.It was once a legendary message of peace and reconciliation that became part of Israeli folklore.
A ship anchored outside Israel’s territorial waters transmitted a powerful, but illegal radio signal into Israeli and Palestinian homes throughout the 1970s and 1980s touting coexistence, featuring colorful English-speaking DJs and playing music like John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”
“”From somewhere in the Mediterranean, this is the Voice of Peace ” was the English phrase that most Israelis and not a small number of Palestinians knew by heart. It was something radically different from the local alternatives of the time ? Israel Radio and Army Radio ? the initiative of an anti-establishment peace activist named Abie Nathan.
Now thanks to a joint initiative by Israelis and Palestinians, the famous phrase will return to the airwaves for the first time since 1993. There will be three major changes. First, instead of broadcasting from a ship in the Mediterranean, the station will be broadcasting from Ramallah. Second, the broadcasts will be in Hebrew and Arabic instead of English. And third, this time it’s legal.
Last week, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists signed an agreement to begin the new broadcasts on November 4, the anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. A group of entrepreneurs which includes members of the Kibbutz Movement, left-wing Jewish activists and Palestinian businessmen will resuscitate the radio station, which will broadcast from Ramallah on the frequency allocated to it by the Palestinian Authority?s Ministry of Communications.
The idea to revive the Voice of Peace came from Mossi Raz, a former MK for Meretz and current deputy director-general of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace in Givat Haviva, and
Palestinian businessman Hanna Siniora, publisher of the Jerusalem Times weekly.
Nathan himself, who is now 76 years old, is bedridden and in very poor health. Nonetheless, according to Raz, ?Abie?s close friends have promised to give us recordings of the Voice of Peace, especially of the jingles, so we?ll be able to broadcast them again just as they were in the past.? One of his friends, Henry Alkaslasi, who is conducting negotiations with the entrepreneurs, told Ma?ariv: ?We?ll do something special in Abie?s honor, so that everyone is reminded of him.?
According to Raz, the station, which is due to go on the air on November 4, will focus on current events and educational programs, together with talk shows on Israeli and Palestinian issues. The prevailing tone of the programs will be one of peace and co-existence, and there will be lots of music.
The station will use archive material from the original Voice of Peace station; and in order to refrain from breaching Israeli law, it will split its operations: The station’s studios will be located in East Jerusalem, while its transmitters will be positioned in the West Bank town of Bitunia, near Ramallah.
Siniora told Ha’aretz that the station received the broadcast frequencies following a meeting with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, who gave his blessing to the initiative. Arafat reportedly commented when he heard its name: “But that’s Abie Nathan’s station, isn’t it?”
Siniora said the station’s objective was to rebuild trust and narrow the distances between
the two peoples. It also aimed at fighting stereotypes presented in the media about the
Palestinians and Israel, he added, stressing that the station would not relay political
programs, nor would it be funded by any party. Instead, it would mainly broadcast Arabic and
Hebrew music as well as entertainment programs for children and youth. From day one, the station will broadcast 24 hours a day, dedicating three hours each day to
programs dealing with coexistence and serving as a mouthpiece for associations and
organizations involved in promoting such issues. The station’s presenters will include
Israelis and Palestinians who will broadcast both in Hebrew and Arabic.
“It will not focus much on news or current political issues. It will mostly be about the
cultures of the two peoples, their similarities and differences,” Siniora told Ha’aretz.
Reviving the station was made possible thanks to a $600,000 donation from the European Union that was approved recently. In 1993, after Nathan decided to shut down the original Voice of Peace and scuttle the ship from which it transmitted, he donated the station’s archives to the Givat Haviva center.
His decision to close the station after 20 years of broadcasting derived from both financial considerations, as well as the dawning of the Oslo era resulting in the handshake between Prime Minister Rabin and PLO head Yasser Arafat. Nathan, born in Iran, was a veteran left-wing activist. He was jailed in 1989 and again in 1991 for contacts with the PLO. He met Arafat long before Rabin even considered shaking the PLO chairman’s hand. He fought the ban on contacts with the PLO with occasional hunger strikes, and for years has dressed entirely in black to protest the refusal of the government and the PLO to talk to each other.
When Arafat and Rabin signed their accord in Washington on September 13, Nathan announced that he was purchasing a new, all-white wardrobe.Nathan was a fighter pilot, restaurateur and art collector before he bought his ship in 1969. The boat has played a central role in his political activities. He once used it to carry 100,000 flowers across the Suez Canal to Egypt, and took it on a voyage across the Red Sea to the Jordanian city of Akaba.
In addition to his Mideast-peace activities, Nathan has also worked to raise money for victims of the Armenian earthquake in 1988 and for famine relief in Somalia