by Mabel Grossi
The speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly last week has sparked ironic comments all over the web after he showed a hand-made cartoonish drawing of a red line representing Iran's supposed progress towards nuclear bomb. The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran has been the main focus of Netanyahu's foreign policy in the last year which brought the Israeli government to openly confront the Obama administration regarding a possible joint preventive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. However, this massive campaign against a nuclear-armed Iran has somehow overshadowed crucial national problems affecting Israel such as divisions between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis as well as the growing economic stagnation affecting the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Amidst all this, where are the Palestinians?. Clearly, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has disappeared from the Israeli political agenda, or at least, it is not one of its major priorities.
According to the country's Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel's gross domestic product per capita would fit perfectly into the Western Europe economy. However, since the spark of the Arab Spring in 2011 Israel has been exposed to the chill wind blowing from its neighboring countries and found itself increasingly isolated after its embassy in Cairo was ransacked, its Ambassador to Turkey expelled, while the PA is asking for statehood recognition at the UN. In the summer of 2011 there were many demonstrations across the whole country to protest against the rise of living costs and nearly 500.000 Israelis took to the streets to seek political changes. Moreover, the great importance given to religious studies has led many ultra-Orthodox men to rely on welfare. Steep unemployment and a high birth-rate has fostered poverty among Jewish ultra-Orthodox families. Additionally, the economic stagnation in the OPT will worsen unless foreign aids increases and the Israeli government eases the tight control on development. Eventually, the economic crisis in the OPT will spark demonstrations and violence across the West Bank which might also affect Israel.
However, despite all of these important issues, Bibi's major focus now is how to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear technology. Many Israelis are concerned about a possible war with Iran, and last March hundreds of Israelis marched in Tel Aviv to protest against a possible Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. A recent initiative aimed at preventing a war between Israel and Iran is the “Israel-loves-Iran Facebook campaign” designed and promoted by graphic designer Ronny Edry and it is made of colorful posters with the slogan “we (heart) you. We will never bomb your country”. Edry's initiative is praiseworthy especially in a militarized country as Israel which is not used to express outrage against war.
Yet a recent poll conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs shows that “sixty-five percent of Israeli Jews believe that attacking Iran to stop its nuclear program would be less harmful to Israel than living under the shadow of a nuclear Iran. At the same time, sixty percent agree that only military action can stop Iran’s nuclear program”. So, Iranians cannot be blamed if they are less than comfortable in receiving this barrage of love. Ironically, it sounds like “we (heart) you. But we also want to remind you that we can wipe you out if we just want to”. Importantly, one of the posts shared by the Facebook group is a link to the documentary “The green wave” by Ali Samadi Ahadi- which describes the post-elections protests in 2009 and the Green Movement- suggesting that the Edry's Campaign sees itself as sympathetic with the Green Movement's ambitions of building a free, just and democratic Iran.
However, the “we love you Iranians” attitude is not convincing at all. How can Edry think of a democratic Iran having peaceful talks with Israel when the latter keeps the Palestinians under siege depriving them of basic human rights? As Gideon Levy stated “We have a regime that is no less tyrannical than the ayatollahs' regime: the regime of the officers and the settlers in the territories. But what do we have to do with any of this? In Iran, police disperse demonstrations with violence, they shoot and kill. And what do we do?” Sensibly, Ronny Edry's urgent desire now is to be able to travel to Teheran safely (not with grenades and bombs in a tank) and to sit at a coffee house talking with the local people about football. I wonder why Edry's campaign does not send hearts also to the many Palestinian villages clustered behind the concrete towering wall, facing every day aggressions and humiliations perpetuated by the settlers. He might eventually go to the near Palestinian village of Bil'in and make new friends there, and then they could simply and freely pass the Separation Wall and head to Jerusalem together driving through Jewish-only roads. Perhaps, a sudden realization will come to him: he loves his neighbors as much as he loves the Iranians.
I reckon it is much easier to send pacifist hearts to Iran than to deal with the vexing problems inside Israel. The red line drawn by Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly not only helps to create an unfavorable climate for the development of diplomatic action in the region, it also alters the order of the State's political priorities. It is a way to make the international community turn a blind eye on the expansions of the settlements in the West Bank and the Israeli citizens to pay more taxes for “security” and “defense” actions instead for health and education. That red line is disturbing because it is symptomatic of the total unwillingness of the Israeli government to deal with the peace process with the Palestinians. After all, the Wall is way too high to be reached by Edry's hearts.