Who's Abie Nathan?
|Remembering the Voice of Peace (1)|
|by Noam Tal|
|Who is Abie Nathan? The short answer: an Israeli philanthropist, a tireless peace campaigner and — last but not least — the proud owner of and the driving force behind the offshore radio station, the Voice of Peace, that was airing its messages of peace towards the warring parties in the conflict between Israel and its neighbouring countries from 1973 till 1993. Noam Tal here expands this answer into a longer story.|
|1||Right: A ship for peace — the MV Peace
Reaching for the moon ... Abie Nathan was born on April 29th 1927 in the Persian city of Abadan (today part of Iran), the third child of a traditional Jewish family. His father, Jacob, who was born in Sanaa (Yemen) and worked for the Anglo-Iranian oil company and later opened a successful store for trading linen. His mother, Matilda, was a housewife. The family was a wealthy one. An additional brother and sister followed Abie. Two bizarre stories are associated with his birth. These stories were told by a family member to Maariv, a daily newspaper, shortly after Abie's peace mission in February 1966. He was born with a birthmark and an expert who was asked to explain this mark, said it was an omen that the child was destined to achieve great things. According to another story, Abie refused to be breast-fed and therefore his parents found a cow, who in turn refused to be milked.
|Abie himself recalls, both in his own autobiography and on different radio broadcasts on the Voice of Peace, having had a happy childhood and a good relationship with the neighbours, who were respectful towards his family. He often described the Sabbath meals with his father sitting at the head of the table and all of the children paying him respect, the strolls on Saturday mornings to the synagogue, wrapped in prayer shawls while greeted by their Muslim neighbours. He also mentioned the prayers from the Torah that were said in English. Abie remembers that as a child he used to lie on the roof of the house during the hot summer nights and to observe the stars. One night his father came to the roof and said to him: "Son, if you wish to reach the moon you should aim for the stars."|
|Although Abie used to describe his childhood as blissful, he had always felt that he was the "black sheep of the family," as he was always the only one to be blamed. Since Abie is importunate, spoilt and stubborn it is probable that these feelings result from a self-obsession. In another interview Abie described how he had no toys as a child and that from a very small age on, he was left alone and had to learn to take care of himself.|
|When he was six Abie was sent, together with his younger brother Raymond, to be a border at Saint Mary in Bombay — a prestigious Catholic Jesuit boarding school. This school was for the children of rich wealthy people and of British residents in India. Abie was a border at the school while his brother lived with his aunt. As the family's financial position worsened, Abie returned to his aunt's residence, a move which brought about feelings of deprivation. In an interview to the teenage magazine Maariv Lanoar in 1966, Abie ventured to talk about his school days: "My parents wanted to immigrate from Persia to Israel — but they also considered India and England ... at [Saint Mary's] I was aware of being a Jew and wasn't forced to eat the sacramental bread."|
|In another interview, Abie described how as a child he fell in love with the Christian rituals and how he was deeply offended when he was not allowed to sing in the choir. He also described how he was once called "Jew-boy" by some children and then suffered a direct hit from a stone that scarred his face and brought about a severe hemorrhage. One of the teachers — Father Conti who had witnessed the incident, asked Abie what had happened to which the latter replied, "I stumbled over a rock." The children appreciated Abie's behavior and he was never bothered again. Abie met Father Conti again at the end of 1966 when the latter was nearing eighty. Conti told him how he used this incident as an example of behavior to his students.|
|2||Left: Abie Nathan on hunger strike in front of the Israeli Parliament
Becoming a pilot. As a result of the political crisis in Persia in 1939, the Nathan family left Abadan for India. Even though their financial situation deteriorated, Abie's parents continued to encourage him to study in order to succeed in life. However, when Matilda Nathan discovered that her son had a collection of Christian icons, she decided he should go and study in the Jewish-Zionist school named after Sir Jacob Sassoon. In this school Abie and his fellow students received a Zionist education with an emphasis on right wing political orientation in the spirit of the Bei'tar Movement and they used to chant: "The Jordan river has two banks / this one belongs to us [the Jewish people] / this one belongs to us too." During summer vacations, Abie, like the rest of the students joined a summer camp where they would be taught Hebrew songs. Years later he revealed that his favourite Hebrew song was Rachel Bluwstein's "Ve-ulay" ("Perhaps").
