Groove to the music and save the world

RAM FM really wants all sides to speak and be heard, a revolutionary concept these days.

ram fm 88 (photo credit:)
ram fm 88
(photo credit: )
'Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got till it's gone" - that's what Joni Mitchell sang. And it usually does seem to go that way. But when I started working at the radio station, RAM FM, last November, I knew what I had instantly. But since the Jerusalem studio was closed by the police on April 7 (the station has a studio in Ramallah as well and continues to broadcast from there) and its staff arrested, I've had time to reflect on just what the station stands for and what it has accomplished so far. The mission of RAM FM, which was founded by a South African Jewish businessman named Issie Kirsh in February of 2007, is to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in a peaceful, neutral arena: radio. I became an avid listener before I was ever on the air simply because I liked the music. I've been crazy about pop music since I was a kid and I loved the songs the station plays, both the new stuff and the oldies. Soon, I began listening to the shows that mixed talk and music, a format I was familiar with from my childhood in New York. I was drawn in by the broadcasters' breezy entertaining style, warmth and charm - and positive energy. One aspect of life in Israel that has long bothered me is the tendency to focus on the negative, particularly in public discourse. Israeli talk shows tend to degenerate quickly into screamfests. But here I'd found a station where people on all sides of the spectrum are able to present their positions without interruption, including settlers, ultra-Orthodox and government spokespeople. RAM FM really wants all sides to speak and be heard, a concept that is little short of revolutionary these days. And if anyone has a better idea of what to do right now, as the Beatles once sang, "We'd all love to see the plan." When station manager Maysoun Gangat called and asked if I would come in to discuss a show featuring movie reviews, I was thrilled. Having written about movies for The Jerusalem Post for seven years, I was excited to try a new challenge. And, yes, with the little bit of idealism that has not been squeezed out of me by living here, I hoped that I could contribute something to this station. I often feel like the only person in the Middle East who doesn't know how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have no idea how to broker an agreement or what the terms should be. When friends from abroad ask me what I think about the situation, my standard response is, "Don't ask me, I'm just a movie critic." I MOVED back to Israel with my family in 2000, just weeks before the beginning of the second intifada. I started writing about movies for the Post soon after the move, as the death toll from the conflict grew daily. I realized that the only way I could help at all would be to give people a chance to take a break and smile over one of my reviews, which I have always tried to make as entertaining and funny as possible. So when RAM FM approached me, I realized I could extend my focus and speak to both Palestinians and Jews who could listen to my show out of their common love of movies.I developed an instant rapport with my co-presenter and fellow film fanatic, Arda Aghazarian. I've never been as proud as the day Arda said, on air, "Everyone wants to do something to help the world, and Hannah is helping by making sure you avoid bad movies." Soon, I found myself humming, "Something tells me I'm into something good." So I was taken by surprise last week when a friend emailed me from America last Monday, asking if I was in jail. I quickly found out that the studio had been closed and that seven of my colleagues and friends were in jail, where they would end up staying overnight. Currently, they are under house arrest and are forbidden from communicating with anyone connected to the station. They were brought into court in handcuffs and leg irons. Had I been in the studio that day, doing my show or just having a cup of coffee, it's likely I would have received exactly the same treatment. Those arrested were Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and a South African citizen. I can't begin to address the legal questions regarding the station's license, but all I can say is I am sad that they were dealt with in this way. Once again, to quote the Beatles, "There's a shadow hanging over me." I hope it won't hang there for too long. Because as much as it is a personal loss to me to be off the air and to be cut off from my friends and colleagues, it is a greater loss to the station's listeners. This is the virtually the only arena I know of in which Israelis and Palestinians are able to bond by having fun. When listeners call in to try to win contests and win prizes, one caller will be Mahmoud from Ramallah, while the next may be Meital from Tel Aviv. Whether you are on the left or the right, Jewish or Palestinian, it is clear that this region is populated by both Israelis and Arabs and, contrary to the wishful thinking of extremists on both sides, nobody is going anywhere. Anything that can bring even a few of us together peacefully has to bode well for the future. So, let me end with my wish that the legal situation will be resolved quickly, and a quote from Fleetwood Mac: "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow." The writer is The Jerusalem Post's movie critic.