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volume 12
april 2009

Invoking peace during the Yom Kippur War


  Remembering the Voice of Peace (7)
by Hans Knot
  At the end of 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel to recover lost Arab territory in what became known as the Yom Kippur, Ramadan War or October War. Abie Nathan's radio station the Voice of Peace did not prove equal to the real conditions of war. Plagued by a lack of funds and a military intervention, the radio ship erratically moved its location to finally end up in Marseille. Hans Knot here summarizes this curious episode in the station's history.
1 Right: Abandoned Israeli Centurion tank from the Yom Kippur war — the war Abie Nathan tried to stop with a call for peace (Photo: Shmuel Spiegelman)

The last three months of 1973. In the last three months of 1973 the future of Abie Nathan's radio station the Voice of Peace was growing dark and the end of broadcasting seemed near. In October 1973 many things were happening all at once and all at the same time in the Middle East as a war was fought between Israel on the one and Egypt and Syria on the other hand. Moreover, the latter ones were backed by Iraq as well as Jordan and financially by Saudi Arabia. On October 6th, the war started with the Egyptian army crossing the Suez canal into the Sinai Peninsula. The war would last up till October 22nd on the Israeli-Syrian front. The battle on the Israeli-Egyptian front would go one till the 26th of that month. The war and its outcome represented a watershed in Middle Eastern history. For the first time, vulnerability on the Israeli side was evident, while Syria and Egypt both proved their new strength, military as well as organizationally. The episode also left Israel with loss of territory, even if that was not its own but occupied territory dating back to the Six Day War.

  The conflict became known as the 6th of October War and better still as the Yom Kippur War or the 10th of the Ramadan War. These latter names stem from the important Jewish festival of Yom Kippur, respectively the Muslim month of Ramadan in which the annual fast of Sawm is performed. On the 10th of the month of Ramadan in 1973, the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal. By a rare moment of flabbiness in intelligence and governance, Israel did not expect any attacks from its neighbours at just this date. The reason for that is that these two very important religious festivals coincided in time for both Islam and Judaism, two festivals for which there was a prohibition against warfare.
2 Left: Abie Nathan "on the radio" in the captain's cabin

"Be sensible, stop the war." Egypt and Syria used this laxity to launch a surprise attack on Israel. The goal of the war was to win back Arab territory lost in preceding wars, first in 1947-49, then 1956 and especially in the last, the Six-Day War of 1967. Following these wars there had been not any significant political progress in solving the situation of lost territories nor the problems of large groups of Palestinian refugees. A deep frustration had come over the entire Arab world, which came to motivate strong sentiments, and new political orientations in the populations. At the eve of the 1973 war, the Arab nations felt that they had every reason to wage war against Israel.

  The total cost of the war was estimated to be seven billion US-dollars on both the Israeli and the Egyptian side, but much of the operations on Arab side were financed by Saudi Arabia. Tested in the real conditions of war, the message of peace aired on the Voice of Peace proved to be rather futile. Abie Nathan, more than usual, was on the air to tell the soldiers on both sides about his ideas of peace. Over his microphone, he for instance told them that it would not be Premier Golda Meir of Israel nor President Sadat of Egypt who would die but they, the soldiers themselves. He called out to them: "Be sensible, stop the war. Don't fight any longer and go back to your families as they need you the most." It was all typically Nathan. One wonders what he expected the soldiers to do, even if they actually could have listened to his Peace talk — something they probably didn't.
  The Israeli military staff, though, took matters more seriously. The Israeli Army Top gave the order to monitor the transmissions from the station. The Peace Ship, which at that stage was at a position near the Suez Canal, was even visited by a gunboat on October 7th. Order was given to stop the transmissions at once. If not, the ship would be entered and towed into a military harbour. Nathan decided to make the best of it. He made a short announcement and played "Give Peace A Chance." Next the station left the air, although only for a short time.
3 Right: Voice of Peace sticker