|Abie recalls that as a teenager he already had clear ideals and a wish to be a leader. At the age of fourteen he won first prize in a political debate at the school of the Jewish community in Bombay. The topic was the establishment of a Jewish State, and this was probably the first time Abie's name reached the press. Abie explained that even though he was mischievous he wanted to continue his education and become a lawyer or an engineer. His friends and relatives at the time claimed he was diligent and dedicated all his time to studying. Shortly before he graduated from school, Abie organized a student strike in protest at the behavior of an English teacher who used to utter anti-Semitic remarks.|
|In August 1943 the Second World War seemed very far from ending and the British Armed Forces in India searched for volunteers. Sixteen-year old Abie saw a newspaper advertisement inviting eighteen-year olds to volunteer for an aircraft pilot training course in the Royal Air Force. Being adventuresome, he went to the recruiting office but was refused. Two weeks later he returned to the induction center, and after counterfeiting his age he was drafted, and joined the 27th cycle of the course in the Royal Indo-British Royal Air Force. Following five months of preparation at a base in Pona he was sent to Ambala-base in northern India. He had his first solo flight in a Tiger Moth aircraft and in 1945 he received his Air Force pilot's wings and began training as a Hurricane and Howard bombers' pilot.|
|In 1946 Abie was sent to be trained in flying a Spitfire aircraft in Pashora. On this base there were several Jewish pilots, and Abie used to organize meetings in his tent and cook for everyone on Fridays. The Jewish pilots used to eat together and sing Shabbat songs. At the end of 1946 a decision was made to send Abie's squadron to Japan. Abie, who did not wish to be sent there, succeeded with the pressure from the leaders of the Jewish community to be released from the Armed Forces "due to social reasons." Abie returned to Bombay and rented an apartment with a friend in Colabba — a prestigious part of town. After he had received a civilian aircraft pilot permit, he started flying Dakota and Beachcraft aircrafts in the private company Ambica Airlines. On the 15th of August 1947 it was decided to divide India into two separate states: India and Pakistan, and the Indian prime-minister Pendit Nehru, appealed to the Indian airline companies to take part in the transfer of the Hindu Pakistani residents to India. The airline company, Abie was working for, contributed pilots and aircrafts to carry out the mission, and Abie participated actively in flying the refugees as a co-pilot.|
|In his memoirs Abie related congestion, crowding, and many manifestations of cruelty that he had witnessed during this period. The pilots used to expel refugees, who tried to force their way in an attempt to save their lives, by running their engines. In one of the flights the pilots were almost killed, when a Pakistani policeman armed with a weapon threatened to shoot them if they did not follow his orders. The aircraft was loaded with refugees and could hardly lift off at the end of the airstrip. Abie was very shocked and had a nervous breakdown. According to him he sat and cried during the whole flight. After the landing in India, Abie was hospitalized and underwent recovery for three weeks. The violent events were publicized in the Indian press and Abie received a media-covered visit by the Indian prime minister. After he recovered, he left Ambica Airlines and started flying with Air India.|
|3||Right: Abie Nathan in his piloting years
Volunteering for Israel. While working at Air India, Abie heard of the foundation of the state of Israel and of the upcoming invasion of the armies of the Arab countries. Abie turned to the Jewish Agency that was looking for volunteers and expressed his willingness to volunteer to help defending the young state. After several days, he received a response from the Jewish Agency that confirmed his request. Abie left Air India and flew with all of his savings — 250 pounds — to London. Abie related the circumstances of his departure to the Israeli media: "I thought that I would come to Israel to contribute my share, that the war would end in three months, and that I would return to my job at Air India." Aharon Cohen, who knew Abie in India, said in a press interview: "Abie is an impulsive man, but when he says something he cannot withdraw from it even if he regrets it." "We once met someone on the street in India who said, "You are Jewish — come to Israel," and three days later Abie left India."
