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volume 12
april 2009

Abie Nathan's Peace programme


  Remembering the Voice of Peace (4)
by Hans Knot
  Abie Nathan did more than keeping the Voice of Peace on the air and making his regular and sometimes more irregular Peace programme or Phone-In shows. He was involved with a lot of other activities as well, which brought relieve to many but often also problems for himself. The Israeli Forum for International Human Aid once made a list of the most important deeds of Nathan through the years for people all over the world. It's not doable to list it all, so Hans Knot decided to present a selection.
1 Right: Abie Nathan in Ethiopia (1984)

Nathan's aid programmes. Abie Nathan travelled a lot, trying to enhance his message of peace in the Middle East by raising money for aid and relief programmes all over the world. When and where disaster struck, he tried to help. In July 1968, for instance, he made the first of his five trips to Biafra, a region in Western Africa that was torn by civil war. Over the next eight months Nathan raised a considerable amount of money — 1.5 million US-dollars in food and medical supplies — from the people of Israel and from Jewish communities all around the world for the people of Biafra. Nathan himself accompanied a plane filled with medical equipment and medicines to distribute in refugee camps and hospitals.

  Some four years later, in December 1972, Nathan travelled to the city of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, to help distribute food to more than 15,000 victims of an earthquake and he also helped with money to rebuild a small village there. After more than 33 years here's a remarkable story which came in from the USA about Nathan in Managua. It was written by Theo Kuster:
  "My wife and I were assigned as missionaries to Managua, Nicaragua. On the day of the Managua earthquake we were in Ashland, WI, visiting relatives. The morning of December 24, 1972, as we were all packed up and beginning our drive to Madison, to catch our flight to Managua later that week, we began to hear news on the radio: an earthquake in Managua. Each hour of that six hour drive brought in more terrible news, and it was obvious by the time we reached Madison, we would not be going to Managua right away. The centre of the city had been flattened by a tremendous earthquake."
  "Four days after the earthquake, I arrived in Managua. While standing in line for the flight out of Miami, I met Abie Nathan, a man who had a large amount of money in his pocket. He wanted to get to Managua, fast, to help the people. He didn't have any contacts, knew no-one, and could not speak Spanish. I told him that I wanted to get there, also, to help the people. I had virtually no money, but many contacts in the city and could speak Spanish. We boarded the plane, sitting together, and for the next two weeks we worked hand in hand. Using his money and my contacts, we found a truck and driver at the Ministry of Transportation."
  "During the next day Abie and my boys bought truck loads of beans and rice from the government warehouses. Abie drove in the truck during the night, down rural roads, to insure that the cargo was not confiscated by the military. In the morning, at a pre-arranged location, he delivered the goods to the people. He had the people sit in two long lines. The boys placed sacks of rice and beans every 30 meters along the line. Abie gave the signal and a large crowd was "served" peaceably with dignity in a matter of minutes. We kept this up day after day until the money ran out. Abie Nathan was one of the most compassionate, patient, and real human beings I have ever known. Theo Kuster."
2 Left: Nathan in Guatemala (1976)

From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. In 1976 Nathan again came in action. After a severe earthquake hit Guatemala, Nathan went to Guatemala with a large team of Israelis and spent six months in this country. With the assistance of the local Jewish community he helped rebuild several hundreds of homes in the town of Sanarate and personally contributed the sum of 60,000 dollar to the project.

On June 27th 1976, an Air France Airbus was hijacked on a flight from Athens to Paris and, after flying around for a long time, finally landed on the airfield of Entebbe in Uganda. There a long period of waiting began. Nathan was one of the people involved. Robin Banks remembered: "Abie was on the ship when the news came in and within two hours he told us that he would go out to help and to do all he could to get the hostages free." In the book 90 Minutes at Entebbe by William Stevenson, Nathan's name indeed appears several times but it's not the role he himself told he had, when coming back to Israel. People from the United Nations, who were also involved, told that Nathan took too much publicity for his role in this affair.