A musical message while sunbathing. One way or another, Nathan had seen things coming and, for that very reason, had moved the ship to near the entrance of the Suez Canal and was even planning of moving the ship further up. Just a few days earlier, he had already told his listeners that the Middle East stood on the verge of a new war: "The war can start any moment now and as we feel that it will commence any moment. We're moving our ship to a new destination, to the upmost side of the Suez Canal. We will try to ask the soldiers not to start a fight." Actually the ship moved into the opposite direction. Just a few days after transmission was stopped on orders of the government, the Voice of Peace again was back on the air — this time from a new anchor position near Famagusta, Cyprus. The station was almost lacking any funds — in those days making commercial radio was not part of Nathan's ideas and knowledge about radio. So he ordered the deejays to ask for money in their programmes. Nathan expected to collect at least 75,000 dollars from his listeners. Instead, only 1,000 dollar came in. Nathan's commented: "Far too less money came in and it became clear that people saw that it was war and they thought it was more sensible to use the money for weapons."

  Despite a serious lack of funds, the daily grind went on. At the new position near Famagusta even two new deejays, Frans de Wolf and Keith Ashton, were recruited. The latter had left his very well-paid job at Capital Radio in London to work for a period on the Voice of Peace. It was clear that he was an avid follower of offshore radio: in his programmes, for instance, a former Caroline jingle could be heard that was used before by Andy Archer — "Give us a bang when you're ready!" Also the voice of Graham Gill was heard several times in the jingle "Hello good people" and special name jingles for Keith Ashton were produced by Kenny Everett, who worked together with him at Capital Radio.
  For most of the time the ongoing war was completely ignored by the station, as none of the deejays could be heard making any comment about the actual troubles in the Middle East. Indeed, Nathan had forbidden them to do so. So deejays' chat was regulated to things like the nice weather conditions: "On a day like this, listeners on the beaches of Beirut, Tel Aviv, in Cyprus and many other places, I want to speak to you and accompany you while sunbathing. Each half hour I will give you the task to turn around, so you will getting a real brown skin. In the meantime we'll bring you a musical message on the Voice of Peace." Only Nathan himself was allowed to speak about matters of war and peace: "It's only to me to talk about the war situation. If everyone would talk about it in the programmes, things would get confusing because some of the deejays are not informed about the situation — some even don't know the difference between Greece and Egypt." At the other hand Nathan himself also knew that next to war and peace there were other interests in human life, as one of his own links during his programme went as follows: "We're watching you, beautiful ladies on the beaches with our field glasses. We miss you so much and hope to be back soon at our original anchorage." Not much later the captain of the Peace Ship was ordered by Nathan to restart the motor and to bring the ship back to the coast of Israel.
4 Left: The VOP Office building

Off of the air. With the ship returning to its former position of off the Israeli coast, many Israeli listeners at that time will have been very glad to receive their favourite station on their transistor radios in a much better quality than during the days before. They must have been very disappointed, however, hearing Nathan later on that same day, saying: "On the background you'll hear the engines of our vessel and somewhere in the afternoon our anchor will be lowered somewhere between Haifa and Beirut. Due to financial problems we have to go off the air soon and see to find more backing for the Peace Ship." Early November 1973 the Voice of Peace was silenced again. Nathan ordered the captain to bring the ship to the harbour of Ashdod. It would end up in another harbour, though, at the other side of the Mediterranean.

  Midway in December 1973, here in the Netherlands, we again heard some news about the Voice of Peace. It was mentioned the ship had lowered its anchor at the western coast of Italy, near Rome. Rumours even had it that avid DX'ers had heard the station for some hours on 1539 kHz. This, however, was never officially confirmed by the technical staff of the Voice of Peace. At the end of December, that same year, the news came in that the ship had entered the harbour of Marseille in France for what would prove to be a very long stay. It meant a temporary end of the erratical journey of the MV Peace over the past few months. Eventually, though, the Voice of Peace would again retake its programmes — now with financial backing coming from an unexpected source.
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