I was never sure whether VOICE OF PEACE GM/owner/founder/whatever Abie Nathan was a genuine Israeli folk hero or a genius at self-promotion. The answer, I suppose, is that he was a bit of both.
I first met Abie in a small office in downtown Tel Aviv while working as a volunteer at a nearby kibbutz called Shefayim. (Along with my tees and a couple of pairs of jeans I packed a demo tape cut at my last place of employment. I sent the tape to an address I found somewhere and, several days later, I got a message to see Abie at his office in Tel Aviv.)
I don’t know what he was expecting but he was clearly bemused when he saw me show up (with my former girlfriend in tow.) He interviewed me in his office and I think it is safe to say that neither one of us came away from the interview with an overwhelmingly positive impression. Nevertheless, several days later, I was in a launch making my way to the Voice of Peace with a mixture of anticipation and dread.
Oh sure, I had heard all the stories about Abie (most of which turned out to be true.)
Someone told me Abie was a former Persian jet pilot who had landed smack dab in the middle of Egypt on a self-appointed peace mission and was promptly incarcerated in an Egyptian jail while authorities figured out what to do with him. Apparently, so the story goes, the Egyptian military was embarrassed that its airspace could be invaded so easily by one man flying a rickety old plane without alerting the Egyptian air defence system to its presence.
I also heard that he had flown to the Gaza Strip with ten thousand ice cream cones which he intended to pass out to bewildered refugee kids in the blazing heat.
I was told that the Voice of Peace had been financed by wealthy peace activists in NYC (John Lennon’s name was mentioned). Its mission was to “foster peace between the Arabs and the Israelis through the international medium of music.” The initial plan, I was told, was to have the ship staffed by Israeli and Arab DJs. When I arrived onboard, the DJs were mostly English refugees from Radio Caroline and a young Arab whom, I was informed, worked as a cook in a restaurant. The fledgling DJ (whose name, I seem to recall, was Ibrahim) spoke only broken English. Abie gave him the 3 am – 6am slot. There was a reason for this. Ibraham picked his music from the library according to the covers. If he liked the colors and/or the photos he would select those albums and place the needle wherever he wanted. This resulted in some truly eclectic music mixes. He “broadcast” in Arabic. (Needless to say, none of us knew exactly what he was saying.) It was my job to wake him up when I hosted “The Soft Music Show” from midnight to 3 am. That was easier than it sounds since a) Ibrahim was a sound sleeper and b) He was a big guy and didn’t like being awakened at 2:30 in the morning. Usually, he would just turn over and go back to sleep. However, he was afraid of Abie so he would scramble out of bed and run down the hallway when I mentioned Abie’s name.
One morning, I recall, he proudly showed me the music he had picked out for the first hour: The Partridge Family, Jefferson Airplane and The Mamas and Papas (He liked the covers). “What does earth mother mean, Rick?” he asked.
Sorry, Ibrahim, some things defy translation.
To Be Continued …