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Arutz Sheva - History (3)


Matters came to a head for all offshore broadcasters off Israel in mid-May 1996. On 20th May Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv was forced to close for two hours because of interference being caused to air traffic control communications by landbased pirate  radio stations. One station was traced and raided by police and and  others voluntarily closed to avoid similar raids.

As a direct result of the problems caused at Ben Gurion Airport the Israeli authorities took strong action against all 'unauthorised' stations, including Arutz Sheva, which received information that if its ship, Hatzvi, entered port it would be raided again.

Arutz Sheva sent messages via its Internet pages warning  of the planned raid on the Hatzvi and asking readers to support the station's right to broadcast by contacting government agencies and Israeli Consulates and Embassies worldwide to lodge protests.

It had been intended, and announced on air, that the Hatzvi would enter Ashdod over the two day Shavuot holiday weekend at the end of May 1996. Although the Director General of Communications in Israel admitted  that Arutz Sheva had not been responsible for interference at the Airport the planned raid was perceived  as yet another attempt by the  Israeli authorities to silence the station, which had voiced critical comments about the Government. It was probably no coincidence that this threat of action occurred within a week of the Israeli General Election.  To avoid the possible repetition of a raid and confiscation of broadcasting equipment, as had happened the previous year, the Hatzvi remained at sea over the Shavuot  holiday weekend.

However, following a change of government with the victory of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the May 1996 Israeli General Election Arutz Sheva was able to continue broadcasting virtually unhindered.

In 1996 Arutz Sheva became the first (and only) offshore station to make use of the Internet. The station's home page at the time contained  information about Arutz Sheva (including pictures of the 'Hatzvi') and some general news. The site was also used to disseminate news and information about issues affecting the station.


On 1st November 1997 the Israel state radio pop station, Reshet Gimmel, changed its format to Hebew music only. Reshet Gimmel’s ratings were at an all time low, and to save the station from closing, the station changed its format to compete with the highly popular Arutz Sheva which had used the format of Hebrew music  since opening in 1988.



By May 1988, as Arutz Sheva approached its 10th anniversary, the station was growing ever popular and there was talk of it being granted a landbased licence in the near future.


In February 1999 the Knesset passed a law legalising the operation of Arutz Sheva and absolving it of earlier illegal broadcasting, but an appeal against this new law was made  to the Israeli Supreme Court.




In in March 2002 the Israeli supreme Court finally delivered its verdict in the appeal hearing against the proposed law to legalise Arutz Sheva. The Court ruled the law null and void.

In September 2002 the owners of Arutz Sheva announced plans to start a new television station, Arutz Sheva TV,  broadcasting 24 hours a day in Hebrew and English. Arutz Sheva owner, Yaacov Katz, said that the channel’s representatives were raising funds in Europe and the USA.

On 25th December 2002 Tel-Aviv police and Communications Ministry officials raided the Arutz Sheva ship Hatzvi. The ship was at the time anchored in Israeli national waters off the coast of Tel-Aviv. Broadcasts were stopped for about an hour, but no equipment was confiscated, and no one (there were not many people on the ship at the time) was arrested. While the broadcasts were stopped police photographed all the transmitting equipment.

The raid was carried out following numerous complaints to the Ministry of Communications about Party Political broadcasts, and right wing propaganda being aired by Arutz Sheva. Israeli law forbids this type of broadcasts before a General Election (which was scheduled for the end of January 2003), and limits them to three weeks before the elections, and only at certain times when all parties have airtime at the same time.

Arutz Sheva management issued a statement saying that this was the first time in the history of Israeli offshore broadcasting - including 22 years of Abie Natan's Voice of Peace ship, and 15 years after Arutz Sheva had started broadcasts - that police had ever made such a raid. "Not under the governments of Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, or Ehud Barak were police ever sent to raid a ship broadcasting from sea," the station said. "Only under Ariel Sharon did this happen. Could it have something to do with our opposition to a Palestinian state?"

Condemnations of the apparent blow against freedom of speech came from the right-wing Communications Minister Ruby Rivlin (of the Likud Party) who said he was "furious" at the raid, citing in particular its timing during an election campaign. A spokesman for Minister Landau said that he did not know of the raid in advance, and that it was initiated by the Communications Ministry a while ago.

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