So after it has been echoed all over the world (CNN, Al Jazeera, The New York Time), I also want to draw attention to the initiative of a couple of Israeli designers who began a Facebook campaign of love towards the Iranian people. Tel Aviv residents and graphic designers Ronny Edri and his wife, Michal Tamir, started this movement by uploading a poster depicting Edri and his daughter washed in a beautiful white light, topped with the slogan, “Iranians, we will never bomb your country, we ♥ you.”
This simple message unleashed an overwhelming response of virtual love without borders. Within 24 hours, the first messages from Iran started to come through: “Israelis: we love you too”. After one week, hundreds of messages have been sent from Israel, Iran, and elsewhere in the world, and the page has received over 22.000 likes. The intentions of the creator of the page was to “cut across the growing anxiety and fear over the possibility of an Israel-Iran war, and address Iranian citizens directly“. Iranians were initially shocked, because they had always been told that Israelis hated them. A few confess that they started to cry, out of joy and excitement for knowing otherwise. An image of two young people kissing while showing their Israeli and Iranian passports have received thousands of clicks. Finally an Iranian architect named Majid launched an Iranian Facebook page called “Iran loves Israel”, after hearing about the Israeli initiative on a free radio station broadcasting from abroad.
The strength of the message really lies in its straightforwardness and in the amazing power of the images: faces of people – men, women, children – smiling to the other side, the one that the war mongers in both government has stigmatized as enemy. This movement manages to infiltrate some dissidence in the rhetoric of wars and politic, which totally relinquish the human side of a conflict – especially of one which has not existed yet, and whose necessity can be negotiated. It is also an act of courage, especially by the Iranians who live in a regime that can send you to prison for much less than posting a message on the internet. So while the Prime Minister of Israel is working on legitimizing an attack on Iran, citizens can publicly distance themselves by saying: my government does not represent me. And yes: friendship does not need to be approved politically.
It is interesting that most of the people admit to have never met a person from the other country; even Edri says he had only met an Iranian in a museum in Paris (and he called him a “nice dude” – check out his video-message at the bottom of the post). An Iranian residing in Lebanon writes that one day he manged to look across the border with Israel, and what he saw were the same stones, hills and trees he was familiar with on the other side. But he had never seen the face of an ordinary Israeli before this Facebook campaign. “I thought that when you’re constantly surrounded by talk of threats and war, you are so stressed and afraid that you crawl into a sort of shell,” Edri told the national newspaper Haaretz, “So I thought, ‘Why not try to reach the other side; to bypass the generals and see if they really hate me?‘”
Although direct encounters may be rare these days, it must not be forgotten than prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Ayatollah Khomeini cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel, Iran was an ally of Israel, and leaders maintained warm diplomatic relations. In Israel there is also large community of Jews of Iranian descent, who are proud of their Persian identity. Also the success of the Oscar-winning Iranian film “A Separation“, still showing in the major theaters of Israel, has helped humanize the face of Iranians on this side of the world. This all goes to show that the people of the two countries have much more in common than what the government would like to admit.
Will this spontaneous movement change anything in the fate of the two people? Call me naive, but I believe it already has. It certainly won’t bring down governments. Maybe there will be a bomb, but at least it will be “not in my name”. It brought to memory the performances of “Not in My Name“, a protest play against the death penalty by The Living Theater, which have been staged in the Times Square for the last ten years, in days of capital executions. Or the role that Facebook played in the Egyptian revolution last year. Or the countless creative ways people have always found to override governments hate agenda.
Of course, there have also been satirical reactions, as well as the usual army of the what-about-the-Palestinians-then. But the majority of the responses to this message from the people/to the people, has been positive and encouraging, when not euphoric. I believe this campaign is also an opportunity to show the faces of ordinary, peace-loving Israelis, as many intelligent people over the world have been led to think that there is no such a thing.