  Worth mentioning too, is Nathan's organizing a mass demonstration by children whereby a "war" was declared on war toys. This was way back in August 1977. For this occasion thousands of children brought their war toys to the Tel Aviv Municipal Square and after having them destroyed, were given other educational and creative toys. This trade-in of toys was followed by a mass funeral procession and all the destroyed war toys were ceremonially buried at the Independence Park in Tel Aviv. Pictures from this happening went all over the world as a lot of television crews were in Tel Aviv to report on the happening at Municipal Square.
  Following on the Vietnam War, thousands and thousands refugees fled Communist-controlled Vietnam in the late 1970s in small, unsafe boats — often not even deserving that name. Many of these so-called boat-people were rescued by ships in their surroundings and brought into refugee camps in Asia. From there on these people were taken to several countries all over the world to start a new life. One country, for instance the former GDR, took far more of Vietnamese people into their midst than others. Nathan was also part of the aid campaign. Early 1979 he assisted in bringing to Israel the first hundred Vietnamese boat people by initiating an appeal to the people and Government of Israel.
  Later that same year Nathan went back to East Asia and visited a large refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. There he presented the plight of the starved and sick children on Israeli TV. As a result of this, a group of Israeli volunteers, supported by the Israeli government, initiated a six-month medical support mission to a large refugee camp in Sakeo, on the Cambodian border. Thousands of refugees were treated for war injuries, malaria and other infectious diseases by the Israeli medical teams. Nathan, after having initiated a campaign in Israel, managed to raise almost 1.5 million US-dollars for the Cambodian refugees. He later joined the Israeli teams in Sakeo, procured medical equipment and assisted in improving the living and sanitary conditions in the camp.
  We now jump to November 1984, when Nathan led a large Israeli team in making the first of seven trips to Ethiopia. There, the Israeli team built three tent cities providing shelter for 50,000 refugees in the villages of Harbo and Senbetti, and one tent city in Kobo for 5,000 orphans. Nathan raised 1.3 million dollars from Israel, Jewish communities of the USA and the US State department. Exactly a year later he organized and led the first big demonstration of almost 2,000 Israeli's against Apartheid in South Africa in the Municipal Square of Tel Aviv. This was followed by a two-mile march to the office of the South African ambassador. A letter of protest was handed over and an appeal was made to the Israeli Government to denounce Apartheid from the Knesset and to recall the Israeli ambassador from South Africa.
  Again a year later, Nathan, with the help of a large Israeli team, took a plane to Colombia to help the victims of the Armero volcano eruption and ensuing earthquake. The Israeli team built, in collaboration with the local Jewish community, a factory, which produced bricks and provided employment to the survivors of Armero, who produced more than 10,000 bricks a day. The factory produced two million bricks, which were given for free to the survivors of Armero. Funds were raised by Nathan, The Jewish Community of Colombia, USA and Israel.
3 Right: Nathan meets Arafat (1995)

Prison days. Soon after the Armenian earthquake of 1989, Nathan organized a relief campaign to help the victims of the earthquake. A Soviet registered ship, the MV Vitya Novitsky, arrived in the port of Ashdod for the first time in twenty-five years and was loaded with forty tons of clothing and forty tons of flour. Part of the money raised was donated by the JDC and the World Jewish Service. The Vitya Novitsky sailed from Ashdod port to Armenia. The initiative was a great success. At one point Nathan even had to ask his listeners of the Voice of Peace to stop delivering clothes and, instead, to bring in money to finance the transport to Armenia.

