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Voice of Peace - History (11)


Ironically in view of its peace mission, the Voice of Peace found itself broadcasting from an area adjacent to a war zone in January 1991. It had been in a similar situation in 1973, but this time the conflict was on an even greater scale and involved some of the world's major powers.

Ever since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 tension in the area had been building steadily. The situation reached a climax in mid-January 1991 when the United Nations gave Iraq's Saddam Hussain an ultimatum to withdraw his forces or face the consequences of Western allied military action. Israel was regarded by Hussain as a legitimate target in any resulting conflict because it was willing to provide support and operational bases for American military personnel and equipment. It seemed inevitable therefore that Israel would be affected in some way if a war started in the Gulf.

By mid-January 1991 there were only two DJs and three crew members left on board the Peace ship, most had left because of the volatile situation developing in Israel during the build-up to the Gulf War.  On 15th January 1991, the day before the UN deadline expired, large quantities of supplies were taken on board the MV Peace in case of problems during the now seemingly inevitable war.

On 16th January 1991, after the UN deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait  had passed without compliance, the Peace ship was moved to a safer position ten miles off Tel Aviv,  but she later came to a position just six miles out, because the Motorola communications could not be maintained beyond that distance. The Arutz Sheva ship, Hatzvi, also moved to a position six miles from the coast and  the Israeli Navy promised to keep watch on both ships during the conflict.  

The day after the Gulf War actually started the Voice of Peace played peace music all day, but closed its transmissions early at 7.30pm due to the emergency situation and a desperate shortage of on-board broadcasting staff. During this period the crew which had remained with the station kept watch 24 hours a day to ensure the safety of the MV Peace which was considered to be in a vulnerable position anchored  off Tel Aviv, a city likely to be attacked by enemy action.

This fear proved to be correct in the early hours of 18th January 1991 when two Iraqi  missiles fell in the sea off Herzliya, just  a few miles north of the Peace ship and later Iraqi Scud missiles landed on Tel Aviv itself.  

Undeterred by this danger the Voice of Peace continued to broadcast throughout that day, but shortly before the station closed at 9.00pm air raid warnings were sounded in Tel Aviv once again. As another missile attack on Israel was expected Abie Nathan announced that if necessary he would make the Voice of Peace's transmitters  available to the civil and military authorities to broadcast emergency information to the population of Tel Aviv.

At 6.00pm on 25th January 1991 another air raid alert was sounded just as Voice of Peace DJ, John McDonald  was in the middle of reading the evening news. He  asked listeners to re-tune to Kol Israel because the Voice of Peace was about  to close until the  alert was over. Shortly afterwards, in what must rank as the most amazing scene witnessed from an offshore radio ship, the crew on board the MV Peace watched as a US Patriot missile intercepted an incoming Iraqi Scud near Tel Aviv, while two other Patriots, which had missed their targets, actually fell on the city. Abie Nathan instructed the crew, via the Motorola, not to re-open the station until the all-clear was given. A similar incident occurred six days later when Patriot missiles again intercepted Scuds over Tel Aviv, but this time the Voice of Peace was only off the air for just over an hour.

On 11th February 1991 a further Iraqi missile attack was directed at Tel Aviv, but this time the Voice of Peace remained on the air relaying broadcasts of the Army station Galee Zahal as well as  Kol Israel until what had by then become its normal closedown time of 7.30pm.

Throughout the duration of the Gulf War various members of the Knesset took part in special programmes on the Voice of Peace and talked about the developing situation and how it  was affecting Israel.

Remarkably both the Voice of Peace and Aruts Sheva had managed to maintain their services throughout the Gulf War despite, particularly in the case of the Voice of Peace, severe staff shortages. Towards the end of February 1991 more DJs were recruited and the Voice of Peace's hitherto limited  broadcasting hours were gradually extended to 19 a day. By the end of April 1991 with a few more new DJs having joined the Voice of Peace , including two from the now silent Radio Caroline, the station was able to return once more to a 24 hour schedule.

Abie Nathan began another of his 'Fasts for Peace' on 27th April 1991 to promote talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying he would fast until the law preventing Israelis talking to the PLO had been revoked. Every hour on the hour the Voice of Peace announced the day number of Abie Nathan's fast and twice a day he talked on air himself about how he was feeling and what he hoped to achieve by taking this action.

By 14th May 1991 Abie Nathan had been admitted to hospital with heart problems and celebrations for the Voice of Peace's 18th Birthday, which had been planned for the following day, were cancelled.  Only after a personal request from the President of Israel did he eventually end his fast on 17th June 1991, after 40 days without food.

The determined and unstoppable Abie Nathan again met Yasser Arafat at the end of June, this time in Tunis. When he returned to Tel Aviv Airport two weeks later he was arrested by the equally determined and unstoppable Israeli authorities. Later in the year, following a short trial at the beginning of October he was sentenced to a further 18 months in prison for having made repeated contact with the PLO.  

After his trial had ended Abie Nathan went on air for seven hours talking with Voice of Peace listeners about his years of effort to bring about peace in the Middle East. The following day he reported to jail to start his sentence, but despite earlier threats to close the station because of its acute financial problems the Voice of Peace continued broadcasting.

The Voice of Peace's format was changed twice during 1991 to try and attract listeners and advertisers. At the beginning of July 1991 the station adopted a contemporary music format, then in November 1991, while Abie Nathan was in jail, a further change was introduced involving more up-beat music during the day, the dropping of the Russian music programme altogether and the transfer of the Hebrew music programme, "Kassach", to the 9.00pm-midnight slot.

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Video showing lifeon board the MV Peace