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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

RAM FM Jerusalem: Peace in Leg Irons

An update on all that is going on with the case of Palestine/Israel's only peace channel being broken by Israel.

Reuters is reporting that the Jerusalem employees of RAMFM, the only radio station promoting peace and communications between Israelis and Palestinians who were arrested yesterday as the police carted away all the station's equipment, have been released but are on house arrest for a week during further investigation.

HERE it is reported:

South Africa journalist Mark Klusener was ordered to pay 25 000 shekels (about R53 700) and be placed under house arrest by a court in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon, his wife Peroshni Govender said.

Speaking shortly after his court appearance, Govender said her husband could not have any contact with the other staff members of the radio station who were also arrested.

He was permitted to have contact only with his lawyers.

He was also not allowed to "organise gatherings or meet with other people".

"On Monday afternoon the Israeli Ministry of Communications officials and the Jerusalem police swooped on 93,6 Ram FM studios in Jerusalem," the station said on its website.

"The Israeli authorities alleged that Ram FM is operating without the necessary broadcasting permit in Jerusalem.

"The station maintains that its operations are within the parameters of the law.

"The legalities of Monday's detention of staff members and seizure of equipment are being examined by the station's legal team," the station said.

Govender said it was not clear whether her husband could speak to his family. House arrest was only granted apparently after an Israeli citizen stood surety for Klusener and promised that he would not leave the country.

Shortly after 2pm the station announced on air that the seven staffers had been released, but did not provide further details.

"Now he can do the house work," Govender said jokingly.

The other staffers were also released under similar conditions, with the exception that their bail amount was set at 10 000 shekels because they were all Israeli citizens.

Ram FM news editor Xolani Gwala, also a South African, watched the police raid from Ramallah on a monitor linking the two studios.

"We saw them dismantling the studio," he said.

He said eight people were initially arrested, but that one, an administrative assistant, was released at 10pm on Monday.

Klusener was the only South African in custody. The others are the station manager, two disc jockeys, a technician and two journalists.

"It seems one of the frequencies in Jerusalem is a pirate frequency or had not been registered with them (the authorities)," Govender said earlier.

As the news director, her husband "doesn't have anything to do with the technical stuff".

She said that while initially denied access to her husband, she was later able to see him.

Klusener was held at a police station for four hours after his arrest then informed he would be charged with operating a pirate radio station.

He spent Monday night sleeping on the floor of a cell with eight or nine other prisoners.

Govender said she was prevented from taking him food and chocolate.

"I was not allowed to give it to him. I wanted him to keep his sugar levels up."

He was very concerned about his co-workers arrested with him.

Klusener's lawyer had told Govender her husband was handcuffed and was wearing leg irons.

Jerusalem Radio Station Raided, Equipment Confiscated, Staff Arrested -- Illegally Broadcasting?

Marian Houk

Marian Houk is a journalist with long experience in the United Nations and in the Middle East, currently based in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem office of the Ramallah-based English-language radio station RAM-FM was raided by Israeli Police and officials of the Israeli Ministry of Communications on Monday afternoon, and its staff members were detained, and equipment confiscated, on charges that it has been operating a small transmitter in Jerusalem "without the necessary broadcasting permit in Jerusalem".

Seven of its staff members spent the night in jail, and were still awaiting a court appearance, RAM-FM reported in the second story on its 11 am regular news bulletin (the top news story concerned the 10:00 am alarm sounded as part of a country-wide test of Israel´s civil defense preparedness).

UPDATE: Ayelet Filo, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem District Court said Tuesday afternoon that the journalists had finally all been released after posting a 10,000 shekel bond each; she added that the police are still investigating the case.

UPDATE: Israeli police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld said Tuesday afternoon that the arrested RAM-FM staff members had been "questioned throughout the evening"; he said he was not sure if the police were still investigating the case. Rosenfeld added, with what seemed like a tone of regret, that he knew all of those who had been arrested and held overnight.

UPDATE: Daniel Seaman, Director of the Government Press Office, which is part of the Prime Minister´s Office, said that he believed they were all bona fide journalists, but that the arrests came on the complaint of the Ministry of Communications. The question might be whether they were simply getting on the microphone and transmitting interviews or reports from their Jerusalem studios to the main office in Ramallah, or whether they were actually broadcasting from Jerusalem. "If you publish or broadcast in Israel, you need a license. This is purely an issue of the law", Seaman said, it is not about anything that they might have said on the air. He added that it could turn out to be an innocent mistake.

The detained staff include the station manager, Maysoun Odeh-Gangat, a Palestinian, as well as three other Palestinian staff plus three internationals.

A news banner on RAM-FM´s website ( saying that "The station maintains that it´s operating within the parameters of the law", and also that "The legalities of Monday´s detention of staff members and seizure of equipment are being examined by the station´s legal team".

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel has just sent out a public protest, demanding the immediate release of the RAM-FM staff (the FPA wrote in its protest that eight RAM-FM staff are still being held).