|Upon arrival in London, Abie was sent to Paris where he met more volunteers from around the world. He received an order to fly a Norsman aircraft to Czechoslovakia and then to continue to Israel. His co-pilot was a Polish Jew by the name of Grisha who did not know a word of English, and with great difficulties they located the Zatt airport in Czechoslovakia. Upon arrival at the Stalingrad hotel after the flight, they were welcomed with handclaps by twohundred pilots from all over the world, the majority of them were Jewish. In his memoirs Abie related the feelings of pride and belonging that he felt being part of that group. During the following two weeks he flew nine times from Europe to Israel to bring weapons and arms. Shortly after he moved to serve as a combat pilot in squadron 103 at Ramat David. His missions included taking aerial photos and bombing enemy army concentrations and Arab villages with a Dakota aircraft. The aim of these bombings was to make the Arabs flee to the international border before the enactment of the ceasefire. The Dakota aircraft was not suitable for the bombing missions and the crew used to drop the bombs through the door.|
|In his memoirs Abie related: "In Sasa there were no anti-aircraft guns. We bombed the village from the height of 3,000 feet while feeling completely safe." Two days later Abie visited the bombarded village. "I wandered through the ruins and the burned bodies scattered everywhere. I faced the acts of destruction, wreckage and death that a pilot bombing from the air carries out. Now I saw with my own eyes what I had done and I was seized with deep depression." Abie's next bombing mission was on the village of Tarshiha. Many years later, in 1995 a CNN crew doing an investigative story brought together Abie and an old Arab lady that was crippled by those bombings. Abie, who felt a personal obligation towards the lady whose house he had bombed 47 years earlier, helped her to acquire a motorized wheelchair and some equipment for her home. Since then a connection was formed between them and after Abie became ill she visited him at his home in Tel Aviv.|
|Several days after the bombing of Tarshiha Abie left on his last mission — bombing Egyptian army concentrations that invaded Israel. But Abie did not succeed in locating the target and fearing to harm civilians, he dropped the bombs at sea. That day the ceasefire was enacted and the war ended. Abie continued to serve in the air force. He flew paratroopers, trained in the pilots' training course, and was sent to England for a training programme to fly modern combat aircrafts. Much later Abie related that at that point he wanted to become a squadron commander, but never made it, because being a "new immigrant" he was always outside the circle of those who were promoted, and also because he was not familiar with how things were done in the country.|
|4||Left: Destruction of war toys on Abie Nathan's birthday
Running the California. In 1950 Abie met Rosie Schwartz and ten days later they married. The Nathans had a daughter named Sharona, but a year later the marriage ended with an amicable divorce and they continued to have a good relationship afterwards. Abie left the air force with a captain's rank and joined El AL airlines which was then in its beginning. During this period he experienced the good life of a civilian pilot. He participated in flying Jewish immigrants from Iran to Israel and as a pilot on the Tel Aviv-London-New York airline. Abie lived in London, played golf, traveled much and had good times. He also stayed in Paris and Rome. In 1956 he was forbidden to fly to South Africa because of his dark complexion. As a captain Abie strictly kept flight regulations and used to postpone flights for different reasons, and, one time, he flew an empty aircraft because the crew was tired. These reasons and others led to disagreements and finally in December 1958 he was forced to quit his job at El AL (in captain's rank).
