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"We just have to say it out loud: We don't want this war," says Ronny Edry.
Amid the drumbeat of war between Iran and Israel, an Israeli couple has launched an online peace campaign in an effort to reach out to Iranians and say no to a military conflict.

Forty-one-year-old graphic designer Ronny Edry and his partner, 36-year-old Michal Tamir, launched the initiative last week by posting pictures of themselves with their children on a Facebook page with a simple message: "Iranians, we love you. We don't want to bomb your country."

Edry wrote, "To the Iranian people, to all the fathers, mothers, children, brothers, and sisters. For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other. We must hate. I'm not afraid of you. I don't hate you. I don't even know you. No Iranian ever did me harm."

When he sometimes sees "an Iranian" on television talking about war, he wrote, "I'm sure he does not represent all the people of Iran… If you see someone on your TV talking about bombing you… be sure he does not represent all of us. To all those who feel the same, share this message and help it reach the Iranian people."

Virtual 'Boxing Ring'

In an interview with RFE/RL, the couple said their idea was to create a virtual "boxing ring" where, instead of fighting, one opponent would reach out with both hands to "the other side."

Tamir said it didn't take long for the other side to respond with "moving" messages that made her cry.

"In the last 24 hours, Iranians from inside Iran have been posting on the [Facebook page] pictures of their faces, sometimes half a face and sometimes their reflection through mirrors," Tamir says. "They don't want to be exposed. They...upload in the same format, which is: 'Israelis, we will never bomb your country. We love you.' "

Ronny Edry poses with his daughter as part of his "Israel-Loves-Iran" Facebook initiative.
Ronny Edry poses with his daughter as part of his "Israel-Loves-Iran" Facebook initiative.
Facebook users inside Iran are afraid that any open contact with the Jewish state could result in spying charges against them. Iran does not recognize Israel and Iranian citizens are banned from traveling to Israel.

Some of the pictures posted by Iranians appear to be from those living outside the country who are not afraid of reprisal.

The couple, who have since begun a new Facebook page called "Israel Loves Iran," have also launched a blog and say they have received many private messages from Iranians who have asked them not to make their names or profiles public.

'Reunion Of Brothers And Sisters'

One message from a person in Tehran that the couple posted anonymously reads, "Some people said this is start of a friendship between two countries but I say (based on the two countries' history) this is reunion of brothers and sisters who lost each other over time and finally find each other."

WATCH -- Ronny Edry makes his case via YouTube:



Another Iranian woman wrote that she wanted to ensure Israelis that Iranians just want "peace and beauty on the Earth."

"We hate war and slaughter. We all are the parts of one body and it hurts when you see a human suffering, since she or he is a part of your soul," she wrote.

'Say It Out Loud'

Tamil says the page has brought down "a wall" and now people from both sides can communicate directly and bypass politicians.

She says social media has empowered people like her and allowed her to raise her voice against "a war no one wants."

The couple plans to try and raise money to take the campaign beyond Facebook, possibly onto billboards so it can reach a wider audience.

Edry says he hopes it will eventually impact decisionmakers.

"It's our duty as the people to change the minds, to say out loud that we don't want it," Edry says. "For so many years, we are so afraid of just talking and they are saying the war is coming and the Iranians are going to bomb us and the Israelis are going to bomb back and everybody is afraid and waiting and no one says [anything].

"We just have to say it out loud: We don't want this war. Israelis and Iranians we have no beef one with each other."
A woman reads a leaflet at an exhibition marking World AIDS Day in Tehran in 2008. Activists are concerned that the calendar change will mean even less public attention paid to an issue that is already a social taboo in Iran.
The Iranian government body that sets the country's official cultural policy has reportedly removed World AIDS Day from the state calendar.

The move has prompted concern among those fighting the spread of AIDS in the Islamic republic, where the disease is highly stigmatized.

The reputable Iranian daily "Etemad" reported on March 14 that new regulations approved by the Supreme Council of the Revolution permit only occasions "of importance to different layers of the nation" and that strengthen "Iranian national identity" to be included in the official state calendar. Occasions that do not meet those standards are relegated to the calendar's appendix.

The ruling was reportedly approved at a meeting of the council in August 2009 and signed by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who is also the council's chair.

The change, however, appears to have gone unnoticed until "Etemad" broke the news this week. The newspaper claims that the decision was made without the knowledge of or consultation with the Health Ministry.

Hamid Hosseini, the ministry's public relations manager, was quoted as saying officials from his office would ask the Council of the Revolution for an explanation.

"The reason for the elimination is not clear to us," Hosseini said. "If the need for AIDS prevention is not well understood by the council's members, then we need to remind them about it so that the occasion is again included in the calendar."

Not Important In Iran?

In 1988, the United Nations General Assembly declared AIDS to be a global pandemic and established December 1 as a worldwide day of awareness for the disease.

According to official figures released by the Health Ministry, some 23,000 Iranians are infected with HIV/AIDS.

Reza Yaghoubi, a deputy at the Council of Public Culture, another body involved in decision-making about the state calendar, told "Etemad" that that the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country was likely deemed not significant enough for World AIDS Day to be considered generally relevant.

Arash Alaei says the real number of infected Iranians is likely about 100,000.
Arash Alaei says the real number of infected Iranians is likely about 100,000.
Independent experts believe the real number of infected persons is much higher.

Arash Alaei, a pioneering Iranian HIV/AIDS doctor, tells RFE/RL the official figure represents only the number of registered cases of HIV/AIDS. He says the real number of Iranians who are infected is likely about 100,000.

The majority of those infected are said to be drug addicts, and official figures say 70 percent of HIV-positive people contracted the virus through exchanging needles. In recent years, though, the spread of HIV through sexual intercourse has reportedly increased.

Alaei says the removal of the World AIDS Day from the calendar amounts to disregard for human rights. "World AIDS day is included in the national calendars of most countries not because of the number of infected people, but because of the importance of the rights of the people in that country," he adds.

'Not Enough Being Done'

Arash Alaei and his brother Kamiar, who is also an internationally recognized expert in HIV/AIDS prevention, were jailed in Iran in 2008 after being charged with having contacts with "hostile governments."

The two brothers, who were released last year and are now based in the United States, say they are concerned that the calendar change will mean even less public attention paid to an issue that is already a social taboo in Iran.

"This demonstrates that politicians believe AIDS is not an important issue, while 70 percent of Iranian society is younger than 35 years old and is very much at risk of AIDS infection and sexually transmitted diseases," Kamiar Alaei points out.

"No matter how much of an information campaign about this issue there is, it's not enough."

He says many Iranians might not pay attention to the events listed in the appendix of the state calendar, and that many calendars are printed without the appendix included.

AIDS activists within Iran are also said to be critical of the state's decision.

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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