Skyping over troubled borders
(Originally published in Israeli popular newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth”, November 5 2013)
Every day, thousands of Iranians and Israelis speak with each other online. The two of us just finished another Skype conversation. We spoke of plans to drive from Tehran to Tel Aviv using an electric car, of Islam and Judaism, and of the rising prices in the supermarket. More and more cross border conversations like these are taking place online. Our future, Iranians and Israelis, is no longer just in the hands of our governments. Until recently, direct conversations between the citizens of enemy states weren’t possible. If we wanted to “get to know the enemy”, we had to rely on articles published in the local media. Our conversations may still be illegal, in the strictest sense of the law, but nevertheless, the conversations are happening.
Our ability to speak with citizens of a different country, a country we are almost at war with, is changing world politics. In Iran and in Israel, in Pakistan and in India, in Morocco and in Algeria, the people of hostile states – the states are hostile, not necessarily the citizens – are talking to each other. And we, Iranians and Israelis, are at the front of this new world wide conversation. More than any other state in the world, the internet-based connection between Israelis and Iranians carries with it a hugh potential.
Iran and Israel are the countries with the highest percentage of net connected citizens: 40 million in Iran, more than half of them on Facebook, and almost 5 million in Israel, about 4 million of them on Facebook. In Israel, social networks play an important factor in national politics, and the Iranian blogosphere, the third largest in the world, is rich in political debates. The connection between the two is only natural. Using the internet, we can work together in so many fields: Iran has many young scientists, thirsty for international partners. world-class filmmakers. a buzzing technology scene. a diverse local culture with traditions unlike any other in the world. And yes, religious scholars too, doing God’s work. All of them will find surprising yet natural partners for joint projects in the dynamic, exciting Israeli culture, which also combines the religious the secular.
We, Iranians and Israelis, share many similarities: we strive to do great things, entrenched in an ancient and glorious past, fascinated by innovation and still practice old traditions. Our joint history is ancient: 2,500 years ago, under Cyrus the Great, we worked together. So great was our mutual work, that stories of it survived the storms of history, and the strong bond between the Persians and the Jews is favorably mentioned in the Bible in the book of Joshua.
One may dismiss these ideas as keyboard pipe-dreams, but ideas and new bridges that form online are changing the lives of citizens in many countries. After the Arab Spring, where new internet connections played a vital role, the online bridges between Iranians and Israelis may bring about the next big change in the Middle East. This is not an utopian dream, it’s a reality that’s already happening. It’s true that conversations do not always mean mutual understanding. Every day we see Iranians and Israelis quarrel online, writing hateful messages on each other’s facebook walls. Offline, great and powerful forces would prefer that we meet as fighters, not as friends. We, Iranians and Israelis, are at a crossroad. We can work together, or we can work against each other. Our two countries may be headed toward a common catastrophe that would be our own undoing, or we may be able to achieve a new breakthrough. Today, more than most other times in history, it is up to us, the citizens.
Mohammad Mansuryar [Mansouryar], physicist, Karaj, Iran
Yoni Shadmi, lecturer, Haifa, Israel