|With the compensation money that he had received, Abie founded with several other pilots the California, a restaurant at the center of the city of Tel Aviv. The first years at the restaurant were difficult and Abie, who was used to the good life, had to do jobs that he was not used to doing. But gradually the situation did change, the restaurant flourished and Abie acquired his partner's shares and became the sole owner of the restaurant. California was situated next to one of the largest theatres in Tel Aviv and many people used to sit there before and after performances and discuss politics. Gradually California became a meeting place for the Tel Aviv bohemians. Abie became involved in the Tel Aviv nightlife, acquired an art gallery and other businesses and in a short while became rich and famous. Abie used to have luxurious parties at his expense for his many friends, and generously helped people in distress. He gave out student scholarships named after pilot friends who were killed in the War of Independence, supported theatre actors in need and helped needy families financially.|
|On many occasions Abie related that he owed the beginning of his social involvement to an acquaintance with one of the workers at California, an acquaintance that soon became a romantic relationship. In 1962 a dish washer of Spanish origin worked in California. Abie fell in love with her and within a short while they became a couple. From her, as he said, he learned to be sensitive to people. She was more intelligent than Abie and she influenced him to read belles-lettres such as Lorca and to paint. Their relationship lasted two years at the end of which she left Israel. Abie refused to be reconciled and tried to persuade her to return, but when he discovered that she was engaged he felt that he didn't have anything to look for in Madrid. In an instantaneous decision he decided to travel to the Scandinavian countries, which turned out to be a six months' tour. When his business deteriorated in his absence he returned to the restaurant in Tel Aviv.|
|Abie returned to the California and to the active life of Tel Aviv. The mid-sixties were a relatively quiet period in the young state of Israel. People often went to the theatre and would end the evening at a restaurant. The business at the restaurant flourished, and Abie would sit by the cashier to make sure that everybody remembered to pay. One day a political debate about the future relations between Israel and the Arab countries developed. Abie, who sat aside most of the time, interrupted the conversation and expressed his opinion. The response was laughter. "You had better continue to sell hamburgers and guard the cashier," he was told. Abie was a little offended but at the end of the evening a journalist who was present during the conversation approached him and said: "Out of everyone you were the only one who spoke both rationally and sensitively." Abie was touched by these words and he decided to act. At the end of 1965 elections were supposed to be held in Israel and Abie decided to run for the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.|
|5||Right: Abie Nathan receives his Golden Pilot's Wings (March 2005)
A flight to Egypt. Abie's political agenda included a free economy, proposals to help the poor and a promise that in he was elected, he would fly to Egypt which was at the time Israel's biggest enemy, in order to talk with Gammal Abd-ul-Naser about peace. The name of the party was NES (which means miracle in Hebrew), and there were many who said that Abie would enter the Knesset only if a miracle occurred. Upon the publication of the results it turned out that Abie was only a few thousand voices short. Abie felt that he would let down the people who had voted for him and declared that, if he would receive one hundred thousand signatures, he still would fly to Egypt even though not being elected. Many said that this was just another of his publicity gimmicks, but Abie meant it seriously. He rented a 1927 Steerman aircraft, painted it white and inscribed the word "Peace" on it in Hebrew, English and Arabic, at the same time renewed his pilot's permit and began to train.
|In the morning of February 28th, 1966, Abie turned his promise into reality and flew to Egypt. Only a few people, among them journalist Tzvi Elgat, knew of the exact time of the flight. Abie flew very low, at a height of a few meters above sea level, in order to avoid the radar of the Israeli Air Force. When he was above Egyptian territory he saw that fuel was running out. Suddenly he saw the airport of Port Said. There was no radio in the aircraft and when Abie landed he was immediately taken for interrogation by the Egyptian authorities. Because of an error in reporting his landing due to lack of fuel, it was reported instead as a crash landing at which the pilot himself was killed. Later on, the media conveyed that Abie had landed safely and the thousands of people who had gathered in front of the California cheered out loud at the news that Abie was still alive.|
|The following day Abie returned to Israel with the aircraft and was joined by Israeli Air Force aircrafts upon entering the country. At the airport thousands awaited him. Abie was interrogated by the police and immediately afterwards he held a news conference. Although Abie won world fame the responses to his acts were mixed. Some regarded him as a publicity chaser who would do anything to have his name in the newspapers, while others praised his actions. Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote of the flight to Egypt in Davar newspaper: "It was an event of moral and political importance, arousing respect and not ridicule."|
|Abie decided to use the momentum to advance his interviews, and went on a tour to Europe and the USA to advance peace and dialogue between Jews and Arabs. He met with leaders and men of letters including Pope Pius the Sixth (March 14th, 1966) who gave him a peace medal, philosopher Bertrand Russell, Senator Robert Kennedy, and other public figures. The flight to Egypt changed the course of his life: from a restaurateur who sold hamburgers to the Tel Aviv bohemia, he became an idealist fighting to achieve his causes. Since then Abie dedicated all his wealth and strength to advancing the ideas that became the goal of his life: humanitarian help to ill-fated people in Israel and abroad, advancing the dialogue between Jews and Arabs and a non-violent struggle to advance peace and human rights.|
