Monday, 29 July 2019

Al-Quds Palestinian Arab Radio — the intifada station

The new station attracted international attention

What was it?

Al-Quds Radio was a semi-clandestine station that broadcast to Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and neighbouring states for more than 20 years from 1988. 

It never overtly announced its precise location, though the fact that it transmitted from Syria became widely known. 

Al-Quds Radio was best known for its association with the first Palestinian intifada (uprising) of 1987-1993. 

Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

White, grey or black?

In the jargon of clandestine broadcasting and psychological warfare, Al-Quds Radio was "light grey". It was not transparent about behind-the-scenes details of its operations – location, backing, funding, management and editorial control – but listeners could correctly deduce some of those things. 

As the station's political affiliation and location became more widely known, so its position on the greyscale moved further to the lighter side.

However, the radio never became fully "white" and so its output could be disavowed by the Syrian government, which allowed it to operate.

Success or failure?

Al-Quds Radio can be seen as a tactical success for its important role in the intifada.

But it was a strategic failure. The objective of its operator (the Palestinian militant group PFLP-GC)  the end of the Israeli state  was not achieved..

Affiliation, funding, management and political stance

Affiliation: The station was established and operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine  General Command

The PFLP-GC, led by Ahmed Jibril, was a rejectionist Palestinian faction which opposed recognising or negotiating with Israel. Its main backer was Syria. 

Funding: At the time of Al-Quds Radio's launch the PFLP-GC also had close ties with Libya. The radio's long-serving director, Fadl Shururusaid in 1997  when looking back to events 10 years earlier  that the funds for setting up the station were "almost entirely" provided by Libya. He also confirmed that this funding had allowed Al-Quds Radio to buy its own equipment (i.e. rather than rely on equipment provided by its Syrian hosts). [1]

Management: Fadl Shururu was a senior official in the PFLP-GC. For many years he was secretary of its Political Bureau and served as the group's chief spokesman (in his capacity as head of the PFLP-GC's Information and Central Guidance Department). 

The first mention in BBC Monitoring's records of Shururu as Al-Quds Radio's director was in March 1993. However, he may have been in charge of the station from its inception.

He regularly broadcast commentaries over the radio. For example, a schedule from 2002 showed two daily 10-minute slots for a political commentary called "Fadl Shururu's Opinion". 

In 1994, Shururu said: "The fact that the radio was launched by the PFLP-GC does not mean that it belongs to the PFLP-GC. Al-Quds Radio is the radio of the Palestinian masses inside and outside the occupied territories... It is not affiliated with any Palestinian resistance faction." [2]

Shururu died in 2009.

Pflp-gc-logo.JPG
The PFLP-GC's logo

Political stance: Throughout its existence, Al-Quds Radio was consistently opposed to peace negotiations with Israel. 

At times, therefore, the station's output contrasted with that of the rival Voice of Palestine radio, which spoke on behalf of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

In its early days, however, Al-Quds Radio stressed the importance of Palestinian unity. "It avoids partisan politics and concentrates on the need to close ranks and face the enemy," a report from Jerusalem in Britain's Guardian newspaper said in late January 1988. [3]

Nevertheless, in a foretaste of what would become a battle of the Palestinian airwaves, on 25 January 1988 Voice of Palestine denounced its rival as a "suspect" station that sought to "don Palestinian cloth". Voice of Palestine said Al-Quds Radio had "begun transmitting a campaign of disinformation and distortion of facts, placing the names of our strugglers on lists it claims as being those of enemy agents in the heroic Gaza Strip".

Name and slogans

Full name: "Al-Quds Radio, the Palestinian Arab radio on the road to liberating the land and man"

Name in the original Arabic: Al-Quds, al-Idha'at al-Arabiyat al-Filistiniyat ala tariq tahrir al-ard wa al-insan — القدس، الإذاعة العربية الفلسطينية على طريق تحرير الأرض والإنسان

The full name can be heard being announced in the recording at this site

Other slogans were also used. For example in April 1993 it described itself as "the voice of the Palestinian people, the voice of the intifada, the voice of martyrs, the voice of deportees, the voice of those who have no voice".

The following month, Al-Quds Radio said it was "the radio of the Palestinian Arab people, the radio of the martyrs, the radio of the wounded, the radio of the detained, the radio of the universities, the radio of the workers, the radio of the mosque imams, and the radio of the uprooted".

Historical summary

Al-Quds Radio operated for more than two decades from 1988. 

The station's greatest influence came in its earliest years. It began broadcasting on 1 January 1988, less than a month after the start of the first Palestinian intifada, and quickly gained attention among its target Palestinian audience and elsewhere.

