The Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry had been posting images of his work on Facebook for a while. Some times, his friends would click ‘like’. Often as not, though, they wouldn’t and that piece of work would simply disappear into the electronic ether of the social site.
So Edry didn’t have a clue what was about to happen when he uploaded an image of himself holding his little daughter in his arms. The picture was inspired by a conversation he had overheard of two Israelis discussing what would happen if Israel ended up going to war with Iran. One person was adamant that Iran had 10,000 missiles aimed at Israel, whereas the other thought that their country would be hit by 10,000 missiles every single day of a potential war.
So Edry had added a simple text message to the picture of him and his daughter that encapsulated his own sentiments. The message said: ‘Iran, we will never bomb your country. We heart you’.
Having uploaded the picture, Edry went to bed and fell asleep. Ever the light sleeper, he woke up during the night and checked his computer. His Facebook inbox was brimming with messages, some of which were from Iran.
One of the first messages that Edry read was from a woman in Iran who told him about how she had seen the picture and called all out to her family, asking them so come and look. The Iranian woman described how her family, upon seeing the picture of Edry and his daughter and reading the simple message below it, burst out in tears. The message moved Edry, who wasn’t sure what to do next, so he woke his wife and showed her the message.
“Then she started crying and now everybody is crying,” Rony Edry recalled with a little laugh at a TED Talk late in 2012.
Having read the message from Iran, Edry’s wife asked him to do a photo of her holding their son and add a similar message to it. Edry took the picture, uploaded it and from there the whole thing snowballed . Other Israelis, who had seen the two pictures, sent Edry pictures of themselves and asked him to upload them carrying similar messages or made and uploaded their own posters with messages of peace and people from Iran started doing the same.
The images went viral and messages of Israelis hearting Iran and Iranians hearting Israel were joined by similar messages from all around the Middle East and beyond. And the international media picked up on the story, leading to Edry being interviewed by media all around the world.
Today more than two million people visits Edry’s ‘Israel Loves Iran’ group on Facebook every month and since the beginning of the online peace campaign Iranians and Israelis have met up in real life all over the planet after getting to know each other online. The simple image of a father holding his daughter has been a catalyst for dialogue between the people of two nations that have been on the brink of war for more than 30 years.
“”I want to make sure that we don’t have to bomb them. I want to make sure we are talking to them and understanding each other. I discovered Iranians are not the enemy. The ones I’m talking to are good people,” Edry told the New Statesman back in May of 2012.
The remarkable effect of this campaign is highlighted by the fact that it’s impossible to phone Iran from Israel. It also shows how social media can be used to circumnavigate the usual channels of communication, such as the media. The media and the people in power have for years had very solid views of what the main stories and agendas in the Middle East are and how these stories should be told.
And though I’m pretty late in discovering Israel Loves Iran and the story behind it, the campaign is good reminder of the simple fact that is sometimes forgotten when thinking about the Middle East: most people in the Middle East are peaceful and really don’t want to go to war with anyone – not even nations or people whom their media and politicians have been calling the enemy for more than 30 years.
Watch Edry’s 15-minute heart warming TED Talk here: