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volume 9
july 2006

Making headlines


  Remembering the Voice of Peace (14)
by Hans Knot
  At the start of 1977 the MV Peace sailed throug the Suez Canal to Israel's Red Sea port Eilat and back. That same year Abie Nathan again began a hunger strike. Both these facts figured prominently in an 11-minute feature on BBC Television's Tonight, that's summarized here by Hans Knot for our series on the Voice of Peace.
1 Right: Happy to be in Eilat

Sailing down the Suez Canal. Strangely enough the first we heard about one of the many surprises Abie Nathan had in mind was on Radio Caroline, when on January 2nd 1977 deejay James Ross announced: "Abie Nathan has obtained permission to sail down the Suez Canal, and the Peace Ship is sailing down there right now!" As well as on Dutch and British Television in the evening news attention was paid, whereby footage of the ship was shown and Abie Nathan was telling that he finally received his long-desired permission to go through the Suez Canal. This only as he had proved at the very last moment his ship was not registrated in Israel. It was easy as the Panamanian registration could be shown.

  On January 3rd it became known that the Peace Ship was successfully navigated through the Suez Canal and had reached the Red Sea Port of Tiran. A day later more news came in: "The Peace Ship of Abie Nathan, the Israeli who for ten years has been conducting a campaign to bring back Peace between Israel and the Arabs, has arrived at Israel's Red Sea port of Eilat after sailing through the Suez Canal. He was warmly greeted by Eilat's residents. The Major gave him the town's emblem for presentation to the Mayor of Aqaba, if the Jordans allow Nathan to anchor there. After sailing to Aqaba, Nathan intends to return to the Mediterranean, again through the Suez waterway. Egyptian news media have ignored Abie's trip."
  On Monday January 10th the Peace Ship had finalized the return trip, once again through the Suez Canal. Israel Radio English Service reported that day: "Abie Nathan's Peace Ship today sailed back through the Suez Canal and resumed its pop-music broadcasts in the Mediterranean. Egypt refused to allow Abie to distribute toys and candles to Egyptian children, and Jordan would not let him enter the port of Aqaba with a gift for the Mayor from the nearby Israeli town of Eilat. However the Captain of the Peace Ship said in a radio-telephone link with our reporter that the trip has been a success. It was the first time Egypt has allowed the vessel through the Suez Canal."
  On April 15th Abie made again the headlines in a 11 minute feature on BBC Television in the programme "Tonight." This as he was "on strike again." A report made in 1977 by Buster Pearson: Let's see what Denis Tuchy had to tell about: "In Israel there is a man called Abie Nathan. He's in favour of Peace. A common enough sentiment, but the lengths to which Mr. Nathan has taken his course are, to say the least, unusual. In the course of a colourful career, Mr. Nathan had been imprisoned by the Israelis for flying his own light aircraft into Cairo, he's driven a speedboat into Port Said with a cargo of 100,000 flowers for the Egyptian people and earlier this year he sailed up and down the Suez Canal, a propaganda gesture made possible only by the direct intervention of President Sadat. Everywhere you go in the Middle East from Nicosia to Damascus the thoughts of Abie Nathan are never far away."