"Listening to the new radio station has become a must for Palestinians and others who want to know what is happening," the Guardian reported later that month. "Accuracy is a powerful weapon. Al-Quds has repeatedly broadcast the names, ages and occupations of Palestinians hurt or arrested in clashes with the security forces. It can be intimidating, too, revealing the names and addresses of Palestinians said to be collaborating with the Israelis, including Arab policemen and employees of the West Bank civil administration." [3]

The Independent (London) said in the same month about the station's involvement with the intifada: "Most significant are the real operational instructions given to the population: when to strike, and how and where to demonstrate. The instructions given often repeat the precise content of leaflets handed out throughout the occupied territories and East Jerusalem." [4]

The influence of Al-Quds Radio influence waned with the end of the intifada in the early 1990s and the signing by Israel and the PLO of the 1993 peace agreement, which was a strategic defeat for the PFLP-GC.

The launch a few years later of pan-Arab satellite TV channels such as Al Jazeera (1996) and the emergence of the internet transformed the region's media environment and further reduced Al-Quds Radio's importance.

Al-Quds Radio remained on the air well into the 21st century, although its impact on the second intidafa (2000-2005) did not match that during the first uprising.

Operational model

Al-Quds Radio's operating model was strikingly different from the rival radio broadcasts of the time by the PLO. 

The latter were made via the state networks of various sympathetic Arab countries. In the late 1980s these included Iraq (which hosted the PLO's central radio operations after the group was forced to abandon broadcasts from Lebanon following the Israeli invasion in 1982), Algeria, North Yemen and South Yemen. 

This arrangement left the PLO entirely reliant on the host broadcasters for airtime, which was generally made available on a limited basis.

For example, even the PLO's central radio only had three hours of airtime a day on Iraqi transmitters by 1988. Other host broadcasters were even less generous: Algerian state radio, for example, provided just one hour a day.

In contrast, Al-Quds Radio was a standalone operation with its own studios and transmitters, and was broadcasting for nine hours a day from the start, later increased to 11 hours daily. 

Location

Al-Quds Radio broadcast from Syria, which backed the PFLP-GC.

Its powerful mediumwave (AM) transmitter was thought to be at Daraa, in the far southwest of Syria, close to the Jordanian and Israeli borders. (Initially it was suggested, incorrectly, to be based in southern Lebanon - see footnote 5.)

In March 1994, the Jordanian weekly newspaper Assabeel published a feature on Al-Quds Radio by a sympathetic reporter who had visited its HQ in an unnamed residential district of Damascus. This would have been the station's editorial offices and studios, rather than the location of its transmitters. [1]

A variety of Post Office Box addresses were announced for listeners' letters, including in Damascus, Beirut, Aden, Tripoli (Libya) and Kuwait. The Damascus address (P.O. Box 5092) was used for many years. 

In 1998, the station also announced a physical address in Daraa (c/o Ra'id Talib al-Hariri, near the Women's Arts College, Nuwah Road, al-Shaykh Miskin, Daraa).

Programming

Broadcasting schedule: At its launch in January 1988 the station was on the air at 0900-1400 and 1600-2000 local times. Later, the gap at 1400-1600 was filled, providing continuous broadcasts between 0900 and 2000, a total of 11 hours a day.

In April 1996, the broadcasting hours were cut to nine hours a day, at 0800-1700 local time, with the main news bulletins at 1230 and 1630.

Later in the 1990s and into the following decade there was evening programming, but only on the FM frequencies.

Languages: Most output was in Arabic, but from the start there was also material in Hebrew and English. Later, programmes in French, Italian, Romanian, Russian and Spanish were added. 

All non-Arabic programming was dropped in the mid-1990s.

Transmission arrangements

The main frequency was 702 kHz AM (mediumwave), which had been heard with test transmissions of music since September 1987 (more than three months before regular programming began on 1 January 1988). A powerful transmitter was used on this frequency.

In a bid to escape Israeli jamming of its signals, the AM frequency was sometimes varied. This included moving the frequency to interfere with Israel Radio's Arabic service on 738 AM. Al-Quds Radio explained this behaviour in May 1994 by saying that it chose a frequency "close to that of the enemy's radio so that [their] jamming will also affect the enemy's radio".


Note reference to Al-Quds's wavelength being close to that of Israel Radio
The Guardian, 30 January 1988

Also from the start, two FM channels were announced (96.7 and 105.4). These would have been heard by an audience limited to southern Syria and Lebanon, and perhaps northern Israel.

From April 1988 a second AM transmitter was brought into use on what was called the "reserve" channel of 630 kHz.

