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volume 12
april 2009

The last months in broadcasting

 





  Remembering the Voice of Peace (33)
by Chris Edwards and Hans Knot
Previous
  Assisted by Boudewijn Dom, Nathan Morley, Clive Roper and Mathew French and acting together, Chris Edwards and Hans Knot here offer a run-down of the last few months of broadcasting by Abie Nathan's offshore radio station The Voice of Peace. Their story covers the period from late June till October 1st, 1993, when at nine o'clock in the morning local time, the final programme was started. Two months later, on November 28th 1993, the MV Peace was sunk in the Mediterranean.
 
1 Right: The MV Peace in Ashdod harbour

Things wearing out. Though Abie Nathan firmly kept to his dreams — even to the point of phantasising — things were going down the scale fast during the last part of 1993. Late June the Voice of Peace was only operating on 1540, as the FM transmitter had given up the ghost. On Wednesday 30th, a tender brought out the Harris transmitter engineer. The man did not like the sea and would only come out under good weather conditions. After a full day's work on the transmitter, assisted by the peerless Kenny Page, the TX still was not working. They partially had stripped the old FM transmitter for spare parts, but this did not help the situation. New parts were ordered and the engineer left the ship around 6:00 p.m. On Friday July 2nd, another tender came to the ship with a new fridge for the galley as well as a new washing machine. Page spent the whole day working on the FM transmitter as spare parts had also arrived at the ship. Late in the afternoon he got things running again with the transmitter performing on full power. The faith of the deejays was not strong yet, though. They didn't report about the "success" in their programmes till late that evening in case it wouldn't last. During the period the FM was not on air, not too many listeners went back to the 1540. The disfunctioning transmitter had some other consequences as advertisers became shy. The Coca Cola company, for instance, withdrew its commercial airtime. The station had brought hourly spots for Coca Cola as well Sprite for the previous couple of months in 1993.

  According to Nathan's wishes, the programming stayed tuned to mellow be it for one short lapse. The weekend upon the return on the air of the FM signal, the deejay team aired "Party Night," but programming quickly went to normal when a few days later Nathan came back in Israel after having been away for nearly three weeks. Then the equipment again started to protest. On Monday 5th, a loud noise was heard and all the lights went out. Within minutes people on the ship knew that the FM transmitter was having problems again and so they went to 1540 only. Two days later disaster struck again, when the AM transmitter also refused to do its duty, taking the Voice of Peace completely off the air. Ashdod harbour already was planned for the forthcoming days and so it was decided to advance the visit to July 7th. That day around 14.15, the engine was started. It was only a short distance into the harbour, but the ship would not arrive there before 21:00 hours. The Israeli Navy had insisted that the Captain should sail a long way from the coast as they were having fire practice in the area were the ship normally would be sailing.
2 Left: FM Transmitter

Recurring repairments. Not only was the machinery deteriorating, the social relations, especially those between Nathan and the deejays also took their toll. Once the ship was docked in Ashdod those onboard expressed the wish to go out for some refreshments, but the captain mindlessly contacted Nathan and, as was to be expected, the latter would not allow them to leave the harbour area. This resulted in a sneering remark of one member of the party: "Abie tries to make prisoners of us all on the radio ship." However, they complied and so the next day the tanks were refilled with water and oil. Next, a quick visit to the Duty Free Store and then back to sea again. During the stay in Ashdod the transmitters were repaired and so very soon after being outside Ashdod the FM as well as AM transmitter were started again.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of rumours going around at that time about the ship and the station. Several sources, for instance, held that substitute deejays would only be recruited from Israel in the future. It was also reported that the transmitters would be transferred to the mainland, while the studios on the ship would only be used until new ones were completed on land too. A date specifying when this migration would start, was not added. The sources in case stated, though, that a new anchorage for the ship would be just outside the port of Jaffa. A microwave link would be used to transfer the signal to the new transmitters on land. Rumours like these were, one may safely conclude, coming straight from Nathan himself, and completely built on wishful thinking on his part. After all, the financial situation was rather bad and from that going to worse. In fact, debts were mounting and competition from Israeli legal stations and the soon to be introduced local commercial stations in Israel, threatened the existence of the Voice of the Peace. The deejays on the ship were aware of the problems. At that time they had wished for a new reel-to-reel recorder as they had to edit some commercials, which couldn't be played without editing. Nathan bluntly refused to buy one, saying that he had already put his house on the market to finance the fridge and a washing machine. The expenses of 500 dollars for a second-hand recorder were, he said, far too high. But matters even seemed worse, as the deejays knew very well that the fridge and washing machine had been for free as Nathan made a barter deal.

