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Voice of Peace - History (2)

To begin with the Voice of Peace carried no paid advertising, but instead broadcast messages of peace and announcements in support of Israeli industry and commerce. Unfortunately this policy meant that no revenue was coming in to meet the day-to-day  running costs and eventually the Voice of Peace had to start taking paid advertising to survive - the funds donated to the Shalom Peace Foundation were by now running very  low.

The MV Peace used various anchorages off Israel from which to broadcast and the station never gave its precise location over the air - it was simply announced as "The Voice of  Peace from  somewhere in the Mediterranean". Supplies and crew changes took place from Haifa in Israel and it was common practice for the MV Peace to enter harbour herself to be re-supplied with food, water and fuel oil. Transmissions were suspended while this operation took place but it was not unknown for broadcasts to continue well inside Israeli  territorial waters while the ship was sailing to and from port.

During the October 1973 Six Day War (which precipitated the 1974 oil crisis in the West) the MV Peace anchored off the Suez Canal in Egypt, broadcasting appeals to the armies of both sides to stop fighting. On 6th October an Israeli gun boat came alongside the MV Peace and ordered her Captain to enter port. Abie Nathan, on board his vessel at the time, broadcast a live account of what was happening and then closed the station. When the MV Peace arrived in port it was immediately arrested and detained by the Israeli authorities. The vessel and its crew were later released and allowed to sail back to an anchorage off Famagusta. Cyprus from where broadcasts of the Voice of Peace recommenced.

Financial difficulties were still being experienced though - advertisers had largely withdrawn their support from the station and appeals were made for donations towards the cost of keeping the Voice of Peace on the air. However, this appeal resulted in only £500 being raised and due to lack of funding the Voice of Peace was forced to close at 3.00pm on 9th November 1973. The MV Peace sailed silently into Ashdod and most of the crew left the ship.

Disappointed and frustrated Abie Nathan vowed that somehow he would find sufficient funding to return the Voice of Peace to the airwaves. Early in December 1973 he sailed the MV Peace towards Europe where he planned to broadcast appeals for donations and support for his peace campaign. Just before Christmas 1973 the Peace anchored off Southern Italy, but the transmitter remained silent and early in January 1974 the vessel arrived once again in Marseilles, where she was docked while Abie Nathan set about trying to raise further financial backing. Although no one knew at the time it was to be over 12 months before any progress was made  and the MV Peace remained  berthed in Marseilles throughout this time.

1975

The MV Peace was still in Marseilles Harbour in early 1975, while Abie Nathan sought more financial backing to re-launch the Voice of Peace.

The financial side of the Voice of Peace was always precarious and there were frequent rumours that despite Abie Nathan's intention to return the station to the airwaves the ship would be taken over or sold to another broadcaster. There were rumours in 1974 that a European group had purchased the radio ship to launch a new station, Radio Benelux, but these proved to be unfounded. At one time a German religious organisation took a three month option on purchasing the ship and paid Abie Nathan not to sell it to anyone else during that time.

Despite these offers Abie Nathan passionately wanted to keep the Voice of Peace in the Mediterranean and hopefully use it to contribute towards a peaceful settlement of the years of conflict in the Middle East. During the summer of 1975 he conceived a plan to try and return the offshore station to the air with some financial security. In the hope of achieving, at the very least, some major publicity for the Voice of Peace and the Peace Foundation, he decided to sail the MV Peace to Port Said in Egypt. Here he planned to take on journalists and television crews then sail through the newly opened Suez Canal paying goodwill visits to Aquabah and Eilat before returning to the Mediterranean.

The Suez Canal had been closed and blockaded since the Six Days War of 1967 and Abie Nathan's plan was for the MV Peace to be the first ship through after its re-opening. He also planned that the Voice of Peace should broadcast throughout the voyage, but if the authorities would not allow that to happen then Abie Nathan hoped the very fact that his vessel had been allowed to sail into Egyptian waters would break the barrier to Arab countries buying airtime on the re-launched station.

If he failed to achieve this Abie Nathan warned that when the three months option to purchase by the German religious organisation had expired he would have to sell the station to them or another buyer in order to pay off his  outstanding debts.

The MV Peace left Marseilles on 28th May 1975 and once it had reached open seas the transmitters were switched on and a loop tape with the message "Give Peace a Chance" was played for about an hour. Following this a taped announcement was played in which Abie Nathan thanked the people of France for their help and support while the Peace had been in Marseilles.

Unfortunately problems were experienced with the transmitter and broadcasts had to be discontinued, before the ship had even reached Italy. By 3rd June 1975 the Peace was about forty miles from Port Said and transmissions were started again during which announcements were made that the ship planned to sail through the Suez Canal to "Herald a new era of Peace".

These transmissions lasted until the early morning of 5th June when, at the request of the Captain, they were halted as the ship had reached the Egyptian territorial limit. However, after a furious row between Abie Nathan (representing the owners of the ship, the Shalom Peace Foundation of New York) and the Captain the transmitters were re-activated and a programme of continuous music was played.

Within a short time an Egyptian gunboat started to shadow the Peace coming alongside just after dawn and instructing the Captain to follow it to a position three miles off Port Said and about half a mile from the Canal Buoy where it was told to drop anchor. The gunboat then took up position about 300 yards away and the crew played Egyptian music through its loudspeaker system. Throughout that day (5th June) a large flotilla of other ships assembled at the Canal Buoy and, when the waterway was officially re-opened by Egyptian President Sadat, one by one they were piloted through.

The crew of the MV Peace had to watch as all the other ships gradually made their way through, leaving only their vessel at the Canal Buoy, guarded by the gunboat. Attempts were made to communicate with the Egyptian warship by radio telephone and Morse code using flashing lights, but after some hours the only reply they received was to "wait for instructions". Meanwhile the gunboat continued blasting Egyptian music across to the Peace ship.


        


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