Tests on shortwave were conducted later in 1988, on 4320 and 7460 kHz, and in 1990 on 15050 kHz. When the use of shortwave became regular the frequencies were 5990 and 5910 kHz. The latter was referred to as the "reserve" shortwave channel. 

Note that 5910 was close to the shortwave frequency (5900 kHz) used by Israel Radio's Arabic service. 

The use of shortwave was suspended in April 1996, though it may have resumed at some point. In August 2001, the station noted that financial problems had forced it to stop shortwave transmissions "over a year ago". 

Jamming

Israel jammed Al-Quds Radio's signals from soon after it began transmissions in January 1988 and in subsequent years, though there were gaps in the interference, for example between February and July 1989 and between March 1991 and October 1992. 

Jamming then continued into 1993 and 1994.

In July 1994, the new radio station in the West Bank of the Palestinian Authority (which the PFLP-GC opposed) briefly used used one of Al-Quds Radio's frequencies (702 AM) before shifting to a nearby channel (675 AM). 

Later years and end of the story

By the end of the 1990s the station's best days were well behind it. In a sign that its influence had waned, Israel no longer bothered to jam it.

Broadcasts in languages other than Arabic had ceased, as had shortwave transmissions.

In early 1996, station director Fadl Shururu was forced to deny reports that it would be closed, along with other Syria-based Palestinian groups, following progress in peace talks between Damascus and Israel. [6]

The station's financial position worsened and it appealed to listeners to provide financial support to keep the station on the air.

"Regrettably, all we received were emotional letters and telephone calls. We thank them for their sympathy, but this could not provide us with spare parts," the station complained in August 2001. 

That month, Al-Quds Radio started taking commercials as a means of raising revenue, and announced that it would close both its AM transmitters and continue on FM only. It said the move was for "purely financial reasons" though there had been rumours that the Syrian government was putting pressure on the PFLP-GC to close down the station or reduce its output. 

In September 2002, the 702 AM transmitter resumed its previous schedule (daily at 0800-1700 local time). The 630 AM channel remained silent.

I can't find a definitive date for when Al-Quds Radio ceased operations. It appears to have been one of the victims of the Syrian civil war in which the PFLP-GC backed the government side. Daraa, the presumed location of the AM transmitter, was one of the birthplaces of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.

The PFLP-GC is now a very marginal group on the Palestinian political scene.

Notes and sources

Quotes from broadcasts by Al-Quds Radio and Voice of Palestine, and details of transmission schedules and jamming, have been taken from BBC Monitoring's archives. 

Other sources:

[1] Interview with Shururu in the London-based monthly Filastin al-Muslimah, October 1997

[2] Article by Abir Fuad in the Jordanian weekly newspaper Assabeel, 29 March 1994

[3] Report by Ian Black, "West Bank tunes into voice of uprising", The Guardian, 30 January 1988

[4] Report by Charles Richards, "Clandestine radio keeps Israeli forces guessing", The Independent, 22 January 1988 

[5] Location: Al-Quds Radio was initially assumed by observers to have been based in southern Lebanon, possibly because a much less powerful PLO station had been operating from the Ayn al-Hulwah refugee camp near Sidon in southern Syria since 1987. Furthermore, during its test phase in late 1987 Al-Quds Radio had aired songs praising Lebanese Shia leader leader Nabih Berri. 

Mickey Gurdus, Israel Radio's legendary one-man monitoring service, was reported on 1 January 1988, the first day of Al-Quds Radio's regular broadcasts, as saying that the station was transmitting from the Sidon area.

Even though the Israeli authorities must have known within days, if not sooner, that the transmission site was in fact in Syria, the Israeli newspaper Hadashot was still reporting on 12 January that it was "probably broadcasting from southern Lebanon".

It was only on 17 January that Israel Radio reported Gurdus as confirming the location as southern Syria.

[6] Report by Jordanian newspaper Al-Ra'y, 2 February 1996

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

2 comments:

  1. I wonder if there was any significance of the sign-on ID "Turkey in the Straw"? http://jonathanmarks.libsyn.com/mn29011988-aspidistra-lebanon

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  2. Many thanks, Jonathan, for reminding us of that very interesting Media Network report of 29 January 1988, less than a month after Al-Quds Radio started broadcasting.

    As Joop Myers explained in the report, the station aired both Arab and Western music. Reportedly, this even included Madonna.

    According to BBC Monitoring's records, the station played an Egyptian song, "Revolutionaries, Revolutionaries to the End" at the start and end of programming. Presumably, that synthesiser version of "Turkey in the Straw" was played at the very start of transmissions.

    It was also interesting to hear that recording of the English announcer. There was press speculation at the time that she was a native English speaker.

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