March 2012. Ronny Edry, an Israeli graphic designer, posts a poster on facebook which features him carrying his daughter, the latter holding an Israeli flag. ‘Iran, we will never bomb you, we love you’ is written as a slogan on the poster. The picture goes viral and receives reactions from Iran, in both personal messages and posters over facebook. Edry opens a facebook page: Israel-loves-Iran. In Iran a new group is created: Iran-loves-Israel. For the first time, swathes of people between the two countries are in contact with each other – through pictures, photos, slogans and messages. Eventually the group members travel from all over the world to meet. Today, more than 90,000 people like Edry’s pages and multiple countries have a dedicated ‘love’-page. What are the implications of this facebook activity?
Edry explains how it is through the social network that individuals can become part of a new peace movement, which hopes to offer the people the power to prevent a war – a constant threat for the past 10 years. As a graphic designer, this Israeli more than anyone else, perhaps, understands that the image of the Middle East is now changing. For a few blissful days, it is love and hearts that dominate the Middle Eastern news reporting, not news of war and bombs. Every so many weeks, a new campaign is started, publicizing different slogans. Posters bear texts reaching from, ‘we will never bomb you’ to the more politically aggressive, ‘Not ready to die in your war’. The group that designs the posters is called ‘The Peace Factory’; its recent commissions include flight commercials for the Israeli airline El Al to Teheran.
For me, the most striking of the messages the group spreads is that of the impossibility to hate. On several occasions, and in their promo-movies, the main reason for this is underscored as follows: ‘I never met an Iranian, I don’t hate you … I don’t even know you’. Such a powerful slogan, surely, puts into perspective the main reason we must not fight. “Not only am I not prepared to die for a war which was not fought in my name, not only are there Israelis and Iranians who simply want to live in peace and continue their lives, they do not even know each other.” The message is clear: how could anyone justify a war with people they do not know? Whether it is effective, however, is another question entirely.
An Israel-loves-Palestine group exists with less than 2,000 likes. Meanwhile tension between Gaza and Israel not only remains, it seems to have increased in its intensity. I cannot help but ask myself: do Israelis and Palestinians know each other well enough to actually hate each other? Is there too much hate already to spread the love through images of smiling people and warming hearts? Or are the prospects of a war between Israel and Iran more threatening and pressing than the current situation between Palestine and Israel?
Edry stresses that his project is meant to prevent a war, to ‘reach the other side before it is too late’ (TEDx Jaffa 2012). Yet clearly the conflict between Palestinians and Israel is not avoidable, and has not been for many years. Opposition movements to the Israel-loves-Palestine campaign – who use similar poster strategies – focus on the violence of the Israeli army above all else. This, if anything, is evidence for the possible failure of this initiative.
On the other hand, the Israel-Iran group has made it as far as the parody show Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country). Such publicity is a visible marker of success, for now the group is both recognized as a trend in Israel, and given all the attention it needs (that and the tens of international and pan-Arabic newspapers writing about the movement). Not only Israel, but other main players in the Middle East have been involved in this new initiative. The Facebook-hype of giving power to the voice of the people is a continuing phenomenon and in Iran, especially, the movement has grown stronger in its lending the individual a voice. If at the start of the initiative posters were posted in which faces were still unrecognizable, people now appear full frontal to the camera, and engage with our gaze. More importantly, their names stand defiantly alongside.
So whilst discussions concerning a nuclear war continue on higher political levels (and might still, for another ten years to come), this does not prevent people from all over the world in making their objections clear, not only to their own government, but also to those who would suffer the implications of a such a war. We can only hope their voices will be heard.