Abie Nathan - from right to left

The man who was jailed for visiting Arafat had many critics, but more fans.

Abie Nathan 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Abie Nathan 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Even Abie Nathan's detractors spoke warmly of him on Thursday, a day after the maverick peace activist passed away in Tel Aviv at 81 years of age. The man who founded the "Voice of Peace" pirate radio station and did jail time for visiting Yasser Arafat during his exile in Tunisia had plenty of critics, but even more fans. And as they were asked to speak about the man who some say was before his time in his brazen and often eccentric pursuit of peace, all of them spoke of someone who stood up for what he believed in and acted on what he thought was right. "I believe that he always meant well," said Pinchas Wallerstein, former head of the Binyamin Regional Council in northern Samaria. "And I was absolutely inspired by him and his tactics, just in the opposite direction. If it weren't for his radio station, we wouldn't have Arutz Sheva." Others praised Nathan's global charity work, spanning from Guatemala to China. "I was with Abie in Rwanda in 1995," said former Meretz MK Yossi Sarid. "We were there during the civil war delivering humanitarian aid, and Abie was told that a village full of sick children was out in the jungle. We made our way through the brush, and when we got there, the children were in their last moments of life - they were all suffering from cholera. "And I remember seeing Abie take them in his hands, bringing them to our field hospital for help. They were all treated and every one of them survived." "It's still unclear if the time he spent sitting in jail brought peace," said Meretz MK Yossi Beilin. "But that he traveled the world and helped so many different people, that can be said without a doubt. He made an enormous contribution to the world." Others said they had never personally met Nathan, but were moved by his efforts at starting dialogues between enemies. Rabbi Menachem Fruman, the rabbi of the Gush Etzion settlement of Tekoa, spoke of Nathan as he took part in the Sulha Peace Project at Latrun - a three-day gathering of Israelis and Palestinians that aims to begin the process of dialogue and reconciliation. "My children often say that I meet with all the crazy people in the world," Rabbi Fruman said. "But I never got a chance to meet Abie Nathan. That said, I think that what he did was an inspiration to all of us. Pursuing peace is not a natural desire... It's truly a holy task." "I feel that I am following in his footsteps," said Jeff Halper, an Israeli professor who was on board one of the two boats that sailed into Gaza port last week to protest the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. "I don't compare myself to him, but I certainly draw from him as an inspiration." Halper made two correlations between Nathan's efforts and his own, the first regarding Nathan's own sea voyage to Gaza in 1972. "He sailed there in '72 to bring toys to kids in Gaza, and later he organized a summer camp in Ashdod for Israeli kids and kids from Gaza," Halper said. "The second thing is that he said in 1966 that Nasser wanted to talk peace with the Israelis, and no one listened to him. If they had, think of the countless lives that might have been saved and the terrible violence that might have been prevented." Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, who works for Rabbis For Human Rights, called Nathan "a very positive figure. I'm a rabbi that belongs to a dovish group, and we're a bit of a minority. But something about Abie Nathan that is in contrast to Peace Now and other peace groups is that he was not anti-religious. "He seemed to rise above the divisions on the left and was a character that put his money where his mouth was. I think that's something that he was respected for even on the right, even if they didn't agree with him."