Israelis, Iranians Meet in Berlin to Protest War Speak, Iran Sanctions

Activists from rival countries to hold a joint demonstration against strike on Iran, say sanctions only strengthens regime and call for demilitarization of the Middle East.

Following the success of the love initiative between Israelis and Iranians on Facebook, it's time for a face to face meeting. Israelis and Iranians attending a number of meetings in Berlin the last few weeks, due to produce a first joint demonstration on Saturday.

The purpose of this demonstration is to protest against the voices calling for war, the sanctions imposed on Iran, and in support for a nuclear demilitarization of the Middle East.

The organizers are eight Iranians and 13 Israelis, amongst them left-wing activists Itay Naor and Dana Rothschild. The meetings were not photographed because of concerns for the welfare of the families of the Iranian activists. For this reason, they also use aliases on Facebook.

One of the organizers, 35-year-old scientist Gal Schkolnik, says she was very surprised they did not have any disagreements. "It's amazing. We simply agree over everything. We had some information gaps of each other's politics and history."

The protesters of first Israeli-Iranian rally will assemble in Kreuzberg in Berlin, then making their way to Neukolln, there they will read a joint statement they wrote at the meetings. The statement can be found in the group's website in German, English, Hebrew and Persian. The demonstration's route was chosen for its diverse population, including Israelis, Palestinian and Iranians.

"The reactions are great," says Schkolnik, an active participant in Israeli-Palestinian anti-occupation demonstrations. Schkolnik even sent a message to Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei using the Iranian branch of France Radio.

According to Schkolnik, the local media is not so supportive. "The Germans fear us", she explains, "Israel is a taboo here, a burning potato that everyone ignores, especially after Gunter Grass was lynched. Germans have a primal fear of saying publicly anything negative regarding Israel." As for the public, Schkolnik says reactions are supportive. "People understand that we're protesting against things they don't agree with, like nuclear weapons, oppression, occupation, starvation."

Disappointed, Schkolnik left Israel after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. As a scientist, Schkolnik expertise is the electric fields in proteins. "I am supposed to write me thesis right now, but I am more focused on the protest, it burns in me."

The clear majority among the organizers was female. Arzu, a 30-year-old academic from Tehran, said that "when the issue of attacking Iran rose, we asked ourselves what we can do. The escalation in the debate with Israel is helping the Iranian government because it diverts attention from protests to war."

Arzu also talked explained Germany's part in the issue. "Germany supplies the Iranian regime, for example, with surveillance equipment used to break the resistance. When we heard of the delivery of a German nuclear submarine to Israel, it was too much. We felt we have to do something. We saw that our Israeli friends are dealing with it also, so decided to act together."

"I always had Israeli friends," Arzu said, "but we never cooperated politically. We were surprised when we found that Israelis share a lot of our fears." Arzu heard of the Israeli-Iranian Facebook love campaign, but stresses that "this campaign was not political and did not face hard issues like the need to fight militarization and resist. We thought it was not enough."

Arzu said that the Iranians involved in the initiative are a part of the anti-regime movement in Iran. She adds that the protests in Iran were weakened as a result of the international sanctions aimed at the regime, achieved opposite results.

"Calling off the sanctions is very important to us. Prices rose astronomically. My family has a hard time finding medicine. It is only possible to find some in the black market, which is controlled by Iran's security forces. In fact, they are the primary beneficiaries of the sanctions," he added.

I tell her that the west thinks the sanctions will help to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Arzu explains that the opposition is the one getting hurt and that the unemployed have other things to be worried of than civil rights.

Berlin - Reuters - Archive

"The sanctions will not help to stop a nuclear bomb, considering there is a plan to build one. Both Israeli and Iranian governments portray each other as a dangerous enemy, this way they divert the attention from internal issues. The regimes have to keep us in a state of emergency in order to control us. But I am certain the people will win, one day."

"In both sides," agrees Schkolnik, "there is a regime which ignores the hard lives of its people and uses war calls as a way to strengthen its status and distract public opinion. In Israel, as in Iran, once there is war everyone salute and keep silent."