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Radio Station Hopes to Bridge Israeli-Palestinian Divide


A new radio station launched this week in the West Bank hopes to help bridge the divide between Palestinians and Israelis. VOA's Jim Teeple reports, those behind the station say they had success with a similar venture in South Africa more than 20 years ago.

It has taken six months of test broadcasts, but RAM FM is now on the air, beaming a mix of music, news and talk shows from its studios in the West Bank city of Ramallah, just a few kilometers from Jerusalem.

RAM FM is a different kind of radio station from what Palestinians and Israelis are used to. News Director Andrew Bolton says the station is not just about playing music and selling ads. He says his station wants Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other.

"Well, the station's main purpose is to broadcast entertainment, music and informative program[ing], and to promote peace and dialogue," he said. "Above all, we are going to provide reliable and impartial news from within the Middle East."

Bolton says, unlike any other stations in the region, RAM FM will broadcast exclusively in English. About 60 percent of Israelis and 40 percent of Palestinians speak English. The station is targeting about 500,000 people who can hear its signal.

Andrew Bolton says, for a station trying to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide, English is the only language to broadcast in.

"English is a neutral language in this region," he added. "Most of the radio stations that broadcast from the Palestinian territories or Israel broadcast in either Hebrew or Arabic. We feel that English is the language of mediation and the language that is used in international peace talks and it shows that we are not taking a particular side."

RAM FM's main financial backer is Issie Kirsh, chairman of South Africa's Primedia Foundation and the man who started South Africa's Radio 702. That station, which went on the air in 1980 in the South African homeland Bophuthatswana, is now a leading current affairs station in Johannesburg. Radio 702 is credited with helping to bridge the racial divide in South Africa.

Andrew Bolton says his station is a business that will have to make money to stay on the air, but he hopes RAM FM might be able to serve as a neutral platform, where Israelis and Palestinians can speak to each other on talk shows, just like white and black South Africans do on Radio 702.

"We believe the situation here is different, but one thing that is common is that both Israelis and Palestinians do not have a mutual platform to talk to listen and to understand one another," he noted. "And we believe, as in South Africa, the majority of Palestinians and Israelis want peace and a good life for themselves and their families to live in security and harmony. They want to ensure a decent future for their families and radio is the perfect medium to get people to first listen and then talk."

Bolton says RAM FM is broadcasting from Ramallah, because it could not get a license in Israel, where broadcast licenses are tightly controlled by the Israeli government. He also says, despite the tensions in the region, RAM FM will stay apolitical. The station's only message he says will be to promote peace.