How we started ‘Radio against Apartheid’ in Philly

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
on 6 Comments

In August, here on Mondoweiss, I wrote an article on the failure to recognize Palestinians in public discourse.

In order to listen to a Palestinian, one must be able to hear their voice, and to give that voice consideration and legitimation. The refusal to recognize a land known as Palestine coincides with the refusal to consider the Arab people who live there – to refuse to recognize their existence, their humanity, their mortality, and their voices.

So in September, when a friend with Prometheus Radio pitched the idea for members of Philly BDS to take to the airwaves with West Philadelphia’s community radio station WPEB 88.1, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Evan “DJ Ev Daddy” Hoffman and I, Matt Graber, have been producing a radio program called ‘Radio Against Apartheid‘ on WPEB 88.1 every Wednesday at 9 PM for the past 6 weeks. We are hoping to bring voices for justice and equality throughout the Middle East to the Philadelphia community by radio and to the world via podcast. We have both been active with the Philadelphia Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Coalition for over a year, and through this work we have been fortunate to collaborate with a tremendous group of insightful and moral individuals.

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Evan was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in a family which strongly valued criticism, protest, and social justice. Even in his youth, his family has been involved in a peace group in the area called the Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern (LEPOCO). Evan remembers being 8 years old and marching against the first Gulf war in Washington DC with his parents and their good Palestinian friends, Lena and her daughter, Jinan. He carried all these experiences with him through college at Temple University, where he majored in dance and continued to be an independent disc jockey. Evan has always utilized the power of creative expression, choreographing dances protesting the Iraq war (as a member of Not In Our Name), DJing at peace/justice rallies at City Hall in Philly and other locations, and learning how to connect lines of expression to create a new dialogue and use his voice! Radio Against Apartheid is another project of his which seeks to incorporate the power of creative expression into political activism.

I have only been marginally employed for the past year, after leaving the University of Pennsylvania with an incomplete masters degree in Social Work. In the summer of 2010, I spent a month living in al Azzeh refugee camp in Bethlehem. There, I experienced first hand the violence of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. We didn’t have running water for 23 days. I was tear gassed in Bil’in, and harassed at a check point. I helped to rebuild a demolished home in al Walaja. Reflecting on these experiences, I realized that in the world which I want to build, political institutions must come to consider both my own well-being and livelihood along with that of the anonymous other, regardless of their geographic location, ethnicity, spoken language, gender, or any other identifier.

Radio Against Apartheid is our way of bringing progressive, alternative views of the Middle East to the West Philadelphia community. Though there were no shows about the Middle East on West Philadelphia’s WPEB 88.1 until we started our program, the issues facing Palestinians are not foreign to the local community. West Philadelphia is a community historically and currently facing gentrification at the hands of the University of Pennsylvania and patrolled by a militant Philadelphia police force. Just as Palestinian communities are being destroyed and Palestinians are being unjustly imprisoned, so too have communities of Philadelphia been decimated and destroyed by gentrification and urban renewal, and so too have homes been bombed and people been imprisoned for political reasons.

With programs such as Labor Justice Radio and On the Block, West Philadelphia’s WPEB 88.1 has already been dealing with critical issues facing the local community. Radio Against Apartheid continues this tradition. As the charter of the radio station states:

WPEB 88.1 FM is an independent, noncommercial community radio station dedicated to reflecting, representing, incorporating, empowering, and serving West Philadelphia communities by:
providing a channel for groups, issues, and music that have been overlooked, suppressed or misrepresented by other media.
promoting communication, education, and entertainment through programming that invites interaction between the station and the community.
providing training that facilitates creative expression and exploration of public issues with the goal of incorporating and empowering members of the community.

Our hope with Radio Against Apartheid is to be a venue in Philadelphia fostering critical analysis of America’s and Israel’s continuing militarism in the Middle East and North Africa by featuring and listening to those most directly affected by these policies. So we’ve featured artists such as Omar Offendum, Suheir Hammad, and Susan Abulhawa, and we’ve gotten firsthand accounts, insight, and analysis from reporters Joseph Dana and Jesse Rosenfeld.

In an interview broadcast heard by hundreds, if not thousands, over the radio and through podcast, Joseph Dana and Jesse Rosenfeld reflected on their experiences as journalists living in Ramallah. Rosenfeld has reported for Alternet, The Nation, and various other outlets, and was on board the second Freedom Flotilla. Dana has reported for The Nation on board the US Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, and he writes regularly for +972 Magazine. His views challenged the notion of Israel as a democratic state:

Last Summer, Israel, a Western-style democracy, decides to basically cancel freedom of speech over [the issue of boycott, divestment, and sanctions] by passing an anti-boycott law, in which myself, as an Israeli citizen, am unable to publicly state any support for the boycott, and I’m unable to publicly advocate for the boycott. So if I was to say on this program, ‘Palestinian unarmed resistance is the best form of resistance. I understand their desire to resist the occupation and I think the boycott move is the most effective form of unarmed resistance and therefore people should support it.’ If I say that, then I can be sued in Israel. The people that would bring a lawsuit against me, any Israeli, they don’t have to prove that I actually damaged them. They just have to prove that I intended to. And so this law is so corrosive and so toxic that it, first off, demonstrates how effective the boycott campaign is. Because governments don’t pass these types of laws unless they’re effective. And secondly, its taking off this mask of Israeli democracy that we’ve had for so long. I mean, we can talk about it in terms of the rights of non-Jews, but now its filtering even into the rights of Jews.