  The lack of funds showed up in the state of bad maintenance. So for the crew it was just sitting and waiting for problems to happen. Indeed, disaster struck again in the early hours of Sunday July 11th with the AM transmitter going off the air. With Page on the mainland and nobody else on the ship able even to attempt the repair, the Voice of Peace was again broadcasting on 100 FM only. The sea had been rather rough for several hours and those on board were rolling around quite heavily during the night. Keith Ashton wouldn't come back for at least a week and so the people on the ship had to wait to see what would happen to 1540! A tender had been promised for Monday July 12th, which also would carry the second-hand Revox Recorder Nathan had bought. That same day, in solidarity with all other public sector workers who were on strike, the public radio service Kol Israel went on strike for twenty-four hours. However, it kept providing a news service on the top of each hour, which they were forced to do by Israeli law. All day there was nothing to be heard but a 1kHz tone, except for the news. Nobody would tune in to such a station. Since the Voice of Peace drew its news bulletins from Kol Israel, it was like the station was having a near exclusive news service provided by Kol. Tuesday 13th started with excitement when, around midnight, the cooks cabin on the ship was found on fire. An electric fan had apparently been left on and had started the fire. There was substantial damage to the cabin. Luckily the Captain had smelt smoke and alerted all the other crew members, who were fast asleep nearby. The outcome could have been disastrous, if the Captain had not been watching the television at that late hour in the galley. Around that time a new commercial arrived on the ship for the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, completing a total of only six airing on the Voice of Peace. Things were bad, indeed, though a drink water promotion would follow later that week.
3 Right: A look into the galley

Rumours and promises. On Friday 16th, another tender came alongside, bringing Kenny Page as well as Nathan Morley, who were both returning to the ship. Clive Roper in turn boarded for shore leave. As was to be expected Page was able to sort out the AM transmitter quite fast. With one thing repaired, however, another was bound to break down. And indeed, now it was the air-conditioning on the ship which refused to perform its vital job, resulting in an unbearable situation with high degree humidity and hot temperatures. Luckily this was also temporary. In the meantime people went and came. Some days later that same week, on the 19th, it was time for Mike Melbourne, who had a six-month contract with the station, to head home again. He was replaced by a deejay from South Africa, Paul Harper.

During the final week of July 1993 again a lot of things aboard the ship started to malfunction. The new washing machine came back to the ship but didn't work! Luckily, Radha Krishna, the ship's long-time cook, and Kenny Page got the contraption in working order with spare parts of the old washing machine. Then, the air conditioning broke down once more and so a new motor for it was brought to the ship. Guess what? It took the thing only twenty-four hours to break down again. So it went on and on and on July 29th the crew had had enough and so Page decided to leave the ship for a stiff discussion with Nathan in the office about the situation on the ship.

  Meanwhile the rumours got stronger that the Voice of Peace would get an official license and so be able to move its gear inland. On August 10th, the first serious rumours came in that the programmes of the Voice of Peace from the Mediterranean Sea may soon come to a definite end. Another message stated the possibility that the station would be granted an official licence and so would be able to continue its transmissions from land. It said: "Abie went to the Knesset with reference to achieving his aim for the station and that licence was granted to him for the Voice of Peace and also for its right wing rival Arutz Sheva to come to land." Rumours also had it that something would occur on October 1st that year. From August 13th on it became clear that the rumours about the close-down were truly right, as the station started playing a countdown number and an announcement directly after each news broadcast from Kol Israel. The announcer informed everyone listening to the station on how many days it would take to "forever no more Voice of Peace." The deejays and crew, however, were not officially informed on forehand that the station would close down. It took a few days before Nathan told them that the office at 13 Frug street would be kept open after the close-down as the studios for a land based version of the Voice of Peace could easily be built in there. Nathan also told the deejays that he was thinking about paying the staff the same rates that Kol Israel did. Promises, promises and promises — but with a proper broadcast licence still missing transmissions from Tel Aviv would not be possible. And, as became clear in due time, that licence would not be granted by the Israeli authorities.
4 Left: Generator on top of the MV Peace

