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RAM-FM's Jerusalem Office Raided - By Marian Houk

April 8, 2008 4:35 P.M. (Updated: April 8, 2008 4:35 P.M.)
Jerusalem - Ma'an - The Jerusalem office of the Ramallah-based English-language radio station RAM-FM was raided by Jerusalem 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 have spent the night in jail, and are 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).

The detained staff include the station manager, Maysoun Odeh-Gangat, a Palestinian, as well as three other Palestinian staff plus three internationals. They are due to appear in Jerusalem District Court shortly.

A news banner on RAM-FM's website (www.ramfm.net) 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. I can say they are like criminals ... 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".

The AP report says 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".

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