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Voice of Peace - History (7)


The silent MV Peace sailed close to the shore off  Tel Aviv on 1st January 1982 and the following day DJs set up loudspeakers on deck and 'broadcast' their programmes to an audience on the beach. After a week the ship sailed to Ashdod for some minor repair works and later tied up to mooring buoys in the bay, where she remained for some weeks while the argument raged in Israel about Abie Nathan's application for a  land-based licence.

It was not until 12th January 1982 that the Knesset's Economic Committee discussed Abie Nathan's licence application. The Committee was told by Communications Minister, Mordecai Zipponi that there should be a general revision of broadcasting arrangements in Israel and that there was no point in enacting a special law to effectively grant Abie Nathan a virtual monopoly in commercial radio. However, the Minister also said that if the Committee decided to recommend allowing Abie Nathan to come inshore and broadcast from an Israeli port while the general review of broadcasting law was carried out, then the Government would have no strong objections to such a temporary arrangement.

For his part Abie Nathan explained to press reporters that the Voice of Peace had lost a lot of money from cancelled advertising contracts and, as it was costing 2 million Israeli pounds just to keep the silent ship in harbour, he would have to close the station for good within a week .

On 26th January 1982 the Knesset Economic Committee gave its approval to a Bill allowing Abie Nathan's radio station to broadcast from shore. The licence granted under the Bill was a temporary one for three months to avoid the necessity for keeping the Peace at sea during the winter and it had a number of conditions:-

However, the battle was not over because on 1st February 1982 the Israeli opposition parties warned that when the Bill came before the Knesset for its first reading they would combine to defeat it. Even the Minister of Communications, Mordecai Zipponi, was not happy with the Bill as agreed by the Economic Committee, fearing Abie Nathan would be given too much opportunity to make a vast profit out of running the station.

The Bill was subsequently discussed by the Knesset on 9th February 1982 and, despite the opposition parties' threats,  passed its first reading by 32 to 11 with 1 abstention. However, less than a week later the ultra-orthadox religious party, Agudat Israel, lodged an objection to Abie Nathan's licence application on the grounds that he intended to allow his station to broadcast on Shabbat.

The leader of Agudat Israel, Avraham Shapira, said that the Voice of Peace broadcasts had "nothing Israeli or Jewish in them, they disseminate the worst that foreign culture has to offer and, apart from some commercials, they are not in Hebrew. The State certainly cannot allow a private individual the licence to cause the mass desecration of Shabbat in this way." Mr. Shapira also indicated that if the coalition Government under Prime Minister Menachen Begin enacted the legislation granting the Voice of Peace a licence his party would link with the opposition Labour group on a range of other issues to bring down the Government.  

Clearly Abie Nathan and the Voice of Peace were being drawn into the delicate balance of Israeli party politics affecting a much wider range of issues than just the granting of a commercial radio station licence.  

On 16th February 1982 Abie Nathan addressed the Knesset and told them that in view of the strength of opposition he no longer had the mental or financial strength to fight for his licence and that he was withdrawing his application. He told a news conference afterwards that he "could no longer risk the lives of his crew in winter storms at sea" and recounted some of the peace initiatives undertaken by the Voice of Peace. Abie Nathan was bitter about the way he had been treated by the Communications Minister Mordecai Zipponi and Israeli Prime Minister Menachen Begin.

Having pulled back from seeking a land-based licence Abie Nathan took the Peace ship back to sea on 19th February 1982 and announced his ideas for the future of the Peace ship:-

“On Sunday morning I shall fly to London and then to Belfast to another troubled region and try to offer our help. We will go there only if we are wanted, only if we can find enough people on both sides who believe that by reason and understanding we might try to replace violence as being the only means of getting together among people. Or will we sell the ship? If we cannot then I will come back. We will have to strip the ship of everything she has, maybe sell it for charity. And then since this good old ship has been here for so long, we will not sink her, we will bury her, majestically, in the same place where she has been anchored for so many years, right here in the Mediterranean. She will be part, permanently, of this region.“

He closed his broadcast by urging listeners to go to the Square of the Kings of Israel in Tel Aviv to join a silent demonstration against the failure of the  Knesset to grant him a licence.

After transmissions ended  the MV Peace  sailed to Ashdod the following morning and tied up in the harbour. Over 3,000 people turned up at the demonstration in the Square of the Kings of Israel on 20th February 1982, indicating the extent of the Voice of Peace's popularity at that time. Abie Nathan was subsequently reprimanded by the authorities for not warning them in advance that such a large crowd would be gathering in the Square!

Abie Nathan then flew to Ireland for talks with Catholic and Protestant peace campaigners about the idea of the MV Peace anchoring off the Irish coast, but while he was away it was announced that the Bill to grant him a licence in Israel would receive another hearing in the Knesset in March 1982. It appeared after all that  he had some supporters within Parliament who wanted his station to remain in Israel.

Although Abie Nathan  pressed ahead with plans for broadcasting to Ireland he decided to put the Voice of Peace back on the air off Israel as a temporary measure while the Knesset gave further consideration to his land-based licence application. The ship left Ashdod on 7th March 1982, anchoring off Jaffa and two days later the Voice of Peace returned to the air with 24 hour programming. Unfortunately after only a few days generator problems forced the station to close and the ship returned to Ashdod for repairs and the Voice of Peace remained off the air for ten days.

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