|When Abie returned from his voyage to Europe and the United States in June 1966, he organized Jewish and Arabs marches from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in order to propagate the Peace concept. He met with public figures, such as Levy Eschkol (Israel's Prime Minister) and David Ben-Gurion (26.6.1966), hoping they would influence and promote his ideas. On October 28th, 1966, he flew to India to assist the drought refugees from Dihar. In the city Patena he rented trucks, and for three days distributed ten tons of corn to the inhabitants of 35 villages. In an interview on November 27th, 1966, he said: "Children and adults wallowed in the road's dust to collect a few grains of corn dropped from the truck. The aim of the operation was to invoke awareness in India's rich people so that they would help their own people."|
|On December 22nd, 1966 he met with India's prime-minister Indira Gandhi and asked for her support in promoting the relations between Jews and Arabs, and setting the basis for diplomatic relation between India and Israel. When he returned to Israel, he established the "Peace Foundation." In London he purchased a light-plane, which was previously owned by King Husain of Jordan, and flew it to Cyprus with the intentions of bringing it to Israel. It was just before the six-day war began, and the Israeli authorities were afraid that Abie would fly again to enemy country, so he was forbidden to bring the light-plane to Israel. His request to volunteer Air Force reserves was also denied.|
|6||Left: Abie Nathan distributing food in Guatemala (1976)
A fund for Biafra's children. Abie occasionally told that the idea of founding "The Voice of Peace" came up when he sat at a hotel in Cyprus while gazing at the sea. From a nearby radio he heard the sounds of the upcoming war. The Arabs bragged about terminating Israel, and the Israeli radio quoted them. "How can I reach the people and calm them down," he thought. "If I had a radio station ... from Israel and from Cyprus I wouldn't be able to broadcast ... Maybe a vessel outside the territorial waters would do it. We shall call it the Voice of Peace and talk to the people and reassure them."
|Meanwhile the war approached, and nobody wanted to hear speeches about peace. In contradiction to what everybody suspected, Israel won the war, and conquered many territories amongst them the Gaza strip. When the war was over, Abie rented ice-cream vehicles and handed out ice-creams to children in the refugee camps. After several months he flew to Egypt for the second time with a personal peace treaty, and was again arrested and deported to Israel. In January 1968, he announced his intentions to establish a radiostation to promote peace, which would broadcast from a ship in the Mediterranean and he started by selling his personal property for that cause. In March he was fined 1,400 Israeli Pounds for entering Egypt, but out of principal reasons, Abie decided to spent fourty days in jail instead of paying — he contributed the fine instead to a hospital in Israel.|
|Following the rumours of the humanitarian catastrophe in Biafra on June 21st, 1968, Abie founded the "Fund for Biafra's Children" in Israel, but his main activity was located in the Netherlands. There Abie acquired food and powdered milk and flew to hand it to the children of Biafra. When he returned he organized a demonstration in front of the Knesset — the Israeli parliament — against the indifference towards the genocide. On August 22nd, 1968, he rented a DC8 plane funded by the state of Israel, in order to fly humanitarian aid to Biafra. He took starved children to the Netherlands to receive medical care. In New York he held a fundraising for the children of Biafra, and gathered half a million Dollars with the assistance of the Jewish organization of B'nai Brith and flew seven times with needed aid on behalf of the Jewish people.|
|In an interview to the media, Abie stated that since the Jewish people had gone through the Holocaust, they should be more sensitive than any other people and must assist victims of war and natural disasters. On December 22nd, 1968, he rented the boat Pora in the Netherlands loaded with 550 tons of provisions, and sailed to the United States. In New York he purchased more provisions that were packed by volunteers and were sent to Biafra. The government and people of the Netherlands contributed a considerable amount of the money for this humanitarian venture. The Inquirer and the Herald Tribune dedicated a special report to these activities.|
|As soon as the Biafra operation ended, Abie started working on his plan to establish a radio station. On June 11th, 1969, he bought a Dutch vessel called the MV Cito with donation money he collected in the Netherlands. August that same year, he sailed to New York with a staff of Dutch seamen. Abie lacked 170,000 dollars, which he hoped to raise in the United States, in order to turn the ship into a radio station. But reality slapped him on the face when the donations weren't sufficient, however he did get assistance from many people, including the well known singer Pete Seeger.|
|7||Right: Abie Nathan during the construction of the studio's on board of the MV Peace (March 1972)
The Voice of Peace. For three years Abie lived on board the ship in NYC, and collected donations for the radio station with the Shalom Peace Corporation — an international committee he had founded. In his memoirs he wrote that those years in NY were the worst in his life. He failed to raise the money he needed and he had to sell all his possessions in order to buy the transmitters and to build the studios. Abie told about the hard winters in NY. The ship had no heating facilities. The water froze causing the pipes to burst, which cost a fortune to repair. NY municipal authorities charged him high port taxes and forced him to move the ship to a distant pier.
