Overcoming despair to keep hope alive as Middle East war breaks out again
By Nadia Nasanovsky
Amid a faltering US-lead peace process, war has broken out again in the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict, and this time even the most fervent peace advocates seem disheartened.
Speaking with Buenosairesherald.com, Ronny Edry, an Israeli graphic designer that became worldwide known in 2012 for his “Israel Loves Iran” campaign cannot hide his despair for this “new cycle of war”. Edry’s advocacy began almost by accident, with a photo of him and his daughter with a message of love that he posted on Facebook, and then turned into a global movement for peace and in a full-fledged organization called the Peace Factory.
Tension between Palestine and Israel has mounted in the past couple of weeks after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens, followed by a revenge murder of a 16-year old Palestinian youth who was burnt alive. The killings led to a surge of violence with rocket launchings into Israel and air strikes in the Gaza strip.
Edry answers the videoconference call from Buenosairesherald.com at his home, in Tel Aviv, in a hot summer night, right after making plans to find refuge for his family in bomb shelters. “Today is a bad day,” he says, unnecessarily apologising for his gloomy mood.
“But it is like this every summer in Israel: it is hot, it is sweaty and it is war, always,” he adds with a bitter laughter.
In times when everyone seems to be calling for revenge and blood, you post a Facebook picture reminding your “friends on the other side of the fence” [referring to the about 500 km-long wall that separates Israel from the Palestines in the West Bank] that you love them. How does that work?
Not so good so far. The situation right now is quite intense. We are in the middle of a cycle of intense violence, you can really feel it from the Arab side but also from the Israeli side.
It is hard, because the minute you say something you have thousands coming after you saying “Are you blind?” or “They’re trying to kill us and you are friends with them?”.
What is your answer to critics? To those who write on your Facebook profile that Israel cannot afford to put down its weapons since it would disappear, for example?
I say there is something in the middle. It is not all black or white. Leaders should make plans for the long run, not just until the next cycle of violence. Every single summer we have a new operation in the Gaza strip. At the moment there are missiles falling, Israel is retaliating on the Gaza strip and it looks that it is gonna get worse.
And this is a cycle that goes over and over again every summer. And after every new cycle, once it is over, with hundreds of deaths on both the Palestine and Israeli side, there is nothing left.
Are you working on any new campaign right now? What’s next in your call for peace?
I am kind of pessimistic today because it has been a bad day, it has been two weeks of bad days really. But I am going to try to get some more pictures online. The least I can do is to try to show people that there is some kind of alternative. I think that on both sides people are just afraid. I think 99% of Israeli and Palestinian just want this to be over.
We keep on working, we have big plans. We are about to launch an online magazine that is about showing the good stuff happening all around the middle east. The idea is to show everyone that there is an alternative to what you see every day on the news.
It is hard to see the bright side but I try to. This is one of the bad days, but it is like this every summer: it is hot, it is sweaty and it is war, always.
It’s been over two years since you started actively campaigning for peace, what have you achieved so far?
We opened a door for people to realize that they’re not alone, that there is someone on the other side. We make connections on the people level. Now it is rather common for Israelis to have friends in Lebanon, Iran, Palestine or Turkey when three years ago it was impossible. That’s the long run, that is, I think, how you change people’s minds. Slowly you show them that we are not that different.
We need the good people to stand up and get out and say something. The only voices [being heard] are the bad voices. We need to make people realize that they can do something, that there is no curse forcing us to be forever at war.
You first started advocating for peace with Iran and later you launched the ‘Israel loves Palestine’ Are there any differences in both cases?
It is way more complicated with the Palestinian campaign because there is so much more tension between the two people, while Israeli and Iranians have nothing against each other, it is only at government level.
It is really more complicated to have Israelis posting pictures of themselves stating ‘We love Palestinians’ because the moment you do that you are almost a traitor. There is no middle ground. You either hate them [Arabs] or you are no longer Israeli.
And it is exactly the same on the Palestinian side, but it is more complicated for them because at least here we are still under a democracy and I can say anything I want on Facebook. For them, it is like a death sentence to state ‘I love Israel’ on Facebook.
How would you describe the general feeling on Israel’s streets these days?
[Political] leaders are tapping on people’s pain to get more votes. Instead of easing down the situation and showing leadership and that they can make the ones responsible for the teens crimes pay and work on a long term solution, they did the opposite: they blamed Hamas, they bombed Gaza and they just started the war that we are having now.
And the same thing happens on the other side. All governments and the Hamas leadership are working on the same direction. It is almost like they were working together, like they had the same agenda, to get us all killed at the end of the day. They just want to kill each other, not a solution.