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‘Israeli ad makes light of separation barrier’

Robert Mackey| New York Times News Blog

14 July 2009

According to Noam Sheizaf, who writes the blog Promised Land from Tel Aviv, “the Israeli blogosphere is boiling” this week with discussion of this new television commercial for Israel’s largest cellphone company, Cellcom, which seems to make the “good fences make good neighbors” argument in favor of the controversial separation barrier being built in and around the West Bank:

In Mr. Sheizaf’s first post on the ad, which depicts Israeli soldiers and unseen Palestinians playing a game with a soccer ball across the barrier, he explained the Hebrew tag line and added his own interpretation of its deeper meaning:

The voice-over in the end goes: “What do we all want? Some fun, that’s all.” And what’s more fun than not seeing the Palestinians around anymore, thanks to the 10 meters high wall?

Mr. Sheizaf, writing that the ad “breaks some records in bad taste, even by Israeli standards,” also pointed to this comment from another Israeli blogger, Dimi Reider, who argued that this kind of fiction matters:

Ads aimed at the general market, like this one, are invaluable time capsules, representing public mood much more faithfully than any art. They can’t afford to affront and lose a single customer – and thus they document not just what a society really is, but what it really thinks itself to be, which can be just as decisive as facts and figures.

Mr. Reider also suggested that “this one minute ad says a lot about how mainstream Israel likes to see itself and the Palestinians,” noting, for instance:

The invisible, too-terrible-to-show-on-prime-time Palestinians, are perfectly happy to play with the people who locked them up (note how the wall bends, creating the impression of a tiny pen instead of a gargantuan project choking up an entire country). We so much so believe they should be happy to play with us that when they don’t return the ball (their ball), we are in every right to indignantly shout, “Nu?!” (”Well?!”)

Reuters reported on Sunday that “Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s Parliament, said he had written to Cellcom demanding it pull the ad.” Mr. Tibi told the news agency: “The advertisement presents the barrier as though it were just a garden fence in Tel Aviv.”

Taking a different view, a blogger at the American Web site Jewlicious calls the ad “cute,” while a reader of that Web site made a convincing case that this effort runs a poor second to this one, for the Israeli satellite company Yes, in the “Most Offensive Israeli Ad Ever” sweepstakes.

On another American blog, Mondoweiss, Adam Horowitz argues that video shot last Friday, documenting a protest against the barrier by Palestinians near the West Bank village of Nilin, shows “how this encounter usually plays out in reality.” This video, produced by the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement — shot by two Israeli activists and a foreign volunteer — shows Palestinians who had cut a section of the barrier in protest being arrested by Israeli security forces:

In an interview with The Lede, one of the three people who shot this video, Sarit Michaeli, who works for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, explained that she was allowed to shoot this video of one of the arrests being made just a few feet in front of her because she informed the security forces, in Hebrew, of her identity.

The second Israeli cameraman to document the clash at the barrier last Friday, an artist named David Reeb, posted more of his video in this edit on his YouTube channel:

Mr. Reeb’s video focuses on another aspect of Israeli-Palestinian relations near the separation barrier — the fact that two members of the Israeli security forces initially took part in the demonstration disguised as protesters.

Protests against the construction of the barrier in Nilin have been going on every Friday for about a year, as my colleague Isabel Kershner reported from the West Bank in March.

At one of those protests an American volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, Tristan Anderson, from Oakland, Calif., was badly wounded when he was hit in the head by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier. The activist group posted this graphic, disturbing video of Mr. Anderson being attended to by medics immediately after being hit during what it said had been “a peaceful demonstration.” As my colleague Ethan Bronner reported in March, a spokeswoman for the Israeli military took issue with that characterization of the protest:

The army spokeswoman said there were about 400 violent demonstrators at the village of Nilin, west of Ramallah, many of them throwing rocks at the troops. The forces shot back, she said, but not with live fire.

Still, no matter who you think is responsible for the violent clashes near the separation barrier in Nilin, the complex reality there, when Israelis and Palestinians actually meet, is very different from the simple fiction Cellcom is selling.