The final programme. For the moment, at least, things went on as they had done before. Worth mentioning is that Nathan, after the first week of August 1993, left Israel for a three-week trip to Somalia setting up a refugee camp that he had been appealing for earlier that year. The deejays made use of the occasion to handle things their way. Or, as Clive Roper confessed afterwards, they had fun while Nathan was away: "The station sounded much better without the deejays having to think whether their choice of music is acceptable to Abie, or that they are talking more than ten seconds. With Abie away there are minimal dealings with the office unless it is really essential."

  As the daily countdown continued during the month of September, it became clear that the Voice of Peace would close down on October 1st. Before that time Dutch broadcasting company Veronica Radio interviewed Nathan. They talked with him about his debts which would run around a quarter of a million dollars, supposedly resulting from what Nathan described as an organised boycott by advertisers. Asked about it, he said that his decision to close the station down was taken partly because of the Washington Peace accord between Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yassar Arafat, signed on September 13th that year. Nathan had been in the front row when the accord was signed. The Dutch newspaper Het Algemeen Dagblad reported on September 30th, that Nathan by then thought it unlikely that the Voice of Peace would return on land due to the costs. Dutch newspaper Het Parool even carried a feature about the close-down of the radio station and looked back at her history. As the days passed on and the end of the Voice of Peace drew near, the fate of the ship remained unclear, though Nathan declared that he would let it go up in flames. But, he still kept another option tucked up in his sleeves, waiting until the last moment to be revealed by Tel Aviv's Mayor.
  On Friday October 1st, at nine o'clock in the morning local time, Nathan started the last programme. He told his listeners some of the history of the station and the problems that had been encountered. He also talked about the problems in the Middle East and about the future of the radio ship, which he now seemed to be clear about: "I will not set fire to it, as I promised some days ago, but I will simply sink it for this is the end of what was once a beautiful Dutch coaster." Nathan also mentioned that he had got permission from the Minister of Ecological Affairs, Josse Sared, to sink the ship. Sared was a member of the left-wing party "Muretz" and was also a very well-known activist and a personal friend of Nathan. Nathan stayed on board during the last programme and received several phone calls on air from Israeli and foreign people who offered him financial support to carry on broadcasting. It was officially announced a number of times during the programme that the Voice of Peace would close down at one in the afternoon. However, this did not happen as Nathan was expecting Minister Sared and the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Shiomo Lahet to come out on the ships tender. The Mayor was due to tell the audience about the real future destination of the radio ship. As the tender didn't arrive on time, it was just after 1:30 in the afternoon that Nathan could give attention to his last guests in the studio.
5 Right: The MV Peace just minutes before sinking with Nathan watching from the tender

A Peace Museum? When Lahat took the microphone he revealed what Nathan had known all along but had kept hidden for the outside world. Lahat promised that the ship would get an anchorage in the harbour of Tel Aviv and would be rebuilt as a Peace Museum, with a permanent exhibition with all kind of exhibits related to peace in the Middle East since the early 1970s. A major part of the exhibition would feature Nathan himself. Video recordings would also be shown about the Middle East issues over the past twenty years, such as the signing of the Israel/PLO peace agreement. After the mayor had spoken about the future plans with the ship, Nathan said he hoped that thousands of Israeli's, schoolchildren and foreign visitors would come to his Peace Museum. He then gave the address of the new foundation which would run the museum.

