What does the future hold for the only joint Israeli-Palestinian radio?
All for Peace was taken off the radio waves by the Israeli Ministry of Communications last year, and now broadcasts only online; but the station is still awaiting a final Supreme Court decision on the matter.
The staff at the only joint Israeli-Palestinian radio station is doing its best these days to keep business. But since the Israeli Ministry of Communications ordered the station to stop transmitting on the radio waves in November 2011, its broadcasts can be found only online.
The Ministry of Communications says it took All for Peace (Kol Hashalom in Hebrew, and Sout al Salam in Arabic) off the air due to licensing issues.
It says that the radio station started broadcasting “an increasing number of Hebrew-language commercials”, which "led to economic damage to legal Israeli regional radio stations”. The radio thus targeted the Israeli public, says the ministry, but without an Israeli broadcasting permit.
The staff at All for Peace, however, sees the closure as a political retaliatory measure, to silence the opposition and independent media.
A final decision from the Supreme Court is expected at the beginning of March.
The All for Peace recording studios are located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The studio itself is unassuming: From the outside, it looks just like a normal building. The radio staff is housed on the ground floor of an otherwise empty building, surrounded by Palestinian car mechanics and the Israeli General Police Headquarters.
Sitting at his office, the station's business manager Mossi Raz, is reading the news while sipping a coffee in his sparsely decorated room. Raz is a member of the Meretz party and a former MK. In the office next to his, sits Maysa Baransi-Siniora, the Palestinian co-director of the radio.
Both are able to see past the obstacles presented to them, because have faith in their cause. They are struggling to keep afloat despite the setback, but regret having to lay off 10 people - almost half of the paid staff - in the wake of the ministry's decision. Now only 16 people are left of the paid staff.
All for Peace receives subsidies from United Nations organisations and foreign embassies. A good chunk of its independent revenues also came from ads, while on the air. These revenues dropped dramatically after the station was taken off the waves, says Raz, from NIS 64, 000 NIS in November to just NIS 6,000 in December. The radio is surviving by a thread now, mostly due to the fact that its employees are unpaid volunteers.
Before the ministry shut it down, says Raz, All for Peace was “doing increasingly well, income-wise." Raz believes some pressure to close down All for Peace came after local radio stations "may have complained to the Minister of Communications". Other complaints were also lodged, including reportedly one r by Likud MK Danny Danon to the attorney general on the grounds that the radio encouraged Palestinians to demonstrate.
But the radio sees such subversion as part of its mission, and says it does so within the legal realm. “Well, yes, we encourage Palestinians to ask for their rights. We incite to the application of law. To exercise democracy,” says Raz.
The recording studio is located in East Jerusalem, but its broadcasts are actually transmitted from Ramallah, where it is licensed by the Palestinian Authority.
"A volunteer of the radio even asked the Ministry of Communications [in 2008] whether the radio was really legal," Raz recalls. The answer was of course yes, he says: "The Israeli Minister did not have anything to say against Palestinian Authority licenses."
The Ministry of Communications, however, says that a Palestinian Authority license is not necessarily the final word for discussion.
"According to the Interim Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the electro-magnetic frequency spectrum jointly belongs to Israel and the Palestinian Authority and is managed by Israel. While the permission for any radio broadcasts transmitted from Palestinian Authority territories is determined by a Palestinian-Israeli Joint Technical Committee," says the ministry. "So far, the Committee has not allocated a frequency for the Voice of Peace radio station.”
Despite the ministry's explanations, the staff is convinced the station was taken off the waves as part of a political crackdown.
“It is a hard-time for left-wingers” says Guy Elhanan, who runs a program called 'Neturi Harta' - a play on words alluding to the ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists - that could be loosely translated as 'No Bullshit'.
Veteran Israeli diplomat Ilan Baruch, who quit politics last year to protest the government's policy toward Palestinians and now hosts an All for Peace show on current affairs, says he has “no doubt the radio is denied frequencies in the political context of shutting down a critical voice.”
Some staff members see the ministry's decision as an opportunity, rather than a setback. This is "for us an honorary award," says Rabbi Saar Shaked, a paid staffer. "The Jewish tradition teaches us to rise against injustice and to rebel against tyranny," he explains.
Being taken off the air has had an adverse effect on the radio's range of broadcast and funds – but support has grown overwhelmingly, Raz says. Traffic on its internet broadcast increased by about 500 percent in the first two weeks after All for Peace was taken off the radio waves. Letters of support have flooded the station's inbox. Some 70 volunteers remained, despite the loss of revenue, and more programs than ever have been added to the station's roster.
All for Peace was founded in January 2004, the brainchild of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and journalists. Its name pays homage to the Voice of Peace Radio, the station launched and broadcast from the Mediterranean in 1973 by the Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan.
The directors of All for Peace, Raz and Baransi-Siniora, say their mission is fairly straightforward: "[We ] want Israelis to listen to the Palestinian message. And we want Palestinians to listen to the Israeli message. The station is aimed at both peoples, Palestinians and Israelis, and seeks to provide messages of peace, freedom, democracy, cooperation, mutual understanding, coexistence, and hope."
The members of staff agree. “Information does not really cross borders," says Elhanan. "That’s why I’m here." His show, 'Neturei Harta' thus is both a comment on current affairs as well as an effort to make the Israeli public hear the Palestinian point of view. “And if possible, with the help of Arabic contemporary music, make them like Arabs,” he adds.
All for Peace appealed the ministry's decision with a petition the Israeli Supreme Court at the beginning of December. After the first hearing in January, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Communications (on January 26) to provide a statement of reason within 45 days as to why it ordered the radio station off the air.
The directors of the station feel encouraged by the court's ruling. "The Supreme Court, following the hearing, did not find the Ministry's case convincing and places further burden of proof on their side," they said.
All for Peace is a joint venture of the Palestinian NGO Biladi and the Israeli NGO Givat Haviva, a Jewish-Arab Center for Peace. The radio broadcasted in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English.