Israeli cellphone giant Cellcom recently released a new commercial and, I must say, it does not leave anyone feeling indifferent: instead of a sea and sun scene, stars being born or models acting like models, Cellcom has decided to bring the security barrier smack into the middle of our lives, deep in the heart of prime-time TV as part of the backdrop to its most recent commercial broadcasted incessantly on Israeli channels. The ad shows a group of young soldiers on patrol in an IDF jeep along the security barrier when suddenly a soccer ball falls onto their jeep. Startled, the soldiers first suspect a terror attack but after a few moments, a soldier kicks the ball over the barrier onto the Palestinian side. From here, the ad continues with the ball going back and forth over the barrier from the Palestinian to the Israeli side. The moment this ad was broadcast, the Israeli left and senior Palestinian Authority officials rose up to voice their disgust with the commercial which depicts, according to them, the barrier as a positive element around which one can play soccer and have fun. They claim that the IDF soldiers are also portrayed much more positively than is realistic and that the Palestinians themselves remain unseen over the barrier.
I admit, this is hardly a ‘perfect’ commercial reflecting the harsh reality of Palestinian suffering as a result of the barrier; the land grabs, the effective imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians behind a concrete wall. Nonetheless, the security barrier takes center-stage and the ad chose to address one of the most difficult topics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The initial message received from the commercial is that in contradiction to the usual perception attributed to the Palestinians, there are human beings on the other side of the barrier, human beings who also want to have fun and live normal lives. The commercial smashes the continued efforts of various Israeli sources to portray the Palestinians as a people who thrive on hate and whose only goal is the destruction of the state of Israel. In this commercial, the Palestinians are portrayed as partners in a ball game who also seek normal lives and good neighborly relations. The choice to leave the Palestinian side unseen only strengthens the notion that children, families, parents and dreams – immediately forgotten with the construction of the concrete monstrosity – exist on the other side of the wall.
Furthermore, Cellcom’s depiction of the IDF soldiers as normal human beings who are not afraid to have fun playing soccer with “the enemy” is perhaps not a carbon copy of the reality on the ground but it presents a positive model for emulation. The scenes in the ad, as ‘ideals’, display the humanity and respect we all expect to see in IDF soldiers in their daily interaction with the Palestinian people. Even if the commercial alters only slightly the combative, firmly-established Israeli perception of seeing every Arab as as a potential enemy – Amen.
Despite the difficulty of dealing with such a loaded political subject, we must congratulate Cellcom on their courage and their will to break – even temporarily – from the usual on commercial channels and remind us of the ugly reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Perhaps the ad is too subtle, with too good an ending but it’s been a while since we’ve seen such a brave display of yearning for co-existence and a strive for reconciliation between two peoples, all the doings of a private company on prime-time television.