The FPA protest stated that "Notwithstanding the merits of the charges brought by the Ministry of Communications against RAM FM, the FPA strongly deplores their continued detention in police custody and calls on those holding them to pursue the matter through routine channels rather than through this absurd imprisonment - now approaching a full 24 hours in jail".

The FPA protest became RAM-FM´s top news story at 12:00 noon.

Ministry of Communication spokesperson Yechial Shavi told this reporter that the main problem is that the station has been working without permission. "We have no problem with their working from the area of the Palestinian Authoritiy. But if they want to do it here, they have to submit to competitive bidding for the frequency, and do a test, and they didn´t do it. So, they are breaking the law…A lot of other stations also want the opportunity to work here."

Shavi said "It doesn´t matter if they are ultra-orthodox Jewish, or Arabs, or Russian immigrants. This is the law, and we try to work within the law".

It is unclear how RAM-FM could have operated the Jerusalem transmitter for the past six months without being previously noticed by the Israeli authorities.

Shavi said that the Ministry of Communication´s duty was to transmit the information to the police, and that the police decide the schedule, when to go in to stop the broadcasting, and whether to arrest or not.

Israeli officials were quoted in news reports Monday saying that RAM-FM´s transmission might have caused interference with control tower operations at Ben Gurion´s Airport, which is closer to Tel Aviv than Jerusalem. RAM-FM´s more powerful transmitter in Ramallah would have been more likely to reach Ben Gurion.

For months, Israeli officials have complained that settler radio stations operating from the West Bank – in areas much closer to Ben Gurion Airport than is Jerusalem -- have caused interference with air traffic control operations, and there have been work slow downs by controllers to protest the dangerous situation.

But, Shavi indicated Tuesday afternoon that he didn´t think the problem had anything to do with the issue of interference with air traffic control at Ben Gurion.

The main transmitter of the station is in Ramallah, and it broadcasts on 93.6 FM using a powerful 5 K, which is heard in both Ramallah and Tel Aviv, and in fact in all areas of Israel between Haifa in the north and Ashkelon in the south, as well.

Gaza is not in the target area, its news director Mark Kluesner said at a meeting with journalists in Jerusalem last Thursday afternoon – Kluesner is one of those now being detained.

But, because there had been transmission interference in Jerusalem itself, RAM-FM set up the second transmitter there, broadcasting on a second frequency, 87.7 for its Jerusalem listeners.

This was not a secret. The second transmission in Jerusalem was announced regularly on air for the past six months or more, and is also posted prominently on RAM-FM´s website.

A story by the Associated Press´s Karen Laub from Ramallah on 26 March said that "After a year on the air, the music station with studios in Jerusalem and the West Bank has attracted a diverse audience, from Israeli soldiers and Palestinian students to West Bank villagers, English speaking immigrants and foreign diplomats".

RAM-FM operates on a license granted from the Palestinian Authority, as does another but non-commercial Israeli-Palestinian radio station, All For Peace Radio, whose main transmitter is also located in Ramallah. But, at 1K in power, All For Peace´s signal is much less powerful that the 5 K transmitter used from Ramallah by RAM-FM.

RAM-FM is entirely in English, and has a mainly music format, while All for Peace Radio broadcasts in Hebrew and Arabic, and has much less music content.

All for Peace does have a 5K transmitter that it tried to import into Israel, but it was seized by Israeli customs at Ashdod port, where it has remained stuck for the last 5 years, on the grounds that it is "too powerful".

RAM-FM apparently had help from the South African Representative office in Ramallah to bring in its 5K transmitter, which is still on the air.

Raf (Rafique) Gangat, one of RAM-FM´s top personalities, hosts a three-hour morning show with a one-hour current affairs interview and call-in program, and who is also the husband of the detained station manager Maysoun, is a former South African ambassador to the Palestinian territories, AP reported.

RAM-FM was started by South-African based Jewish businessman Issy Kirsh, and the venture is viewed very favorably by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

"Modeled after a South African station that provided a venue for reconciliation after apartheid, RAM-FM wants to create a safe place for Israelis and Palestinians to talk — and make money in the process", AP reported.

RAM-FM has been on-air for just over a year, since late February 2007, and has funding to take it through another two years, Mark Kluesner told journalists in Jerusalem last Thursday.

It has launched a major advertising campaign in Ramallah and neighboring areas of the West Bank and in Israel as well, with billboards advertising a slogan saying that "Music has no boundaries".

AP also reported in its story that "While it was common a decade ago to encounter Palestinians at an Israeli beach, or run into Israelis eating hummus at a West Bank restaurant, they're now separated by Israeli travel bans meant to keep Palestinian militants out and Israeli citizens safe. Such divisions have forced RAM-FM to set up two studios, one in Jerusalem and the second in the West Bank city of Ramallah. It's the only way to invite both Israeli and Palestinian guests".


Listen to RAM FM which is still broadcasting from Ramallah HERE

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