Tuesday, July 14, 2009

israel three, palestinians invisible

Controversy over a TV ad by Cellcom, an Israeli communications company, which seems to make light of the "separation fence" built by Israel on the West Bank. The ad shows a group of Israeli solders on patrol when an object flies over the fence in their direction. At first the soldiers are suspicious but relax when it bounces and turns out to be a soccer ball. Unsure what to do, they decide to kick it back over the fence . . . upon which it returns a second time, they relax further, and an impromptu high-altitude soccer game begins with the (unseen) Palestinians on the other side of the fence. "What do we all want?" asks the voiceover. "Some fun [keif], that's all," adding what appears to be an Arabic expression for emphasis. Israeli Arabs have complained that the ad makes light of the separation fence, while one blogger said it "breaks records in bad taste, even by Israeli standards."

I would have to agree that the ad is in questionable taste and should probably be withdrawn. But I see it as more sad than provocative. The ad seems to me not so much dismissive or hostile as hopelessly naive, expressing a belief that the humanity on both sides will break through despite the seeming hopelessness, and asymmetry, of the current situation. It is significant in that it captures perfectly the attitude of a certain sort of liberal Israeli who, while emotionally sympathetic to the Arabs, doesn't make any particular effort to learn about them or their actual situation and attitudes. It's a little bit like those old Coca Cola commercials bearing the tag line "I'd like to teach the world to sing": except by that point American racial attitudes were already in the process of softening. In the Middle East, they just seem to get harder.


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