  The scene shifts from the studio to the coast of Israel. There "Tonight" reporter Michael Delahaye shows us a background of the old port of Jaffa, the open sea, and, six miles off the coast, just outside Israel's territorial limits, the Peace Ship itself. "The Voice of Peace is a pirate radio station that plugs Peace like other stations plug chewing-gum and hair shampoo," Michael informs his audience. "The 500 ton converted cargo boat pumps out his own brand of peaceful propaganda, 24 hours a day throughout the Middle East, in the belief that the grammophone stylus is mightier than either the pen or the sword." He pauses, while we see Abie on air: "Ah, yes you've got to have Peace in order to stay alive. Right now we have some news for you whether you like it or not we're going to have Peace, you can take it from me. Now that the leaders are going to get together and sit and talk for a change, something they should have done a long time ago, we might have Peace even closer."
  Michael has done his homework on Abie's history: "Abraham Jacob Nathan, the man who launched the Peace Ship four years ago, is not perhaps on the face of it the most obviously impartial of peace-makers; he's both a Jew and a Israeli. But he's never let that stand in his way. Abie Nathan was born in Iran and brought up in India. There he joined the R.A.F. , and by lying about his age got his wings when he was still only seventeen. He emigrated to Israel in 1948 and as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force reckons to have bombed every capital in the Arabic world. Not a bad record for a man who these days is talked of as a possible future ambassador to Cairo or Damascus.
  Nathan came into broadcasting after making a reputed fortune out of running a restaurant in Tel Aviv. He's a frequent visitor to the ship. Today he's come onboard to celebrate the ship's first 1,000 days of broadcasting. Nathan's skill at combining the respective talents of Billy Graham and Jimmy Young apparently produces results. There's little doubt that in Israel at least the station is immensely popular; and in the Arab world too it would seem to have a following, if getting letters from the University of Khartoum and Damascus prison is anything to go by. How much of the station's appeal is due to the music and how much to the message is hard to say, but when it comes to publicity Nathan seldom misses a trick."
  Abie gets plenty of chance himself to put across his ideas. "I've been involved in many air forces in the world. I've done a lot of killing, I've seen a lot suffering in India, in Biafra, in places where there were earthquakes. I have used violence following the sound of the calls of leaders to kill and to bomb, believing that was the right way and I found out it wasn't and one day I decided there has to be another way and I believe there is. Peace is on its way. We are gonna try to make sure that the dreams that we've had for many years are gonna come true, and what we'd like you out there in Israel to do right now is to try and remember and stand by for a special announcement. We would like you all to write in and make your reservations for the first voyage of Peace. Where? To Cairo, the Pyramids, Alexandria, all along the Nile and to visit the land of Egypt. After so many years you will all have that opportunity. All you have to do is to write to us and we'll make your reservations."
  Back to Michael Delahaye: "The men whom Nathan employs to run the Peace Ship work for love rather than money. Crew-members and disc-jockeys alike are paid about a quarter of the usual rate — that way, Nathan says, he's sure of getting only those who are correctly motivated. In the case of the half dozen disc-jockeys the pay works out at 60 Pounds a month. Kas Collins is Dutch. He came to the Voice of Peace from a radio station in New York."
2 Left: Deejays on the deck Kas Collins on the left

