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Abie Nathan’s ‘voice of Peace’ Falls Silent After Two Decades

Abie Nathan’s floating Voice of Peace radio station fell silent at 2 p.m. last Friday, but the ship from which it operated was not sunk, contrary to the Israeli peace activist’s original plans.

For more than two decades, Nathan had broadcast a mixture of pro-peace news and popular music in English, Hebrew and Arabic from a World War II-era ship anchored just outside Israel’s territorial waters.

Israel made no efforts to silence Nathan’s technically illegal station, which polls at times rated the most popular in the country.

But Nathan, citing mounting debts as well as the fulfillment of his dream of peace as a result of the historic signing of the Palestinian self-rule agreement in Washington on Sept. 13, announced his radio station would cease operations.

Nathan said his decision was mainly due to the state of the ship. He said he did not have the funds to pay insurance and maintenance, and refused to risk the lives of his crew and staff during the upcoming winter storms.

Nathan, dressed in the black clothes he swore 12 years ago he would wear until Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization began direct negotiations, boarded his white-painted ship for the last time at 9 in the morning Friday.

He promised he would announce at 1 p.m. what he intended doing with the vessel, hinting that at that hour he and his engineer would sink the ship.

He spent his last broadcast day telling his faithful listeners about his peace and relief efforts, which have occupied 40 of his 61 years.

His emotional account was sprinkled with appeals to his audience to send postcards to Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni asking the government to grant him a licence to operate a land-based Voice of Peace station.

During the day, he received a phone call from Vienna. Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta, a friend from schooldays, had phoned to appeal to him not to sink his ship.

TO BE TURNED INTO MUSEUM

At 1 in the afternoon, Environment Minister Yossi Sarid and Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat boarded the ship. They, too, asked him not to sink the vessel.

Lahat said he and experts had chosen a spot on the shore at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa dividing line where Nathan could beach the Voice of Peace. He told Nathan that the ship would be turned into a peace museum to house Nathan’s equipment and music collection, and provide a detailed history of Nathan’s efforts for peace.

The activist readily gave his agreement. The last song he played before the station went off the air was folk singer Pete Seeger’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

Nathan, born in Iraq but brought up and educated in India, had volunteered as a teen-ager for service with the British Royal Air Force at the outbreak of World War II. He fought with the RAF in the Far East.

He came to Israel at the outbreak of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and became one of the first pilots in the country’s fledgling air force.

After establishing a popular restaurant in Tel Aviv, he became involved in the movement to encourage peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

He began his one-man campaign for peace in 1970, when he flew his private, single-seater plane to Egypt to try to make peace with former President Anwar Sadat. He twice served prison sentences for illegal meetings with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Nathan later said it was during those early peace efforts that he thought up the idea of establishing a floating pirate radio station devoted to the theme of peace.

He later sold his restaurant, as well as an art collection he had assembled, and looked for a ship to buy.

He found it in Holland. The ship was of World War II vintage and in a state of disrepair. With a volunteer crew, he sailed it to the United States, where he tied up at an East River pier in Lower Manhattan.

He then began stumping around the country, appealing for donations to repair and refit the vessel with engines, generators, broadcasting equipment and a tall mast to carry the antennas.

He sailed the Voice of Peace to Israel and began his broadcasts with what he described as a “grossly underpaid and largely volunteer crew and band of disk jockeys.”

AN EYE TOWARD MAKING HEADLINES

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Nathan sailed close to Egypt, disregarding Israeli navy warnings, to radio peace slogans in Arabic. He later sailed to the Lebanese shore, broadcasting to Lebanon and Syria, again without harm.

Nathan, a born showman, explained that to make a point, one has to create headlines.

“If a terrorist throws a bomb, he makes a Page One story. But if you do something for peace, it’s difficult to get a paragraph on Page 64,” he once said.

In addition to his efforts on behalf of peace, Nathan has raised millions of dollars for humanitarian rescue operations throughout the world for the victims of earthquakes, floods and famine.

He has traveled to disaster sites in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America to donate funds, food and emergency medical supplies.

Nathan was due to fly to Bombay this week to help the victims of yet another natural disaster, the Indian earthquake.

When he returns to Israel, Nathan will attempt to complete his plans to establish a village for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

“I’ve got official support for this project,” said Nathan. “The trouble is with the neighbors. Wherever I find a suitable site, the neighboring villagers tell me, ‘It’s a good idea — but put it somewhere else. Not next to us.'”

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