Longtime prisoner Jonathan Pollard has just left the Federal Correction Complex in Butner, North Carolina, after over 30 years of being held on espionage charges, his wife Esther announced shortly after 11 a.m. Friday.
Esther and a number of Pollard’s closest confidantes were waiting to greet Pollard as he first tasted freedom, at 4:15 a.m. EST; from there they will set off for New York to begin their lives anew.
There in New York, a probation officer will be assigned to Pollard by the US Department of Justice, and will inspect to make sure the 61-year-old stays within all of the limitations placed on him. Any excursion beyond the immediate area of his residence will require the approval of the probation officer.
He will likewise be forbidden from flying to Israel – and will even be forbidden from checking the internet.
Unprecedented prison sentence
Pollard, who was arrested on charges of spying for Israel in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison, began his 31st year in jail as prisoner 09185-016 this past November. He has been suffering from poor health and has become the subject of a high-profile campaign for his release.
Last year, the Parole Board of the Justice Department rejected Pollard’s parole, with senior U.S. officials involved in the case writing to US President Barack Obama to complain that the decision was “deeply flawed”.
Once Pollard’s release was granted, however, controversy remained over the conditions of his parole, after Obama and other top-ranking officials refused to intervene to allow him to return home to Israel before the 5-year limit.
“The Jewish people welcome him”
Politicians welcomed Pollard’s release Friday.
“The Jewish people welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said. “As someone who brought up the issue many years with the US President, I have longed for this day.”
“After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan will finally, finally be reunited with his family,” Netanyahu continued. “I wish Jonathan that this Shabbat give him happiness and quiet, and that it should continue for the rest of his life.”
Simultaneously, two politicians on opposite sides of Israel’s political spectrum – Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett and Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Yitzhak Herzog – issued the same exact message: Baruch Matir Asurim, “Blessed be the One who frees prisoners,” a blessing from the morning service said daily.
The Knesset Caucus for Jonathan Pollard noted in the hours after the release that they would not stop working on his behalf, and that the next goal is to demand that any restrictions on him be lifted in accordance with his basic rights.
While MKs have continued to release responses, Netanyahu has reportedly asked ministers not to conduct interviews with the media over Pollard’s release.
Deputy Defense Minister MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) also issued a statement with the blessing.
“Jonathan Pollard merited today to learn anew the term ‘freedom,'” Ben-Dahan added, noting that for most people, the term “freedom” is a given, rather than a privilege.
Ben-Dahan noted that Pollard, sadly, did not get the chance to meet again with his rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, before the latter’s death; Rabbi Eliyahu visited Pollard several times in prison. “I am sure, however, that in heaven, there is a special happiness with his release,” he said.
“Baruch Mattir Assurim,” President Reuven Rivlin added. “We all welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard, after many long and difficult years of prison.”
“For all these years we hurt for Pollard, and felt responsible and obligated to bring his release,” he continued. “We welcome today Pollard and his family in their reunification and wish them long, good, and healthy years of tranquility.”
The fight is not over
MK Dr. Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), head of the Knesset Caucus for Jonathan Pollard, noted that his role would not end with Pollard’s release.
“The Caucus will not end and is not disbanding,” he wrote Friday. “We see now a new goal: to remove the restrictions placed on him [Pollard – ed.].” Pollard has been barred from leaving the US, among other restrictions, for the next five years.
“We demand to remove all restrictions on his mobility, his [contact with and access to] the media, and which harm his basic rights of citizenship, and to allow him to leave the US to any place he chooses – and, first and foremost, Israel,” Shai continued. “We demand it.”
“Throughout the years we have followed you and and tried to help you as much as possible,” he added. “The public campaign for your freedom has engaged the entire world.”
“In honor of your release from prison, I want to welcome you. This is a big day and an important one, one in which we say: Baruch Matir Assurim.”
“Even after 30 years, the story has not ended and won’t be complete until Jonathan gets to come home to Israel,” MK Oren Hazan (Likud) tweeted. “Pollard, our dear brother, we wait for you to come home with V’Shavu Banim L’Gvulam, speedily in our days – amen.”
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