|Meanwhile the Israeli media wrote that "the man with the dreams is about to lose." Abie was indeed close to despair and decided to embark on a hunger strike in order to create awareness about the Peace Ship. His effort finally brought the money he needed, but in December 1972 while the ship was in its last preparation to sail to the Middle East, an earthquake hit Nicaragua, and Abie went there to help build a refugee camp for the survivors. In March 1973 the ship sailed to the Middle East. Many believed that the small ship, whith its huge antenna, would not be able to cross the Atlantic. Three days after departure, water started sipping into the engine room. The ship had to sail to Bermuda for repairs, and from there, continued on to Marcie, France. There Abie was joined by Captain François Bonzon, who organized a crew of seamen, and together they headed for Israel.|
|On May 19th, 1973, the Voice Of Peace, anchored 25 Km off the coast of Israel, aired its first broadcast and was heard around the Middle East. The broadcasts included musical programmes, talks about actual events and served as a platform for dialogue about any topic with emphasis on proper language and lack of violence. In 1973 when the October War broke out, Abie sailed to Egypt and docked opposite Port Said calling for a cease fire and a dialogue. After the war was ended, Abie sailed to Marcie while the ship was in great need of repair and funds. He stayed in Europe for a year and a half.|
|On February 3rd, 1975, Abie went on a hunger strike in N.Y. to protest against the violence inflected upon Jews by Arab terrorists in the Israeli town of Ma'alot, the bombing by Israeli planes of Lebanon and the arms shipments to the Middle East. On June 5th, 1975, Abie requested permission to sail the Suez Canal to promote peace in the region and was refused. The ship turned back to her position opposite Tel Aviv and continued its broadcasts. In September of that year Abie sailed to Egypt loaded with thousands of flowers and tried to approach the coasts of Port Said. With a small boat. He was detained and expelled. In January 1976, Abie donated 200,000 Israeli Pounds from the profits of the VOP to children hospitals in Israel and Gaza. On February 12th, 1976, Abie flew to Guatemala to help rebuild the town of Sanarate that was destroyed in an earthquake. He purchased food and 100,000 chocolate bars and distributed them in twenty-five villages that were damaged. With the help of some Jewish organizations, B'nie Brith among them, he purchased ninety-five machines to produce bricks, cement trucks and other equipment, which assisted in building about nine hundred homes. What was left was used to restore other villages.|
|The VOP was doing very well and all the proceeds from advertisement were used for charitable purposes. According to a British broadcasting magazine the VOP had 23 millions of listeners around the Middle East. During that year Abie purchased many toys and distributed them among Israeli kids forced to live in shelters because of attacks from Lebanon. He donated sport equipment to prison facilities and supported cultural events. On July 30th he flew to Entebbe in an attempt to release hostages and he even met with Idi Amin's secretary but was urged by the Israeli authorities to return to Israel. At the end of 1976 Abie asked Anuar Sadat, Egypt's president, permission to cross the Suez canal and after obtaining permission, sailed in January 1977 to Eilat carrying on board toys and gifts for children. During that same year he organized an event where war toys were destroyed and replaced by educational ones. He repeated this action for several years on his birthday.|
|8||Left: Abie Nathan at an Ethiopian refugee camp (1984)
Helping all over the world. In January 1979 Abie appealed to the then prime minister to accept four hundred Vietnamese war refugee orphans as a gesture of good will and a symbolic moral act to show the nations of the world that even though they refused to accept the Holocaust survivors after World War II, the Jewish people acted differently. The government approved the acceptance of one hundred refugees and Abie helped in their integration. When the peace agreement was signed, Abie organized a celebration in Tel Aviv municipal square and donated 250,000 Pounds to hospitals in Cairo, and Israel. In October 1979 when Abie found out about the horrors of the genocide in Cambodia, he purchased food in Bangkok and distributed it in villages on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Then he proceeded to the USA to collect donations and received aid from the US government.
