Cre­at­ing love across con­flict zones, with Face­book’s help

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - LAU­REN KRAMER PA­CIFIC COR­RE­SPON­DENT, VAN­COU­VER

When Is­raeli graphic de­signer Ronny Edry cre­ated a Face­book page called Is­rael Loves Iran in 2012, he had no idea the wide-rang­ing im­pact the ges­ture would have.

Five years later he’s helped in­spire un­prece­dented com­mu­ni­ca­tion, con­ver­sa­tion and un­der­stand­ing be­tween cit­i­zens of these two coun­tries. His Face­book page has also en­cour­aged other so­cial me­dia users to cre­ate pages of their own, in­clud­ing Amer­ica Loves Iraq, Turkey Loves Ar­me­nia and many more that foster con­nec­tion be­tween peo­ple in var­i­ous con­flict zones around the world.

Jou­jou Os­man was moved when she first en­coun­tered Edry’s Face­book page. The daugh­ter of a Pales­tinian refugee, Os­man, 34, lives in Mu­nich, where she man­ages the Peace Fac­tory, a so­cial on­line move­ment that con­nects peo­ple in the Mid­dle East.

“It was the first time I saw peo­ple from Is­rael and Arab coun­tries com­mu­ni­cat­ing,” she said. She reached out to Edry, 46, and the two formed a bond. She also cre­ated the Face­book page Pales­tine Loves Is­rael.

Os­man and Edry were in Van­cou­ver for four days ear­lier this month for pre­sen­ta­tions at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and King David High School on the im­pact of their Face­book pages and the var­i­ous di­a­logues they’ve helped cre­ate be­tween thou­sands of Face­book users all over the world.

They were spon­sored by a group called Ac­tive Com­mu­nity Di­a­logue, a UBC stu­dent ini­tia­tive that brings groups to­gether.

That’s a chal­leng­ing feat in it­self, said Rabbi Philip Breg­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Hil­lel BC. “Di­a­logue is a huge prob­lem to­day and just to get dif­fer­ent groups to sit and talk to each other is so dif­fi­cult,” he said. “There are many Asian groups on cam­pus that don’t talk to each other, so what these two in­di­vid­u­als are do­ing is in­cred­i­ble!”

The Face­book pages and the di­a­logues they’ve cre­ated be­tween peo­ple of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties have helped to hu­man­ize con­flict and re­mind those in­volved how much they have in com­mon. “The con­ver­sa­tions can lead to high emo­tions be­cause once you see some­one as a per­son rather than an en­emy, your per­cep­tion changes,” Os­man said. “You re­al­ize your en­emy is also suf­fer­ing the trauma of war, ex­pul­sion and the pain of los­ing fam­ily mem­bers to ter­ror, and af­ter that, you’re com­pletely un­able to hate the other side. Sure, you re­al­ize there’s a con­flict go­ing on, but you can­not hate the whole peo­ple.”

Edry and oth­ers in charge of their re­spec­tive Face­book pages put peo­ple from dif­fer­ent sides of con­flict zones into Face­book chats, ask them to con­verse for a week, then check back to see how they’re do­ing.

Dur­ing his time in Van­cou­ver, Edry de­scribed meet­ing UBC’S se­cu­rity di­rec­tor, an Ira­nian who was part of one of these projects on the Is­rael Loves Iran Face­book page. “We’d con­nected him to an Is­raeli wo­man on­line through the page, and he men­tioned he’s still con­nected with her, long af­ter that first in­tro­duc­tion,” he said.

Os­man de­scribed the plight of a young Pales­tinian who was vis­it­ing the Pales­tine Loves Is­rael Face­book page in 2014, dur­ing the war in Gaza, full of anger and de­spair.

“His neigh­bour­hood was be­ing bombed by Is­rael, and he was reach­ing out to Is­raelis ask­ing why they hate him so much,” she re­called. “In an hour, he made 50 friends from Is­rael and one of them, a coun­sel­lor, helped change his life. He wanted to study medicine, but had never left Gaza be­fore. She en­cour­aged him, helped him fill out ap­pli­ca­tion forms, and he’s now study­ing medicine in Alexan­dria. Things like that hap­pen on these pages that would not have hap­pened oth­er­wise, and it’s beau­ti­ful to see.”

Edry’s Face­book page has 120,000 mem­bers and its page views range be­tween 250,000 and two mil­lion each week.

“A lot of peo­ple come to get hope, be­cause this is a place where you can talk and have ac­cess to ‘the other side,’” he said. “Face­book is a tool our users are uti­liz­ing to reach out, con­nect and tra­verse real po­lit­i­cal and land bar­ri­ers so they can talk to peo­ple they would never or­di­nar­ily meet. Our pages are all about peace, not ar­gu­ing.”

Their pur­pose, added Os­man, is di­a­logue. “Some­times we have to defuse ar­gu­ments when peo­ple get nasty, or we have to delete or ban peo­ple from the page, but most of the time peo­ple are dis­cussing, which is en­cour­aged. We don’t have a lot of haters.”

In the course of fa­cil­i­tat­ing dis­cus­sions on her Face­book page, Os­man said she’s seen how cru­cial it is to ad­dress and ac­knowl­edge trauma on both sides of a con­flict. “Of­ten it’s hard to ac­knowl­edge each other’s trauma, be­cause we’re so con­sumed by our own. But when you rec­og­nize the trauma of the other side, ev­ery­thing changes, and it in­flu­ences your view on the con­flict.”

Ronny Edry and Jou­jou Os­man

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