One of my favorite shows featured a conversation with Susan Abulhawa, the author of ‘Mornings in Jenin’, Karina Goulordava of the Great Book Robbery, and me. We discussed the Great Book Robbery – a project examining the systematic theft of thousands of Palestinian books during al Nakba – and the consequences of the project from the perspective of Edward Said’s Orientalism.

In a conversation filled with grim topics, Susan offered hope to the program and to our listeners:

Of course they would want to hide evidence of culture. But you can’t. Israel has succeeded to a large extent at sort of re-writing history and covering it up. But I think that the truth has a way of emerging, of finding its way to the light. And I think we’re living in a time where we’re seeing that starting to happen. This documentary, The Great Book Robbery, is one element of that. The explosion of Palestinian literature throughout the West is another manifestation of that. There are a lot of documentaries in addition to the Great Book Robbery that are emerging by very talented film-makers. And of course the growing international solidarity and the slow but sure persistent awakening of civil society across the world. This is the truth starting to come to light.

This was Susan’s second appearance on the program, after her appearance on our second show when she told the history of Palestine since 1948.

Everybody involved in the show has been gracious. Its been very humbling to connect with such amazing guests, who have been surprisingly accessible. As we just began our program, I wasn’t certain about how we could create content for the radio show. At first, we thought “Every week? That sounds like a whole lot of content to put together in a short amount of time.” But we went about e-mailing people involved in the movement for justice in Palestine, and they replied. Everybody whom we have contacted has done an amazing job of working through their extremely busy schedules to try to make time for our program.

The people with WPEB and Scribe Video, the parent organization of WPEB, have also been supportive throughout the process. After our first proposal, they were helpful in training us in the studio and then getting us on the air. With a very tight schedule of programming at WPEB, Rashaw Alston cut an hour of his programming to fit with our schedules and allow us to go on the air. And though WPEB and Scribe have received complaints, they’ve been steadfast in their support of our program. We would never have been able to do this without the support from the WPEB community.

WPEB has been running a fundraiser from the beginning of October until the end of the year in the hopes of raising $5,000. This money would go towards keeping all of our programs on the air. The media landscape in the United States is dominated by corporate media, and it is essential to maintain community and independent radio as a place for alternative viewpoints to be expressed. If you’d like to make a donation to keep all of our programming going, you can go to the Scribe website.

As exciting as the experience has been so far, what is most exciting is the potential for what the program could be. This week’s show features a new segment produced by the Palestine News Network, “News from the Occupied Territories”, which reports on this week’s arrests, home demolitions, and land seizures in the occupied West Bank. This segment is the result of a new partnership between Radio Against Apartheid and the Palestine News Network.

This effort really shows how radio can be used to bring people together. And we would love to have your comments, ideas, and contributions. As a space for people to talk about building a world based on values of justice and equality, we hope that you’ll tune in and join the conversation.

Links to our latest program, relevant news topics, and previous shows are all posted to our blog. You can also subscribe to the weekly podcast via itunes. You can reach us by e-mail at [email protected] and on Twitter at PEB881RAA.

About Matthew Graber

I am a feminist community organizer with a variety of interests - writing, photography, philosophy, and radio broadcast. I am an organizer with the Philadelphia Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Coalition and a co-host of Radio Against Apartheid on West Philadelphia's community radio station, WPEB 88.1.

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6 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    December 7, 2011, 10:24 am

    Great radio project. Hope it prospers.

    If I were an Israeli I would wish to say, “Israelis, as you know, we have a law which seeks to punish any Israeli who praises BDS and so forth, because, so the legislators suggest, such talk harms Israelis. These legislators did not express a view as to whether the damper on free speech by Israelis — which this law institutes — might damage Israelis themselves or damage Palestinians. In any case, I am. as I said, an Israeli, and I hereby comply with this law by saying — and I hereby say, as clearly as possible — that although some people praise BDS, I do not. Please listen to me not praising BDS. Thank you.”

    • Annie Robbins
      December 7, 2011, 10:57 am

      Great radio project. Hope it prospers.

      yeah totally. this is really impressive.

      thanks for all you do matthew. it’s heartwarming knowing there are people all across the world bringing the voices of palestine and those who work in the movement, getting those voices out there.

      vital. so, the show is tonight! awesome.

  2. JohnAdamTurnbull
    December 7, 2011, 12:41 pm

    Wonderful to hear that you got this going in Philly.

    You may already know about Co-op Radio in Vancouver and their show, Voice of Palestine. link to coopradio.org

    I’m sure there would be value in sharing information between the two programs.

  3. Matthew Graber
    December 7, 2011, 7:45 pm

    Thanks for the support everyone! I really appreciate it and really mean what I wrote in the article – I’m hoping that the project is just an opening up of dialogue and conversation, and I invite the many brilliant voices attending to this website to contribute.

  4. Wonder Bunder
    December 13, 2011, 1:25 am

    Great work, Matthew. It’s good to know that you’re giving us a voice. By the way, I’m just outside of Philly in West Chester and come into the city quite often. I’m trying to get more involved in causes that I believe in, particularly those that relate to Palestine and BDS. If you’d like to meet up sometime, let me know ([email protected]).

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