Working for a cause. Now it is the turn of Kas to be seen between the two turntables of the VOP studio: "Would you believe me when I told you that they are actually filming in the studio? You wouldn't? No way to prove it; come out here and look for yourself!" Then the interview with Kas started.

Michael: Kas, how long have you been doing this?

Kas: I've been working on the Peace Ship for four months now.

Michael: What were you doing before that?

Kas: Before that I worked on radio in America for a year and on a small Dutch station.

  Michael: Why did you want to come to the Peace Ship?
  Kas: I felt it was a great change from making non wall paper radio. A lot of Top 40 radio is just like the music on the wall, you hear it in the background. This is a station where you really feel that you do something, you try to convey some sort of message. You work for a cause.
  Michael: Do you never think you're all being exploited?
  Kas: No, I'm a volunteer. I work for a cause, it's not a commercial radio station. The reason we have commercials is to keep the station on."
  After this interview, Michael goes on to talk to a few people-in-the-street, explaining: "So far the Israeli Government has done nothing to disrupt the Voice of Peace, but there are signs that the government-controlled radio stations on shore are feeling the impact of Nathan's success, hence perhaps the government's recent decision to carry out its own survey into the Israeli public's listening habits. Abie Nathan may, as many believe, be just a well-intentioned crank, but it's growing command of the airwaves makes him a force to be reckoned with. Do you listen to the Voice of Peace?"
  "Every day, every evening, every morning, always."
  "Music, love and Peace, it all comes together you know and with music, it bring everyone to listen."
  "I don't believe in it because I don't think that this is the way to get Peace. I don't believe that by giving us to listen to songs this way to get Peace."
  Abie seems to be unmoved by these opinions: "I don't feel I should be free from those who criticize me, I think people should, and it doesn't really bother me because who am I to feel that I'm all righteous too? Christ was, and the Prophets; everybody was criticized, some were even stoned and for me I think that I should be offended at criticism — there will always be those who are usually those who really do nothing." "It's a charge that nobody could ever lever at Abie Nathan," continues Michael Delahaye, "This hospital just outside Tel Aviv is one of several that have benefited from Nathan's enterprise. The new intensive care unit in the hospital's children's wing has been largely equipped by Voice of Peace donations. Last year, in fact advertising time sold on the station, brought in 88,000 Pounds; all of it, according to Nathan, was passed on to hospitals and charities. The money doesn't always go on expensive medical equipment. Nathan is a man of whims and sometimes, as in this case, it's used to buy toys and sweet for sick children. There's no answer to what makes Abie Nathan tick. If he is just a nutter, then he's a very successful one and a lot of people have benefited from his nuttiness."
  Abie: "We contributed not only in the Middle East, but also we gave 60,000 dollars to the victims of the Earthquake in Guatemala, where we built more than 400 homes for one of the villages. Also we have helped the victims in Romania: as we try to search for where to give, and we think we're the only Peace Organisation that is not really begging, we are giving to others. Our purpose is to create the climate of Peace, to promote it when it comes, to strengthen it, but at any time there were any dangers in any part of the world, though the power of communication, of the radio, we would be glad to sail to any part of the world to try to get people together to talk rather than to fight" .
  Michael: "Any particular part of the world occur to you at the moment?"
  Abie: "Yes, Northern Ireland is one place. We would like to go there, but then I would not be able to talk about the problems there, we would invite people on both sides again to talk to each other, to get both sides to understand what the other side is talking about."
  Michael: "Are you personally a religious man?"
  Abie: "I think I'm a very religious man, but that mustn't measured by how many times I go to church or go to a synagogue, and I grew up in the Catholic church. I think I am religious in my beliefs and what I feel, and maybe more religious than many of those who think they are religious."
3 Right: Kas Collins at the Hilversum Studio's

The medium and the message. As the documentary ends, it's Abie whose allowed to have the last word; once again from behind the microphone aboard the Voice of Peace: "Ah, yes, we've got to have Peace — right now what else can I say before I leave you other than to wish you all Peace. That's it; I wish you all Shalom, Salaam and Peace to all you beautiful people out there."

Of course thanks to the Monitor team for the transcript of that issue of "Tonight."

And, of course you can go along with the words of Kas Collins that the commercials were played to stay on the air with the Voice of Peace but on the other hand there were also deejays unhappy that the commercials became more important than the message of Peace. Let's go to what Robin Banks had to write early 1977: "We'd planned to go to Beirut I'd stayed, and so would Black Printz. But it's so heavily tied into Tel Aviv with commercials that it just wasn't possible, so to me it defeated the whole object. It was commercialism taking over the original ideals. Imagine if you have been interested in a Peace Radio Station and you felt that there was nothing to do but go there and give your services for three months to a package that you felt was doing some good, then when you arrive and find that it's a commercial radio station more than a Peace radio station it brings you down a bit. Several people in Israel got a little narked because it was becoming a commercial package, and they wanted to see Abie out of the way. In order to counteract this challenge he decided he'd donate a large proportion of the advertising to various charities. He donated 100,000 Israeli Pounds to an Arab-Israeli hospital in Jerusalem, another 100,000 to another hospital towards the Lebanese border, somewhere out in the jungle there, and I think he had plans for a further 100,000 to go as well, which was virtually the entire profits for about two or three months. Unfortunately the payment for commercials wasn't made straight away, it was made after a period of time; we had to wait three months I think before we got paid, which is a bit of a awkward because it meant we were working really hard for three months, and building all these commercials, but we never saw the money for it."

  So early 1977 Robin Banks left the Peace Ship and decided to stay for a while in Israel to see more from the country and the people. He fixed up a temporary job doing discos in Eilat, in a hotel right down near the Red Sea. But he didn't stay too long there as it was in the middle of the desert, and the actual fact that it was boring too. Not much later he was back on a radio ship doing all kind of preparations on board the MEBO II in Slikkerveer. This radio ship, once used by Radio Northsea International, was sold to Colonel Ghadaffi from Libya and it was Robin who once again went, with the MEBO II, to the Middle East.
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