  Between 1982 and 1991 there were several meetings between Nathan and Yassir Arafat and he also met two other important people from the PLO. These meetings aimed at bringing both parties, the PLO and Israel, on speaking terms. Nathan also tried, with these talks, to free several Israeli pilots, who were in the hands of the PLO. As there was a law in Israel that forbid to speak with people from organisations like the PLO, Nathan was arrested and jailed a few times.
  Let's go back for a moment to the transmissions of the Voice of Peace on Monday, October 2nd 1989, to see what could be heard on the station. At 16.53 hours local time, Kenny Page going on the air, announced that soon there would be coming up an important message. The announcement again was repeated at 17:00 hours by Reuven from the office. Indeed, not much later Nathan came on the air and talked for about twenty minutes about his meeting with Arafat. He spoke in English and Hebrew, as usual. The next day he went into court, and was sent to jail for six months. Earlier on he was sentenced for talking with the enemy for a period of four months.
  On October, 6th 1989, it was McLelland Hackney who told that all the guys on the ship loved Nathan and had respect for him. At 16:00 hours, Kenny Page came on the air playing a recording from an interview which was earlier transmitted on Gali Zahal, the army radio station. An interview was taken just after Nathan heard about his sentence. He was also seen on Israeli TV a few times and was the talk of the week. On the days before his detention, the listeners of the Voice of Peace were asked several times to walk together with Nathan towards the prison. He took with him some books, his pillow, and his "pelephone" which was normally used in his car, so he could be in contact with the office.
  In the Dutch newspapers there were several short articles about the court decision: "A court in Ramieh near Tel Aviv in Israel has found Abie Nathan, founder of the Voice of Peace and peace activist, guilty of maintaining forbidden relations with members of a terrorist organisation. Nathan has had frequent meetings in the PLO-headquarters in Tunis, where he met PLO-leader Arafat and other important leaders. Since 1986 it's forbidden by a special law for Israeli citizens to have contacts with organisations such as the PLO. Abie Nathan admitted before the court that he had met Arafat on several occasions and made ardent plea for Israeli Palestinian contacts to reach peace. Nathan refused to make use of an agreement between his lawyer and the Public Prosecutor who was prepared to change the maximum penalty of three years imprisonment to six months of community service in exchange for a confession of guilt. Nathan told the judges he was doing community service the whole year around and preferred to go into jail protesting against an illegal, barbarous, anti-democratic and imbecile law."
  In Tel Aviv, on the 8th of December 1989, Nathan was visited by a member of Parliament, Jossi Sarid. He told Nathan that he could have an amnesty from prison, if he confessed in front of television cameras that his talks with the PLO were a mistake. Of course Nathan refused, saying he did it all for the case of peace in the Middle East and intended to continue his six-months term in jail. Nathan was moved to hospital in Kiar Saba, shortly before Christmas. He didn't know why he was moved there, but suspected that the Israeli authorities would claim that he was ill and release him from prison. Nathan declared he didn't want this and would only accept release if the authorities found him not guilty. However a few times, starting November 8th, Nathan got a "24 hours" vacation from jail. As this became known, the station went on the air and the ship left the anchorage, sailing into the harbour of Ashdod. There Nathan could visit the ship and meet his people. A month later, December 5th, he appeared in a programme that was started up earlier that year: "What shall we do?" It was a phone-in programme, in which the listeners could phone the office where the programme was recorded and so discussions with Nathan were possible. On Friday, February 9th 1990, Nathan left jail after his first sentences, and after being free again the first thing he did was giving an interview to Shaul Izenberg, which was transmitted later that morning on the Voice of Peace.
4 Left: Nathan after being awarded with the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award (1997)

Across the Israeli borders. In February 1991 Nathan led an Israeli team to the border area between the countries of Turkey and Iraq and distributed 50,000 bottles of drinking water and additional needed supplies to refugees from Kurdistan. And only three months before Abie Nathan decided to close down his "love baby for the past twenty years," the Voice of Peace, he went with a group of people from Israel to complete the building of a centre for Somalian refugees in the town of Ruiru near Nairobi, Kenya. For this occasion, a relief campaign was held in Israel with the help of the children of Israel for the hungry people of Somalia.

  Still the Israeli Government wasn't happy with Nathan and his thoughts on peace in the Middle East. On October 5th 1991, it became known that Nathan was sentenced to eighteen months in prison by the Israeli Court for having, once again, contacts with the PLO. When he returned to his country after visiting PLO-leader Arafat earlier that year, he again was arrested. A good laugh to know he was released after only six weeks. After his release, Nathan declared that he had studied the Arabian language and that he would continue his protests until enough people from Israel would recognize that his protests were not just personal, but stood for the total population of the Holy Land.
  After the station closed down forever in October 1993, Nathan was still very active in humanitarian work. May 17th 1994, while the death toll continued to rise in Rwanda, Israel's Foreign Minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, publicly condemned the massacre by stating: "The Jewish people who personally know suffering and genocide, cannot remain indifferent to the horrible massacres held in Rwanda." Five days later the Israeli government decided to extend its aid and provide humanitarian assistance to the millions of people who fled Rwanda to neighbouring countries. Mr. Peres sought ways in which Israel could initiate a desperately needed humanitarian response. Shortly after, the Israeli Government decided to launch "Seeds of Hope," a massive campaign to assist the Rwandan refugees who fled to Goma, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaire). A special aircraft convoy of over eight Hercules planes carrying vital humanitarian material left Tel Aviv.
  The Israeli Air Force sent an additional plane carrying twenty-five tons of additional relief items. The field medical hospital treated thousands of injured people. In addition, Israel's Ministry of Health donated eighty thousand units of measles vaccinations to UNICEF. In total Israelis donated over sixty million shekels in Rwanda's emergency relief campaign over the course of a few months. Israel was commended around the world for its fast deployment of aid and its efficiency in assisting the people of Rwanda.
  In addition to the IDF field hospital an Israeli civilian group spearheaded by Nathan, arrived to assist the 300,000 refugees who had fled to Bukavu, Zaire. Nathan, accompanied by a team of fourteen Israeli volunteers, set up a refugee camp for tens of thousands of refugees following the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In September 1997 Nathan was honoured with the prestigious German "Menschenrechte Preis" — the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. He received this award for the enormous humanitarian work he had done for people all over the world.
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