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Arutz Sheva - History (2)

Programmes were broadcast either live from the ship or sometimes (as had become the practice with other Israeli offshore stations) beamed to the radio ship from landbased studios via a telephone link. An example of this method of production was the nightly English language programme, the Ben Israel Show, which was transmitted live from studios in Jerusalem. The music and commercials included in the programme were inserted from on board the Hatzvi, but all talk, including live phone calls from listeners, was relayed from Jerusalem.

Arutz Sheva was a very professionally organised offshore station and had an office in Tel Aviv with full time staff selling airtime to a wide range of advertisers. The station did limit its commercial spots to a maximum of eight per hour, but had little or no trouble selling this volume of airtime.



The group behind Arutz Sheva, as representatives of the settler movement was fundamentally opposed to the Washington peace accord between Israel and the PLO and the station had been critical of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after his signing of the peace agreement in 1993.  

In response Israeli Ministers had made several attempts to force the closure of Arutz Sheva as a voice critical of its policies, claiming that the station was "inciting certain sections of the Israeli population to rebel against the Israeli Government."  

Reports began to circulate in spring 1995 that the Israeli Government was putting pressure on the Maltese authorities not to renew the registration licence of Arutz Sheva's ship, Hatzvi. This attempt to terminate the station's operations by trying to prevent the ship's renewal of registration would, had it succeeded, have rendered the vessel stateless and liable to boarding even when anchored in international waters. Claims were made by supporters of Arutz Sheva that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had officially approached the Maltese requesting them not to grant the renewal of the Hatzvi's registration, but this was publicly denied by the Ministry.

Whatever happened about the ship’s registration the Hatzvi remained at sea and broadcasting the increasingly popular programmes of Arutz Sheva. However, on 31st July 1995  Israeli police, acting on a complaint from the Communications Ministry, raided the Hatzvi while the vessel was in Ashdod taking on supplies. The transmitters and other broadcasting equipment were removed and seized by the police.  

Shortly before this raid the Knesset had approved a new law outlawing any unlicensed radio stations, mainly an attempt to deal with the growing number of landbased pirates. As justification for invoking these powers under the new law to raid the Hatzvi the authorities claimed that the radio ship had been transmitting inside Israeli territorial waters before she entered Ashdod.

A Government spokesman claimed that the action taken against Arutz Sheva was not directly because of its stance in opposing the peace accord with the PLO, but was merely because it was an unlicensed broadcaster.

In normal circumstances such a raid would have been a devastating, if not fatal, blow but not in the case of Aruts Sheva. The station received tremendous support from all over Israel and on 7th August 1995, just a few days after the raid, it was able to return to the air , as a result of sufficient donations being made to enable the purchase of new AM and FM transmitters. Having experienced this direct hostile action from the authorities the station management decided to keep the Hatzvi anchored in international waters in future and again deliver supplies by tender.

Having failed to close Arutz Sheva by force, or by making its ship stateless, the Israeli authorities turned their attention to the station's operation on land. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin personally instructed the Israeli Air Force Museum to discontinue an advertising campaign on the station, Arutz Sheva news reporters were barred from the Knesset and Government departments were instructed not to supply the station with press releases or other information.

These attempts to close Arutz Sheva caused protests in the Knesset where opposition members claimed that the Government was "threatening the democratic fabric of Israeli society." Claims were made that the Communications Ministry had deliberately misled the police about the station broadcasting inside territorial waters before instructing them to raid the radio ship in Ashdod.

Binyamin Netanyahu, Chairman of Likud, the main opposition party in the Knesset, said: "Arutz Sheva is the only station in Israel that expresses the view of the nationalist camp, and for that reason alone Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni decided to close it down." Some members of the Likud Party went on board the Hatzvi to assist with the resumption of broadcasts after the raid and Binyamin Netanyahu himself took part in a broadcast saying that the return of Arutz Sheva was "a blessed day for Israel's democracy."

A Communications Ministry spokesman denied any such claims, reiterating the official line that Aruts Sheva was being treated in the same way as any other unlicensed radio station and the Ministry was enforcing the law "in preparation for the regional radio stations due to start transmissions in October." It was further claimed that the frequencies used by Arutz Sheva would cause interference to the broadcasts of the new regional stations.

More allegations were made against Arutz Sheva by Dedi Zucker, Chairman of the Law and Constitution Committee, who alleged that the offshore station was using two frequencies allocated to the Defence Forces to relay programmes from land based studios to the Hatzvi, which then transmitted them back to Israel. He also claimed that four  additional landbased transmitters in Jerusalem, Safed and in the Negev Desert were being used to relay Arutz Sheva programmes and boost reception of the station for listeners in those areas.

The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 resulted in the authorities taking swift action against right wing opposition factions throughout Israel. As part of this crackdown  action was taken against several people involved with Arutz Sheva and two of the station's staff were arrested after drugs and guns were found in their premises.

Tensions built in Israel during the months following this assassination and an escalation of street violence seemed likely to thwart the success of the peace accord with the PLO. This atmosphere was not conducive to a comfortable relationship between the Israeli Government and an offshore radio station so diametrically opposed to its policy on peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians.

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