The elevator picked me up on the fifth floor. One moment before its doors shut, four more passangers boarded: a bearded man, his two young children and an older lady wearing a headscarf, possibly his mother or mother-in-law. They conversed in Farsi. The door shut and I was left in a tiny chamber with the Iranian enemy.
The presence of Iranians in the hotel elevator came as no surprise. This was, after all, Yerevan, Armenia, a city known as an attractive destination for Iranian tourists, especially secular ones. Armenia is the only Christian country that borders Iran. It offers Iranians a relaxing respite from the tough Sharia laws, in addition to alcohol, bacon, and a slightly different landscape in which to celebrate the coming Nowruz holiday. Be that as may, being in Iranian company during such tense times stirs a sense of drama in an Israeli heart, and I chose to experiment with it.
The man’s jacket was decorated with a small symbol: three red stripes and a soccer ball. I asked him in English which club this symbol represents, and noted that “my team is also red.” He replied that he has no idea, and asked which is my red team. When I said “Hapoel Tel Aviv,” his eyes seemed to light up. “Are they doing well this year?” he asked.
“Very well,” I found myself stuttering in surprise, “They just beat Maccabi Haifa 4-1 last night.” I am not actually a fan of Hapoel nor of any team, and mentioned a red team simply in order to spark the conversation. I hardly follow soccer and just overheard other Israelis speaking of the win in the hotel’s dining room at breakfast. Now I was truly glad I had. The Iranian smiled.
“I hope there will be peace among us and not war,” I said.
“So do I,” he replied.
The elevator arrived at the ground floor and we each went our own way, perhaps each toward our own death, depending on Ehud Barak’s whims.
Upon returning to Israel I learned that no Armenian elevators are necessary to break the walls of anonymity, so precious for warmongering leaders, or to converse with Iranians as human beings. An Israeli anti-war campaign (“Iranians, we love you”) took Facebook by storm and was met with the response of a similar Iranian campaign (“Israelis, we love you”). The fact the neither nation is interested in war enjoys solid proof. Recent polls show that 65 percent of Israelis oppose a preemptive strike on Iran, while in Tehran even politicians refrain from discussing the option of attacking us (besides perhaps Ahmadinejad, whose mandate for decision-making is highly limited).
This is the time to say something extremely elementary, which for some reason we tend to forget: wars are bad. They are really awful, no matter the excuses employed to declare them. Declaring wars always seems like a good idea in the moment, but it is one that inevitably leads to deep regret. There is, indeed, a strong argument in favor of this war: a nuclear Iran will change the face of the Middle East. That is certain, but assuming that a war now will prevent a “worse war” in the future is unrealistic.
If anything, history proves that two nuclear powers are drawn not to active war but to a cold war – an arms race in which potential violence ends up largely replacing violence on the ground. Such was the case when the United States and Soviet Union faced off; such is the case between Pakistan and India today.
The risk of Iran using nuclear power against Israel is minute, not only because it would be akin to suicide on its part – since Israel has been developing nukes for decades already – but also because the grand reasoning for attacking Israel would be its treatment of the Palestinians. The holy land is a tiny territory in which Israelis and Palestinians live in great proximity to each other. Nuking Israel would mean murdering countless Palestinians and contaminating the glorified land of Palestine for decades to come.
Israeli pro-war propaganda often quotes Ahmadinejad’s statements concerning “an end to Israel.” These are entirely misunderstood by the Israeli public. In Ahmadinejad’s terminology, this territory is “Palestine.” the “Israel” he wishes to destroy is a political entity, and political entities are not destroyed by nuclear warheads.
I am glad Ehud Barak wishes to watch missiles flying across monitors. It is for this reason that video games were invented. I am glad that pro-Netanyahu journalist Amos Regev can put together a call to arms to match that of Henry V at Agincourt, but what we need today is sensible thinking, rather than dangerous sword-smithing, and we are not alone: While the leaders – particularly Israel’s leaders – prefer war over any other option, and fuel a sense of panic, which draws attention away from their corruption, citizens of both countries insist that an alternative exists.
I prefer to listen to peace-loving Iranians and Israelis rather than to warmongering Iranians and Israelis. Thank goodness that the age of Facebook allows us to hear each other and communicate in such a way. The more we experience the humanity of the other side and its fear of war, the more determined we will be to oppose the disaster brewed for us by our misled chiefs, and to focus on the true objective: a future away game beteen Maccabi Haifa and F.C. Persepolis, with green jerseys taking the lead over red ones this time around.
(This post was originally published in Hebrew as part of my weekly column in the Isreali website “Mako”)