Abie Nathan, the peace activist who made a dramatic solo flight to Egypt and later founded the “Voice of Peace” radio station, died Wednesday. He was 81.
Nathan died at Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital, the hospital said in a statement.
He burst onto the world of Middle East diplomacy in 1966 with his solo flight more than a decade before Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty.
Although he failed in his initial bid to talk peace with the Egyptians, his daredevil escapade won the affection of many Israelis and launched a long and often eccentric one-man crusade to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Over time, he earned a reputation as a maverick peace activist who often took diplomacy into his own hands. He was called a crackpot and a prophet. But many admired the daring of the former Israeli air force fighter pilot as he pounded on Egypt's doors, sailed his pirate radio ship into hostile Middle East waters or risked his life on hunger strikes for peace.
Yossi Sarid, a dovish lawmaker, said Nathan paved the way for Israel's peace movement. “He was ahead of his time, and he did everything himself,” he said.
On hearing of Nathan's death Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement that said: “Abie Nathan loved life, loved mankind and loved peace. He painted Israeli society with a unique shade of humanism and compassion.”
Nathan flew for Israel's national airline and ran an art gallery and restaurant that became the center of Tel Aviv's bohemian life. His American-style diner even helped pioneer the hamburger in Israel.
Convinced that people power could succeed where the diplomats had failed, he ran for parliament in 1965 on a promise to fly his private plane to Cairo and talk peace with the then-Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The voters rejected him, but he flew his private plane “Shalom One” to Port Said anyway. Egyptian authorities treated him courteously and sent him home. The Israeli government disapproved of his unauthorized border crossing but took no action.
Apart from his peace efforts, Nathan flew or shipped emergency supplies to victims of war, earthquakes and famine around the world.