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Abie Nathan

(1927 - 2008)

In 1927, Abie Nathan was born to a Jewish family in Iran. He was later educated by Jesuit priests in India. He served as a fighter pilot with British forces during World War II and emigrated to Israel in the middle of its War of Independence in 1948. He immediately found himself back in the air defending the creation of the new state. He served the Israeli Air Force until 1951 then settled down in Tel-Aviv. He opened a soon to be popular and profitable American-style restaurant in downtown Tel-Aviv. Then, suddenly he started to make headlines.

In 1966 he flew his single engine plane called "Shalom One" from Tel Aviv to Port Said. He was promptly arrested and sent back to Israel. The flight made world headlines and a few weeks later he carried his campaign to Europe, the United States and even the Soviet Union. He met with politicians and intellectuals including Pope John Paul VI, Jean Paul Sartre, Francois Mauriac, Bertrand Russell, and Senator Robert Kennedy among others. He appealed to them to help end Arab-Israeli hostilities.

In 1967, he tried again, this time with the clear intention of meeting Gamal Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt. Egyptian forces again intercepted him upon his arrival. Back in Israel he was charged with "unauthorized contact with the enemy" and received a 40-day jail sentence, the first of many.

In 1969, Nathan decided to change his tactics. With the help of supporters from Holland he bought a 188-foot coastal freighter which he named: "The Peace Ship". He sailed it to New York City for refitting. What followed was three and a half years of extensive fund-raising attempts including a donation party at "21", a popular night-club, which a total of two people attended and a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall that netted $150. Abie persisted until he was at last able to have the ship refitted and installed with expensive broadcasting equipment. However, the bills mounted and when the last $40,000 could not be found he went on a hunger strike, the first of many.

The ship-turned-pirate-radio-station left the New York City port in October 1972. The mostly volunteer ragtag crew consisted of a French captain, 3 Americans, 2 Filipinos, a Yugoslav, a Canadian and British DJ had to survive a harrowing voyage across the Atlantic in gale-force winds to the coast of Israel. In 1973 the radio station called "The Voice of Peace" started it's regular broadcasting with the popular tune: "Give Peace a Chance" from "somewhere in the Mediterranean...." to the surrounding 30 million Arab and Israeli listeners.

In its twenty years of existence, "The Voice of Peace" gained much popularity mainly amongst young people. It was the only radio station in the Middle East which broadcasted mainstream music from the world's "Top 40" charts and used English as its primary language yet combined both Israeli and Arabic news.

During the Yom Kippur War in 1973 Abie sailed the Peace Ship as close as possible to the fighting sides and broadcasted appeals for both to lay down their arms.

The year 1977 brought Abie world-wide recognition when, following many unsuccessful attempts, he managed to sail through the Suez Canal with a cargo of chocolates and toys for children. By the end of the year, for the first time, he became recognized as a major "Player" in the Middle East and became member of an Israeli team to meet with then Egyptian President Sadat. The "Cairo Talks" were marked as one of his biggest successes. The dialogue, which he instigated over ten years before, was now a reality.

In 1978, Nathan begun an indefinite hunger-strike protesting the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The fast ended 45 days later after the Israeli Parliament, under media pressure, met in the Knesset, specifically to come to a resolution on the matter. The only thing resolved was an appeal by the government to Mr. Nathan to end his strike.

In the 1980's, Nathan began regular meetings with the PLO and its infamous leader Yasir Arafat. Again, this activity only won him more jail sentences. Abie has said that hundreds of Israelis, including members of the ruling Likud Party, had contacts with the PLO but that only he and several other peace activists have ever had to face trial. "Someone has to pay the price..." He said. In handing down the sentence, the Magistrate's Court Judge said "Mr. Nathan had knowingly broken the law and that leniency in such a case could lead to the destruction of the rule of law in Israel."

Nathan said in an interview that he "did not envy the judge" and would not appeal the sentence.

"But I have to be true to myself," he said. "This is not a law that I must abide by. This is not a law from heaven."

In 1993 the Israeli Government proved him right again by repealing the law making it illegal for Israelis to have direct contact with members of the PLO. Abie, who had worn nothing but black clothing for the previous 12 years in protest of the law, was at last able to change his style of dress. He immediately flew to Tunis to meet openly with the Palestinian leader.

Soon after, the Prime Minister of Israel met with the PLO leader to sign a peace agreement.

In 1993, after $300,000 in losses due to operating costs of the almost ancient ship and declining advertising revenues, Abie Nathan announced that he would close down the radio station. After failing to attract investment to turn the ship into a floating peace museum he scuttles it.

The Peace Ship now lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean for all time to come.

Abie Nathan died on August 27, 2008. In 2005, Nathan was voted the 44th-greatest Israeli of all time in a poll conducted by Yediot Ahronoth.

Sources: Abie Nathan and the Peace Ship