Israelis, Iranians meet to ‘share love’ on Facebook

[From The Jerusalem Post]

Israelis, Iranians meet to ‘share love’ on Facebook

Few Iranians make it past the censors in the unique people-to-people dialogue forum

By Niv Elis

Israelis may not be allowed to travel to Iran in person, but virtual reality may be the next best thing. In the most recent grassroots attempt to build civil society ties between the two peoples, Israelis and Iranians met Monday in a Facebook forum dubbed “ISRAEL ? IRAN PEACE & LOVE World gathering.”

Having created an online sensation with their online forum called “Israel-Loves-Iran” in recent weeks, 41-year-old Ronny Edri and his 35-year-old partner Michal Tamir organized the event to provide everyday Iranians and Israelis who oppose a war between the two countries a space to interact.

Over six thousand users were invited to join the forum on the “Shaker” software platform, in which participants received avatars that could meet, buy one another “drinks,” and chat with one another.

Well, at least the Israelis could.

Despite a healthy showing from Iranians living abroad or in exile, Iran’s heavy Internet censorship and potential criminal charges meant only a handful of people in Iran could join.

One man who said he was in Tehran, Mohammad Rez O’Zar, explained the difficulty of getting online. “You know Facebook is forbidden here,” he said. “Having an account is a crime.”

Setting aside exultant conversations in line with the forum’s theme (“Guys, we love you” -“We love you too!!!”), some frank words were exchanged in dialogues among the hundreds of forum participants.

Why do you think Ahmadinejad hates us so much?” asked Moshik, an Israeli.

“We have problems with you guys just because of Palestine,” Rez O’Zar responded.

When Moshik replied that “We really want this situation between us and the Palestinians to end,” Rez O’Zar explained that his government constantly tells its people that Israel is the enemy.

When asked whether he thinks Iran should acquire a nuclear weapon, Rez O’Zar replied, “No one should have permission to have a bomb. It is against humanity, in my opinion.”

The online forum follows Saturday’s street protests in Tel Aviv, which turned over 1,000 people out for the first significant anti-Iran-war protest in Israel. The Facebook meet up, organizers said, was a chance to “keep the momentum going.”

Hegzibah, an Iranian living in the United States said “meet-ups like this are helpful for cultural understanding. If we want to make a difference in current policy, we have to share ideas.”

But not everyone believed they could make a difference through the forum’s dialogue. “Unfortunately…the war is/will be run by government…but as you see, one-on-one, people don’t really look for trouble. We just want peace and quiet,” said a user named Gidi.

The sheer novelty of the forum was not lost on its users. “How about that. People don’t have to crawl underneath the ‘Berlin wall’ and get shot at to meet the other side anymore,” said Yair, an Israeli.

A user named Adam told an Iranian in Italy named Mohamad Reza that “We need to find a way to support the people in Iran in fighting against the government.” Mohamad responded, “It will never happen in Iran, in my opinion. Iran is a rich country, and money brings power and power brings too many bad things.”


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