Creating love across conflict zones, with Facebook’s help
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