|Prime Minister Begin instructed Israel representatives in Thailand to help Abie. With a group of doctors headed by Dr Yaacov Adler they established the first refugee camp in Sagino. The food arrived aboard thirty trucks that were marked "Food from Israel" and the camp that had a hospital treated tens of thousands of refugees. At the beginning of 1980, Abie founded "Abie's Angels" — an organization of volunteers that would provide help whenever it was needed. And in August he started a fund for the elderly that provided clothes and house ware to old people in need. On May 27th, 1981, he organized support for residents in the north of Israel who were living in shelters, and during the war of Lebanon he flew to Lebanon and organized support for refugees in Lebanon.|
|In 1983, Abie was elected as a member of Tel Aviv municipal council. He started a project called "A Warm Winter for the Elderly," which involved supplying stoves and oil to the elderly citizens of Jerusalem. In May 1984, in an attempt to release Ida Nodel and other Jewish prisoners of conscious, who were detained in Soviet prisons, he flew to Moscow and met on their behalf with American congressmen. The following November he flew to Ethiopia and his visit was documented on Israeli Television.|
|Abie started collecting money for the people in Ethiopia. With the help of a few million dollars from donations and a group of volunteers, he set up a tent camp for 100,000 refugees. The camp had electricity, a hospital and other essential facilities. The project was called "From Jerusalem with Love" and was immensely successful. Abie met with the president of Ethiopia and raised the question of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and granting permission for Ethiopian Jews to migrate to Israel. He passed messages between the Israeli and the Ethiopian governments. When he returned to Israel he started a daily show on the Voice of Peace in which he discussed everyday problems of the listeners. In addition, he started a campaign to install security doors for the elderly citizens living in the poorer areas of Tel Aviv.|
|In November 1985 a volcano erupted in Armero, which was the second biggest city in the Tolima Department in Columbia, killing about 23,000 people. Once again Abie recruited money from various Jewish organisations which he used to set up a factory which produced bricks at the rate of one million bricks per month. In 1987 plans were made for the foundation of a village for drug rehabilitation in southern Israel called "The Village of Good Hope," while Abie joined an international campaign against drugs. In August 1987 Abie jointed a delegation of Israeli teenagers on a trip to Poland where they visited concentration camps. Following this visit he initiated, together with "Yad Vashem" — an Israeli organisation entrusted with documenting the history of the Jewish people during the period of the Holocaust — a personal commemoration campaign for the victims of the Holocaust. As part of this campaign, he had the number of one of the Holocaust victims who was murdered in Auschwitz — B14887 — tattooed on his arm.|
|9||Right: A meeting with Yasser Arafat (1995)
Sentenced to prison. In September 1989, Abie flew to Tunis and met Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), in an attempt to persuade him to cease terrorism and start negotiations with Israel. This meeting caused a huge uproar in Israel where up till then PLO was viewed as a terrorist organisation. In February 1989, following the Leninakan earthquake in Armenia, he began collecting food and clothes for the survivors. The aid was conveyed through the first Russian ship to have docked in Israel since the ties between Israel and the Soviet Union had been severed following the Six Day War in 1967. In October, Abie was sentenced to six months imprisonment following his meetings with the PLO and, on his release he resumed his public contacts. Throughout 1990 he met with public figures throughout the world and called the Palestinians to renounce terrorism and Israel to recognise the Palestinian representatives and start negotiations.
