A week ago, fear and hatred seemed to dominate the Middle East. Then, a simple online call for peace turned those sentiments upside down - at least briefly.
The trigger was the Facebook message two Israelis sent to Iranians last Thursday: "We will never bomb your country. We love you." Since then, the website has been swamped with mutual expressions of love and admiration between Israelis and Iranians.
Launched by Roni Edry and his wife Michal Tamir, the initiative was enthusiastically received around the world. It appeared as the main news item on CNN's website and Al Jazeera. The New York Times and the Washington Post reported about it at length, as did media from Sweden to China.
The couple, who runs a small preparatory school for graphic design called Pushpin Mehina, now devote most of their time to their private peace enterprise. They and six friends work shifts in what they call the "situation room," going over hundreds of daily messages from Iranians and posting them on Facebook.
"You want to cry when you read them," says Tamir, trying to put her crying baby to sleep, while her husband is talking to another journalist.
"A little girl who sent us a message that in her school they forced her to trample on Israel's flag. Then when she saw Roni and our daughter it was very difficult for her...Iranians see our page and break down with excitement. They always thought we hated them. The power of this initiative is that it bypasses governments," she says.
An Iranian landscape architect named Majid began an equivalent Iranian initiative, opening a Facebook page called "Iran loves Israel." He says he heard about the Israeli page on a free radio station broadcasting to Iran from Prague, and immediately joined in.
"The responses to the page were extraordinary," says Majid, 34, a father of two. "Don't forget the Internet in Iran is blocked and it's very difficult to surf. I had no reason to think the Israelis were bad people, but in recent days I've found them to be very civilized," he says.
Shaidi Shahin, a young Iranian living in India, filled her Facebook page with expressions of love for Israel. "When I read what the Israeli couple had written," she writes to me, "I started crying."
Michael, an oil engineer from Shiraz, says "it's not a political issue. We only say we like each other, because we have no reason to hate. I've never met an Israeli. But when I found that the value of life in Israel is like in Iran, I realized these were good people."
"We're not naive. It's not like the world will change if we say 'I love you,'" says Tamir. "We're all afraid, but we want to stop a second before it's too late. Can we prevent war? Who knows?"
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