JERUSALEM: Jonathan Pollard, an American jailed in the United States in 1985 for spying for Israel, landed in the Jewish state on Wednesday to a hero’s welcome led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pollard, 66, served 30 years in prison for passing on classified documents when he served as a US Navy intelligence analyst, and had been confined to the United States under his parole terms since his 2015 release.
After years of Israeli lobbying to allow Pollard, a Jewish American, to leave, the US Justice Department removed the terms and conditions last month.
Pollard and his wife Esther arrived in Israel before dawn and were seen walking off a plane towards a waiting Netanyahu, who raised his hand in welcome, in a video distributed by the prime minister’s office.
Pollard, with a kippa skullcap and a long white beard, then removed his face mask, got down on his hands and knees and kissed the ground, with Esther following suit.
Netanyahu and Pollard said traditional Jewish blessings before the premier handed an Israeli identity card to the old spy, who was granted citizenship in 1995.
“You’re home,” the Israeli premier told the two.
‘Ecstatic to be home’
Pollard’s arrival was widely celebrated, with President Reuven Rivlin and other politicians sending welcome tweets.
The authority in charge of Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, released a recording of the pilot requesting permission to land.
The Pollards flew in on a private jet owned by Jewish-American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, which touched down just before 3am, said journalist Itay Blumental.
Pollard said he and Esther were “ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years, and we thank the people and the prime minister of Israel for bringing us home”.
“We hope to become productive citizens as soon and as quickly as possible and to get on with our lives here.”
The former spy and his wife then went into quarantine, after which they plan to move to a home in Jerusalem, Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who represented Pollard, told army radio.
Israel imposed its third nationwide lockdown on Sunday to contain the novel coronavirus.
Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2020