Even as Arabs and Israelis trade insults and sometimes gunshots, listeners around the Arab world are tuning in to an Israel radio program. Maybe it's in the stars.
Ibrahim Hazboun's horoscope show opens every Friday with a theme of smooth jazz just after a nightly news report on the Voice of Israel's Arabic service that rarely brings listeners good news about prospects for peace.After reading a weekly forecast according to the 12 signs of the zodiac, Hazboun takes international telephone calls in the station's studios in Jerusalem.
"I am a Cancer . . . any chance that I will get married to someone who lives abroad, because I dream of living somewhere else," comes the soft voice of a young Egyptian woman who identifies herself only as Dalal.
"No," Hazboun answers sympathetically after a little pondering. "Your star says you are a domestic person; you cannot live away from your family." Hazboun's advise: stick to Egypt.
For about an hour, Hazboun advises a stream of callers hoping to fathom what the stars have in store.
The large following of his "World of Stars" program is a small sign that the suspicion and even hatred that Arabs and Israelis have felt for each other for decades doesn't affect every issue.
"I, myself, have no political agenda but I think such ways of contacts improve understanding between Arabs and the Israelis," Hazboun, a 50-year-old Israeli Arab, said in a telephone interview.
Along with his staying away from politics, one reason the program succeeds is the absence of competition. Arab radio stations do not air horoscope programs because Islam bans fortunetelling and astrology.
Most of Hazboun's callers are from Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab nations with diplomatic ties and direct telephone links to Israel.
But he says listeners from other countries, such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, travel to Jordan to make calls, in some cases risking the death penalty on charges of contacting an enemy state. Others write to him at a post office box in Switzerland.
Hazboun, a longtime broadcaster with the Arabic service at the Voice of Israel, said he receives about 700 letters every week, some from as far away as Libya and Saudi Arabia.
Most questions he answers relate to travel, love, business and health. Only a few seek political predictions, and Hazboun says he tries to avoid answering these.
He recalls, though, that he did answer questions about the horoscopes of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the state of Israel, noting both were born under the Taurus sign associated with strong personalities.
Israel "has all the characteristics of the Taurus . . . strong and determined and undefeatable," he said.
On Saddam, he told a caller that a Taurus-born man's personality also can be shaped by his upbringing, adding: "So they can be strong, stubborn, aggressive or even brutal."
Hazboun's program began in 1993 after his bosses spotted him advising colleagues on their futures. He has dabbled in astrology for years, saying he even consulted his and his wife's horoscopes before marrying; he calls their marriage "perfect."