Arutz Sheva Goes Off Air After Court Convicts Employees of Radio Piracy

The management of Arutz Sheva, the pirate radio station owned and run by settlers, yesterday decided to take the station of the air indefinitely, and to limit its activity to news updates via the Internet and telephone. The decision came shortly after the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court convicted 10 of the stations directors, editors and broadcasters of involvement in pirate radio broadcasts, as well as a cabinet decision on Sunday to fine any business advertising on a pirate station.

A senior member of the Arutz Sheva management told Haaretz last night, "The court has ruled that we are illegal. We argued for five years against that ruling, and the judge has decided otherwise. Under these circumstances, we cannot go on broadcasting. The Likud and the other right-wing parties will either have to make do with Army Radio and Israel Radio, or grant us a license."

In addition to the 10 people convicted by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, presiding Judge Yoram Noam also convicted three companies that jointly operate the station. Yaakov Katz, a station manager and a director of one of the companies, was also convicted of perjury, for telling the High Court of Justice that Arutz Sheva only broadcasts from outside Israel's territorial waters, and has never broadcast from Israel or the West Bank.

The court can hand down jail terms of up to three years and impose heavy fines on anyone found guilty of pirate broadcasting. A similar punishment can be imposed for perjury.

Two other directors convicted yesterday were Yoel Tzur and Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed. The three were all convicted of involvement in the running of Shefa Advertising, which sold advertising time for the station, Eretz Hazvi, which operated the studios, and Beit-El Shipping, which operated the broadcast ship, Hazvi.

Control of these companies was executed via two associations - the Sukkat Ovadia Learning Center, Beit El B, and the Beit El and Beit El B Yeshiva Compound Development Corporation. Among the founders of these two associations were two more of the people convicted yesterday: Shulamit Melamed, the station's program director, and Yair Meir, a station engineer.

Also convicted were the captain of the Arutz Sheva ship, Shaul Avni, the news director, Haggai Segal, and broadcasters Gideon Sharon, Adir Zik and David Shapira.

Charges were first brought against the station five years ago, after a police investigation - much of which was undercover - that began in 1995. Prosecuting attorney Shimon Dolan claimed that from 1995 to 1998, Arutz Sheva operated without the requisite permits, from a ship that was primarily anchored inside Israel's territorial waters and from a studio in Beit El.

Broadcasts from Beit El were transmitted with the help of several relay stations.

Defense attorney Dan Sela claimed that the broadcasts emanated exclusively from the ship, and only when it was in international waters.

The trial focused on two issues - whether the ship broadcast from Israeli or international waters, and whether there were also terrestrial broadcasts. During the trial, the prosecution called 54 witnesses, and the defense called 20, among them experts in locating the source of radio broadcasts, electronics and sonar.

In his verdict, the judge ruled that during the period in question, the ship was usually located within Israeli waters, no more than three or five nautical miles west of Tel Aviv. He also found that the prosecution had proved its assertion that broadcasts were also made from the Beit El studio.