Monday, 22 July. 2024
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

'Preposterous' is almost too mild a word to describe the new Cellcom commercial that many Palestinians and Israelis alike are calling for to be pulled. The advert portrays an Israeli army jeep patrolling near the West Bank separation wall when a soccer ball suddenly flies over from the other "Palestinian side", hitting the hood of the jeep. For the first brief moment after the boom of the ball-on-jeep impact, the soldiers go into combat-mode, a hint of fear sweeping over their faces, fingers on triggers. Jumping out of the vehicle, the soldiers first hold still in caution, not knowing what to expect from the "other side," the commander clearly waving his hand to stay his troops. The final decision is to kick the ball over the wall to the other side (the players who, of course, are never shown). A "game of soccer" ensues between the two sides after one Israeli soldier calls some of his army buddies (on his Cellcom cell phone obviously) to join the game. The catchphrase of the commercial? "After all, what are we all after? Just a little fun."

It is no wonder so many groups – including one on the popular social network Facebook, has demanded that the Israeli mobile phone company cancel the advertisement. There are almost too many offensive and insulting aspects of the commercial to tick off. For starters, the idea that the separation wall can double as a volleyball net of sorts, undercuts and belittles the actual purpose and impact of this hideous structure.

Then, take the fact that the commercial reinforces stereotypes right from the get-go. The Palestinians are never seen, perpetuating the idea that "they" are too horrible or too dangerous to engage face to face. One only has to look at the soldiers' initial reaction to the soccer ball loudly bouncing off the jeep's hood to reveal the great divide between the two peoples. The Israelis are scared – perhaps thinking a Molotov Cocktail has been thrown at them, or at best, a rock. In any case, this is the way the bulk of Israelis perceive Palestinians, isn't it?

But then, the most dangerous part of all comes. Deciding to be "nice and playful" soldiers, they kick the ball back, hardly thinking the Palestinians will volley it right over again. Some may wonder why the elusive Palestinians do not come over on their own to retrieve their ball. Simple. According to the rules of this game, if they try to cross, jump over or in any way surpass the cement edifice they will be shot on the spot (or at best, arrested) for illegally entering "Israeli" territory.

This point opens yet another can of worms. Given that the wall, which Israel claims was built to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israeli cities, actually cuts into approximately 40 percent of the West Bank in areas that are conveniently adjacent to illegal Jewish settlements, the wall in this commercial just may be between Palestinian and Palestinian territory and not Israeli at all.

The soldiers in the commercial call up "reinforcements", including attractive young women soldiers to cheer the men on. As the ball goes back and forth, so do the laughs and pats on the backs between Israel's occupying soldiers. Then the line, "After all, what are we all after? Just a little fun."

Actually, no. If anything, the Palestinian "ghosts" on the other side of the wall would much rather find a way to tear down that wall than kick their ball back and forth with an army whose presence there has one purpose and one purpose only – to oppress and occupy their entire people. What Cellcom tried to portray – in poor taste, it should be added – was that this oppressive, imposing and discriminatory wall, can be viewed in no different of a light than say a volleyball net on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv. That "neighbors" could be "neighborly" if they chose, even when one is an occupied people not allowed to freely move a few hundred meters around a cement wall to find their ball, and the others is a heavily armed, militarily superior occupying army that protects this wall and the illegal settlers behind it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Palestinians (and conscientious Israelis) find nothing amusing about this advertisement. The separation wall, which has caused considerable everyday suffering to Palestinians not to mention its long term purpose of grabbing as much Palestinian land as possible, is nothing to make light of. Coincidently (or not), the commercial's release coincided with the fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice's ruling on the illegality of the separation wall in July, 2004. Cellcom's commercial not only belittled the wall's impact on the Palestinians, it gave it an image of 'normalcy' and, most importantly one of a benign nature, which it is clearly not.

If anything positive comes of this, it hopefully will be the opposite of what Cellcom intended. Instead of portraying the Israeli army as playful and kind and the wall as an instrument of entertainment between two warring neighbors, perhaps the feedback from all those who feel so strongly against the advert will educate those ignorant minds that Israel's separation wall is no laughing matter.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org.

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