Mel Frykberg
Middle East Times
April 16, 2008 - 6:04pm

Israeli police raided the Jerusalem studio of Ram FM – an English-language peace radio station, based in the West Bank, which aims to find common ground between Israelis and Palestinians – on the grounds the station was operating without a license.

Seven of the station's employees, including Palestinians, Israelis and South-Africans, were arrested and imprisoned during the raid last week. The employees had their cell phones confiscated while the police seized office equipment, shut down the transmitter and closed the studio before taking the staff in for questioning

The headquarters of Ram, based in Ramallah, continued to operate even after the raid. The following morning the arrested employees were released after posting bail and placed under house arrest for one week, during which time they were forbidden from speaking to anybody other than their families.

The employees were allowed to leave their homes on Tuesday, but they have been told not to contact other staff members.

However, the Middle East Times was unable to get an update as the station was not returning its calls.

An Israeli official said that the arrests were not politically motivated. "We instructed the police to close the station in Jerusalem, because they were broadcasting without a permit," said a Communications Ministry official, "because they can interfere with airwaves and endanger airport signals."

The official added that it was a common procedure to put people involved in pirate broadcasts under house arrest. However, Israeli settlers who have frequently operated pirate stations from the West Bank have never been arrested.

Asher Rabinowitz, the lawyer for Ram FM refuted claims made by the Israeli police saying that the station had obtained a broadcast permit from the Palestinian authorities in agreement with Israel and said the station was due to obtain its definitive license the day after the police raid.

Furthermore, this is not the first time journalists from Ram have been targeted by the Israeli authorities. The station also launched a huge advertising campaign prior to its opening and has been broadcasting for more than a year without being closed, so its existence was hardly a secret.

Assuming Israeli police were correct in stating that the station was operating without a license, it does not explain their heavy-handedness in arresting and imprisoning young foreign reporters.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents the media covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, described the situation as "absurd" and had demanded the immediate release of the employees.

The organization also criticized the gag order, saying "their arrests raise particular concern about the issue of freedom of expression in Israel." Reporters Without Borders also condemned the raid.

Ram FM was started last year by millionaire Jewish South African businessman, Issie Kirsch, based on a similar station started in South Africa, following the end of apartheid, which aimed to reconcile Black and White South Africans.

The station's 200,000 listeners include Israeli settlers in the West Bank, Palestinians and Israelis, as well as foreign diplomats who listen to a variety of Western music, talk shows and news programs which can be heard from Tel Aviv to Jericho. Music in either Arabic or Hebrew is not played as the station tries to promote its message of peace from neutral ground.

The station manager said that the station aimed to build bridges through music and entertainment rather than through politics.


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