‘Here Israelis and Palestinians work together as equal partners,’ says Shimon Malka, Israeli co-director of the East-Jerusalem based studio. Most radio stations in the United States don’t have to grapple with issues like which language the DJs speak or in which language the songs are sung. But those choices are at the very core of All For Peace, Israel’s newly launched joint Israeli-Palestinian radio station.
“Here Israelis and Palestinians work together as equal partners,” says Shimon Malka, Israeli co-director of the East-Jerusalem based studio.
“The emphasis is on the ability to accept the fact that you may not agree with your partner, and that your partner sees the situation in a different light,” explains Malka, who works hand in hand with Palestinian co-director Maysa Siniora. “That’s the primary step to living together.”
The name for All For Peace in Hebrew, – “Kol Hashalom” – sounds exactly like the Hebrew equivalent of the legendary and now defunct The Voice of Peace pirate radio station operated by Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan in the 1970s and 80s. It had a similar coexistence message.
The new station opened for business in March this year with 11 staff besides Malka and Siniora. The initiative came from the Palestinian organization Biladi, The Jerusalem Times and the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, which operates out of the Givat Haviva Educational Seminary in northern Israel. Partial funding is provided by the European Union.
The station’s website states that All for Peace strives “to broadcast in Hebrew, Arabic and English, aimed at a wide audience amongst both peoples to provide messages of peace, cooperation, mutual understanding, coexistence and hope.” While Malka talks of both sides working in harmony, despite differences of opinion, he says there is mutual consent on some issues.
“If there is a terrorist attack in Gaza or in Tel Aviv or, as was the case recently, in Sinai, we all agree that it is pointless, unnecessary and sad. All such events lead to is funerals, pain, more hatred and the desire for revenge. That is entirely counterproductive, and we put that message across on the station.”
For now, the station plays primarily music, but the crux of the bridging effort is focused on two primetime talk shows. The hour-long Hebrew program is called “The Equator” and is followed by an Arabic language show called “Muhawalat” (Endeavors). Both are broadcast twice daily Sunday through Thursday. Part of the station?s credo is trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together by making the two groups more familiar with each other “Common sense dictates that the more we know each other the less we will hate, be angry at and fear each other,” says Malka.
Both talk shows try to do this. The Equator, presented by Orly Noy, offers Hebrew-speaking listeners an opportunity to gain some insight into aspects of Palestinian society that do not normally gain much media exposure. Then Adele Zumot’s Muhawalat provides Palestinians and other Arabic-speakers in the Middle East and elsewhere with a similar peek at Israeli society, focusing on confluences between the societies and cultures.
Malka says the station does its best to try to tread the middle ground so as not to alienate potential listeners with contrary opinions. “We want to influence society. We specifically want people who care, people who get emotional about important issues to hear our points of view.”
“We’ve been using violence for the last 30 or 50 years, and we haven’t achieved anything yet,” says Palestinian co-director Siniora. “So I believe it’s time to think of a different way — by using your brains, by talking, understanding and trying to negotiate,” she says. “And that basically is the aim of this radio station.”
All for Peace has a long way to go to penetrate mainstream media. It currently broadcasts exclusively via the Internet(www.allforpeace.org), although plans to start FM wave transmissions have been in place for some time. First, there are some logistic problems to overcome, such as how to get the requisite transmitter across the Green Line to Ramallah in the Palestinian Autonomy. Meanwhile, Malka says the radio’s audience is growing steadily. “We started out with several hundred listeners. That has increased manifold in recent months.”
Being somewhat beyond the media pale also has its benefits. Malka says he and his colleagues have more room for maneuver than the competition. “We want to get opinions out there that people don’t normally hear. For instance, we won’t interview [Labor Party leader] Shimon Peres about why his party is so obsessive about wanting to join the government. We’ll go to someone like [former Labor government minister] Moshe Shahal who has been out of politics for some years. He’s got no political obligations and would provide a different viewpoint than those currently in the Knesset. And we’ve talked to [Arab Knesset Member] Ahmed Tibi about the environment. He was a member of the Knesset’s Environment Committee for over a year, but he is always interviewed about things to do with terrorism and politics. How many people know he was active in green issues?” asks Malka.
“I don’t want to talk about either Palestinian or Israeli politicians,” adds Siniora. “Interesting people, in my eyes, are the ordinary people in the street. That’s my audience and they are the people that I want to influence.”
In an effort to bridge cultural and social gaps between Israelis and Palestinians, the station tries to educate “the other side” about religious holidays. “We recently had a program in Arabic that explained what Succot is all about,” notes Malka. “We have one in Hebrew about Ramadan and, when the time comes, we’ll have one [in Arabic] about Passover.”
All for Peace has an important role to play in offering an alternative means of communication and information. Malka believes that mainstream Israeli and Palestinian media offer a limited and stereotypical view of the other side. “The Palestinian newspapers tend to convey the idea that all Israelis are occupiers, and the Israeli media generally give the view that all Palestinians are terrorists. We want the public to know that the truth is more complex than that,” says Malka.
That multi-pronged approach also holds for the station’s musical content. “In between the rock and reggae and other stuff, we include one song in Hebrew and one in Arabic every hour,” notes Malka. “The idea is to make people capable of listening to each other’s music and language. As 17 percent of the Israeli population is Muslim, it’s reasonable to expect most Israelis to listen to Arabic. Don’t forget there are also around a million and half Russian-born Israelis. I’d love to learn Russian. It’s absurd not to understand a language spoken by so many Israelis. Music can help make us more amenable to each other’s language.”
Malka and his colleagues seem to making inroads. “I get dozens of emails from listeners every day telling me they’ve made our website their default page. I’m sure we’ll have even more success when we finally get to transmit via the radio airwaves.”