by NERI ZILBER
Netroots effort launched by Tel Aviv couple inspires thousands.
Meet Ronny Edry: an Israeli graphic designer, husband, father of two, and as of a few days ago, friend of the Iranian people. Edry, 41, and his wife, Michal Tamir, 35, are the Israelis responsible for the recent online initiative titled simply, “Iranians, We Love You.”Late last week, Ronny created a digital poster with this message, and added this line: “We will never bomb your country.” The backdrop includes a photo of Ronny holding his five-year-old daughter, Ella, who herself holds a small Israeli flag. He posted the image on the Facebook page of the design preparatory school, Pushpin Mehina, that he runs with his wife in Tel Aviv.
With “loose talk” of war between Israel and Iran gaining momentum, the poster struck a nerve among Israelis. Many began sending in their own pictures, creating more posters that they then shared on Facebook. Messages of support poured in. And then Iranians themselves began responding, first in private messages to Ronny and Michal, and then with their own posters, with their own words of peace and love for Israelis.
It’s impossible to count the hundreds of posters that have been shared on Facebook and the thousands of messages that have been exchanged between Israelis and Iranians in just the last few days. This past weekend, as I sat with the couple, messages and friend requests from all over the world streamed in to their inbox, dozens every half hour.
“This is a message by the people to the people,” Ronny explained to me. “We don’t want war. No matter what the governments are saying, on both sides, we are against it, since we will be the ones fighting it…. I think it is important that we raise our voices.”
Raising your voice is easier these days, especially via social media. “We can undercut the middle man, the politicians,” Ronny said. “I’m not addressing Ahmadinejad. Today we can reach Iran and they can reach us.”
Nevertheless, both Michal and Ronny are still amazed that their message got to “the other side” so quickly. Michal is calling it the fall of the second Berlin Wall. “We’re breaking borders and states of mind, breaking out of this cage called ‘Israel.'”
“We physically can’t go” to Iran, she added, “but our message of love is there, faster than any ambassador.”
“I have hundreds of Iranian [Facebook] friends now,” Ronny interjected with a smile. “I’m probably the Israeli with the most Iranian friends.”Some of the comments from Israelis, especially in the first day, were skeptical and more than a few were scathing. Some called them bleeding-heart leftists, out-of-touch Tel Avivites, friends of the enemy, Israel haters. Others criticized their choice of words.
“They asked us, Why did you choose to say, ‘We will never bomb you’? Why not ‘We don’t want to bomb you’? Because the logical response would be ‘We don’t want to bomb you, but we have to,'” Ronny explained. “I didn’t want to come out with half-measures. I’m not the prime minister. I’m not a politician. As a citizen, I will never bomb Iranians.”
The direct message of love at the bottom of the posters, moreover, was meant to be pointed. Ronny and Michal are mindful that the first step to war is the demonization and dehumanization of the other side. “The message is human beings loving each other, as human beings,” Michal explained to me. “Iranians see all these Israeli faces and say, ‘Hey, that’s what an Israeli looks like!'”
“Everyone’s against war, and for peace,” Ronny and Michal said, feeding off each other’s energy, often finishing each other’s sentences. “It’s much harder to say ‘I love you.’ Think about it — it’s the hardest thing for a human being to say…it’s the fear of rejection, of looking like a fool. But they really do love us back.”
The letter Ronny attached to his original online poster spelled out this simple, powerful idea: “For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you. I don’t even know you. No Iranian ever did me no harm. I never even met an Iranian…. Just one in Paris in a museum. Nice dude.”
Deep into the first night, after the initial posters began circulating around Facebook, Ronny received the first message from an Iranian. He said he got goosebumps all over his body and almost started crying. “I went immediately to wake up Michal, to show her,” Ronny recounts. “I thought it was so amazing. I had no idea that others would follow.”To say that other Iranians followed is an understatement. The messages being received in Israel, which Ronny and Michal repost via the Pushpin Mehina page, are remarkable for the simple humanity they convey. You can pick any at random, from Toronto, New York, Sydney, Tehran, and beyond — every one, without exception, is heartfelt and touching:
I am an Iranian lady. I just saw your warm and beautiful message to my country mates. Reading your message brought tears to my eyes and warmness to my heart. Just wanted to ensure you, we all Iranians feel the same, we just want peace and beauty on the earth, we hate war and slaughter, we all are the parts of one body…
A friend of mine shared your message on her wall and I assure you, it made my day! As an Iranian, a very dark and evil picture of Israel has been portrayed for me ever since I was a child & I think it has been the same for your people…. We both are the victims of our governments, we both are human beings seeking a better life, trying to make a better world.
I wanted to let you know that your message of love and peace has come through. Looking at all the photos on your wall brought tears to my eyes. Let us not allow our governments hold us back from knowing each other. I dream of a day that you and I will be able to meet in Tel Aviv or Tehran and catch up on all that has been kept back for so long. I sincerely believe, that day will come. TO PEOPLE OF ISRAEL: WE LOVE YOU, TOO!
Ronny and Michal are acutely aware of the risks taken by their new Iranian friends. The couple has received messages explaining the political and security dangers of communicating with Israelis, especially for those living in Iran. While the majority of communications have come from Iranians in exile, which is hardly free of danger, others are emanating from inside the country. The fact that many Iranians are reaching out at grave personal risk gives Michal, Ronny, and the Israelis on the other side added motivation — to continue speaking out, to continue spreading the message.As of this writing, the viral campaign has exploded on Facebook and elsewhere across the Internet. The next step for the couple is to raise money and buy up advertising space in prominent international newspapers and locales (think New York’s Times Square) to display the posters.
It’s impossible to know whether the campaign will actually make a difference, whether it will succeed in preventing a disastrous war. For Ronny and Michal and the thousands of regular Israelis and Iranians who have spread this message of mutual love and common humanity, at least they will know they tried.
Neri Zilber is an Institute of Current World Affairs writing fellow based in Israel. Second poster, featuring Iranian Green Movement protester, from the Love and Peace Facebook page found here.
Copyright © 2012Tehran Bureau