I began my radio career working for an offshore pirate radio station broadcasting to the Middle East. The station was called the Voice of Peace and it’s slogan was ‘Broadcasting from somewhere in the Mediterranean, love peace and good music’. In reality the rusty MV Peace was anchored 3 nautical miles off Tel Aviv in Israel. The ethos was simple, to encourage Arabs and Israelis to live together and try and get on. The station was founded by Israeli Abie Nathan who sold his showbiz-haunt restaurant, the California, bought the ship and fitted it out with broadcast equipment and a transmitting mast. The Voice of Peace broadcast for 20 years between 1973 and 1993. Abie naively thought that after the famous handshake between Israeli PM Yizhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat the station would no longer be needed. Wrong.
The tragedy is that Arabs and Jews are very close Semitic cousins who share much history and should and could be very good neighbours. Peace in Hebrew is Shalom and in Arabic Salaam. On Saturday the symbolic number of 1000 Palestinians killed in Gaza was passed. The Israeli death toll was 40 soldiers and 3 civilians but the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Israel clearly has far superior fire power and defensive capabilities with the Iron Dome missile shield. Palestinian civilians have paid the price of the Hamas policy of locating rocket launching sites in highly populated areas and not renouncing the wish to destroy the State of Israel. The current unrest was sparked by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the following reprisals but the reality is tit -for -tat attacks, wars and killings have been a feature of the conflict since the modern State of Israel was born in 1948. Because of the segregated nature of the communities, I only had the chance to get to knew Israelis, although I did visit Palestinian East Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the West Bank. Israelis I spoke to felt their country was not just the fulfilment of a Biblical promise but also a vital sanctuary. Most Jewish people believe much of the rest of the world allowed the Holocaust to take place. When the chips were down the world allowed 6 million of their people to go to the gas chambers so they can only count on themselves. The thinking is that Israel is a small country the size of Wales or Belgium surrounded by hostile Muslim states who would like to see it destroyed and losing one war would be game-over. Anti-Semitic acts around the world bolster this view. For these reasons no chances are taken and this often leads to a disproportionate amount of force used to maintain security. On the Palestinian side 1948 was seen as Al Nakhba, the catastrophe. Thousands of Palestinians were thrown out of their homes and many still live in refugee camps while some others were allowed to stay and became Israeli Arabs, still with fewer rights than their Jewish neighbours but certainly better off in many ways than Palestinians living in the West Bank and especially Gaza. Some families have kept the front door keys of their ancestral homes. The Palestinians had nothing to do with the Nazi holocaust and they have lived under occupation for 66 years.
So what now? I’d like to see two viable independent states who respect each others security and forge together a new future of friendly co-existence. Until that security can be absolutely guaranteed it won’t happen. There are sadly many on both sides who don’t believe peace is achievable and sometimes even desirable. Israel is still building settlements on the West Bank which they then call ‘facts on the ground’ (ie now- exist and not going anywhere) some seeing the land as the Biblical Jewish Judea and Samaria, some as a cheap place to live. Meanwhile many Palestinians still have the ultimate goal of driving the Jews into the sea. Bring back the Voice of Peace. A voice of sanity is much needed in that troubled but very beautiful region.