  Nathan ended the Voice of Peace transmissions but instead of playing the usual Lennon' song "Give Peace A Chance," he now chose to close down with Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome." Prior to this he again thanked all his listeners and asked everybody to sing with him, very loudly, this last song ever to be broadcast by the Voice of Peace. While playing the song, Nathan said: "Thank you all. Shalom. Love peace to everyone," and exactly three minutes to two in the afternoon the transmitters went off the air for the very last time.
  We called Nathan on the phone right after the close-down and asked him why he'd changed his mind about setting fire to the ship. Nathan replied: "In Israel it is very easy to get permission to bury a person. But to set a ship on fire in open sea or to sink is quite another matter. For those kinds of things it is very difficult to get permission." We then asked how he felt about it all. "Running the station," he replied, "was the crowning achievement of the last twenty-four years of my life. In 1969, I bought a coaster in Groningen. From the very first day, I said that I would try to get the fighting parties around the table and achieve peace at last. Of course I was very happy at the agreement and the Washington Peace signing. Although there was a little bit of unhappiness in me, due to the fact that it had taken so many years. I must admit that tears ran from my eyes. If you look back, it was all very silly that I had to be imprisoned at my age, between murderers, drug dealers and other criminals. During that period, and I'm now certain, many other people had the chance to talk without problems to the PLO leaders, but I was open and public about it and therefore the government saw reason to jail me as an example to others." Asked if he had spoken with Rabin while in Washington, Nathan remarked: "Well, I met him in Washington, looked him right in the eye, but he didn't say a word to me. I just smiled at him and also didn't say a word. However, he doesn't attempt to talk to those who don't work together with him."
6 Left: The MV Peace as it finally sinks down the Mediterranean

Wearing a white shirt. After the final close-down of the station, the Peace Ship upped anchor and sailed into Tel Aviv accompanied by a flotilla of around thirty small boat and well-wishers. Nathan stood on the ship's deck dressed in a white shirt; the first time he'd done so for many years. Nathan: "For more than twelve years I have been wearing black in protest against the unwillingness of the PLO to recognise Israel. Now both sides are talking peace, I can at least change my clothes. I'm wearing a white shirt, my best white shirt." Dutch Elsevier Magazine mentioned in the October 23rd edition that the Nobel Peace Prize for 1993 should have been awarded to no one else but Abie Nathan.

  Despite all its promises, the Israeli government kept changing its mind over the ship's destination. While still offshore the transmitters were run and several test broadcasts were made. As the weeks passed by, Nathan grew impatient and, probably with the idea in his mind of attracting the world press, radio and TV out to sea for a final memorial to the legendary Voice of Peace, decided to fall back on his penultimate plan. He ordered the studios and transmitters to be disassembled. Afterwards the MV Peace sailed to Ashdod where the studio equipment, generators and transmitter parts were removed from the ship. On November 28th 1993, the MV Peace sailed out for its final trip. Nathan had invited a number of people, who travelled out with him at eight in the morning from Ashdod harbour to a position in international waters, fifteen miles outside Israeli territory. They had chosen this place because the water was rather deep there. From other ships people would watch the former Dutch coaster Cito, which was the last coaster leaving Holland before World War II, sink in the Mediterranean. Around 12:00 hours local time the ship reached her final destination. While Krishna removed the plugs from the engine room, deejay Matthew French was doing the same with the plugs from the lower hold. Holes were made into the ship, but these were probably too small as the ship didn't capsize or sink immediately. The pumps were started, this time not to pump water out of but into the ship. Even some pumps from other ships were used.
  Krishna, French and Nathan were the last to leave the ship, taking with them the ships wheel, the telegraph and a few other souvenirs and headed for the tug, that had made the final journey with the MV Peace. In the meantime the sun was starting to go down and many of the press left the last ever anchorage of the Voice of Peace. Many hours later, the next morning, the Peace Ship was seen for the last time. Luckily enough a photographer was there to shoot the last pictures ever of the Peace Ship. Just before leaving harbour in the early morning, a Rabbi had approached Nathan on the quayside offering him 15,000 Pounds, if he would rethink his decision to sink the ship and restart broadcasting. Nathan recounted: "If only he had come earlier, he had time enough, now it's too late. I was offered 12,000 from the breakers, but I couldn't think of her being cut up. It's like me having my balls cut off." As the Voice of Peace had done so much good work, Nathan thought it was better to give the ship a last resting place. Half a year later, on July 12th 1994, Nathan donated the Nutel 25,000 Watt solid state transmitter to the Palestinian radio station "Voice of Palestine," based in Jericho. The two 20,000 Watt Harris valve transmitters and studio equipment were placed in storage in a Tel Aviv warehouse, location unknown. The cartridge cassettes of jingles, CD's and records were given away as presents.
   
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