|During the First Gulf War in 1991 he purchased food and fifty thousand bottles of mineral water to be distributed to the Kurds of northern Iraq who, out of fear of Saddam Hussein, fled for the mountains. This operation was conducted with the help of the United States Air Force. In May of that year Abie began another hunger strike protesting against the law barring meetings with PLO representatives.|
|Abie's struggle caused a huge uproar within Israeli society especially in light of the fact that many politicians from the left met secretly with PLO representatives and only Abie who did so openly was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Furthermore, during the time Abie was imprisoned, the Madrid conference, in which Israelis and Arab leaders met openly, took place. During his sentence a growing number of voices both from Israel and abroad, started calling for his release. International organisations such as Amnesty International and even right-wingers who disapproved of his political conduct claimed he had been wronged. Despite Abie's refusal to ask for a pardon after 173 days Chaim Herzog, then the President of Israel, ordered that he should be released.|
|Following his release, Abie continued with his humanitarian activities both in Israel and abroad. He organised a "fun day" in the Ramat Gan Safari for grandparents, parents and kids from underprivileged areas. On the 25th of August 1992 he flew to help refugees in Somalia. Abie raised over one million dollars, which was used to set up a camp for thirty-five thousand Somali refugees in the city of Ruiru, Kenya.|
|Although Abie was not invited by the Israeli government to attend the signing up of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the PLO which took place in September 1993, he attended the ceremony as a guest. Later in the year he decided to stop the broadcasts of the Voice of Peace due to financial difficulties. The idea, patronized by the Mayor of Tel Aviv and others, to turn the ship into a museum, did not seem to bare fruit. A disgruntled Abie decided that he couldn't wait any longer and decided to sink the ship.|
|The last music to be sung on the ship was Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome" which Abie regarded as a kind of personal anthem. Two months later the ship was sunk opposite the shores of Israel. Abie, who for years had dressed in black garments as part of his protest against the evils of violence and occupation, now started wearing everyday clothes. Even without a ship, Abie continued in his personal and humanitarian activities. In the years 1994-1996 he was engaged in setting up refugee camps in Zaire and Rwanda and was also engaged in welfare activities both in Israel and Abroad. Abie participated in peace forums and gave advice to international organizations about how to deal with refugees.|
|10||Left: Abie Nathan receives the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award (1997)
As the sun sets ... On the sixth of August 1996, Abie decided to take time out from his social engagements. He flew to Washington for a year intending to write his memoirs. However, a month after his arrival in the US capital, Abie suffered a stroke and was rushed to Israel for treatment. After an extended period of recuperation, he moved to a rented flat in Tel Aviv where he was confined to a wheelchair and supported by Rada — his loyal assistant from the Peace Ship. Abie continued writing his memoirs — with the help of Israeli author Yoram Rosler — and they were published in Hebrew in 1997. Abie continued, despite his physical condition, to attend public events and with the remainder of his money initiated the distribution of food to the hungry people of Bulgaria. On September 26th, 1997, Abie received the Nuremberg International Human Rights Awards which he donated to Israeli disabled organisations.
|Abie's physical condition and verbal ability deteriorated following another stroke, and in February 2000 he flew to Bangalore in India for further treatment. A short time after he returned from India, Abie moved to a Tel Aviv retirement home. Eytan Harris, an Israeli director, started filming a documentary about Abie's life. On the 24th of March 2005, as a mark of gratitude for his contribution to Israel, Abie received golden pilot's wings from the commander of the Israeli Air Force. The ninth of July 2005 witnessed the premiere of the film Abie Nathan as the Sun Sets as part of the Jerusalem film festival. Further screenings were made in Tel Aviv and the film was broadcast on Israeli television. Nowadays a group of friends is engaged in a project of building a museum and a center for volunteers, which will be named after Abie Nathan.|
|The author thanks Gil Rechtman for translating this text from Hebrew into English|
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