brazen go to Purgatory", I now come to the chutzpahdik part of this note. I would suggest that the time has come for Israel to let the worst kept secret of this and the preceding century out of the bag and admit that it has, not just nuclear capability, but many nuclear weapons. Furthermore, instead of waiting for peace to descend upon the Middle East, Israel should, as part of the welcome and comprehensive approach to peace embraced by the current government, offer, as of now, to enter into a verifiable no-weapons-of-mass destruction pact with all of its neighbors. And Israel should declare its support for a convention banning all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, as advocated by the vast majority of UN member states and as required by Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty and the Opinion of the World Court. As a footnote to the above, Israel should also consider whether, if it can free Palestinian bomb throwers as a contribution to the peace process, it can also set free Mordechai Vanunu as a contribution to the process of freeing the world of the hideous menace of nuclear war.
Taking these steps would, I believe, garner great support and admiration for Israel among the nations and contribute to the atmosphere of "peace is possible" which the governing coalition to which you all belong has done so much to promote.
My colleague John Burroughs has sent to some of you, at my request, his excellent analysis of the World Court Opinion. I also understand that my colleague Merav Datan is making available to many of you and your colleagues the book "Security and Survival", of which she is a principal author and which discusses the technical, political and legal aspects of a nuclear weapons convention.
Thank you for listening. Please do the right thing.
Hopefully and respectfully yours,