By Janessa Gans Wilder
REPORT: ISRAELI AND IRANIAN CITIZEN PEACEMAKERS FINALLY MEET IN ILLINOIS
This report is republished from the Euphrates Newsletter regarding the meeting between Ron Edry and Majid Nowrouzi, citizen peacemakers who have inspired each other but never met, at the Public Affairs Conference 2013 at Principia College in Illinois last month. Janessa Gans-Wilder, founder of the Euphrates Institute, is on the faculty at Principia. Ed.
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I can honestly say I saw history being made last night.
Then just a few days ago, I was contacted by Iranian Majid Nowrouzi, the founder of the Iran Loves Israel campaign, launched as a response to Ronny’s incredible message. It just so happens that Majid and his family were visiting the U.S. and located a few hours away. Could Euphrates arrange a meeting for these two individuals and their families to meet face to face for the first time ever?
Are you kidding me? YES!!
The meeting was electric — both individuals had talked to each other for the past year over Facebook and here they were meeting in person in the U.S. Most amazingly, their kids, who do not speak a word of the same language, were fast friends within two minutes, playing, laughing, giggling incessantly. They didn’t need to be told to like each other. Ronny’s wife, Michal, stared at them in amazement. “Look at this. This is obviously our natural state — to love one another. When does the switch happen where we turn into “adults” and learn to hate and want to be prime ministers and bomb each other?”
To those of us listening to their story, it was amazing to hear Ronny talk about how simple the idea was to post a message of love for Iran, Israel’s arch enemy. “I don’t want to go to war with these people. To kill them, you have to dehumanize them, to hate them, and why would I hate them? I don’t even know them. I can love anyone as a human being.”
Majid recounted how incredulous he was when he first heard of this Israeli guy “who doesn’t hate us, but says he loves us! I had always pictured Israelis as these big soldiers with guns. But here was a very different picture.” He told his wife, “Love must be echoed. We must respond to this message, and so they started the Iran-Loves-Israel campaign. Majid continued that “We don’t need a reason to love each other, but we do need a reason to hate.”
What I loved about yesterday’s encounter is that it shows what’s possible when you get politics out of the way and just let people meet each other face-to-face, human being to human being. These were two families, Iranians and Israelis, who, according to conventional wisdom, should not only hate each other, but should be prepared to go to war any moment and bomb each other. Yet, as these two families showed, what purpose does that serve? What is our reason for hating each other?
What if instead we just met and got to know each other? Isn’t it more fun to laugh and play together and learn together and share messages of love? Ronny pointed out that ordinary citizens have the power and opportunity, especially with today’s social media, to make these connections that our governments are unable to make. His main goal is to see each person in the world making one connection to the so-called “enemy,” and then we might think twice when our governments want to bomb that country. “Wait a second, but I know someone there, and he’s a nice guy. Why are we doing this again?”
Majid said last night, “We’ve had a lot of hate. We know that way. What we need now is love. LOVE is the only answer.”
Ron Edry’s story of how a simple poster and its ripples of influence are changing people’s attitudes in the Middle East and beyond is captured in his TED talk, “Israel and Iran: A Love Story.”