Regardless of how much demonizing goes on, regardless of how many times one reads that the “other” is evil, bloodthirsty and may be committed to terrorism, people’s compassion comes through at moments like this, and here it did not fail.
YAZD, IRAN — As I looked at the two hundred or so young cadets sitting on the floor of the prayer hall, all I could think of were my two boys, Eitan and Doron, who are about the same age as they. The previous day I visited the families of Iranian martyrs, boys who fell during the protracted war between Iran and Iraq. And while giving one’s life in the service of one’s country is often seen as a great honor, I do not share that feeling at all. So all I could say as I began my remarks was that, seeing how they are about the same age as my own boys, I wish for them and their families that they will not be martyrs but return home safe as soon as their service was over.
The Revolutionary Guard base in Yazd is right off the main road. I was informed the night before that I was to deliver a 7:30 a.m. lecture but no details were provided. That morning, as we were driving, I was told that I would need to leave my camera and phone behind because we were entering a military base. Then they told me that I would be speaking in front of cadets of the famed Iranian Revolutionary Guards, known in Iran as the “Sebah.” I entered the prayer hall, accompanied by a translator and several reporters who escorted me throughout the trip, and we were greeted and led to a seat with a microphone. About 10 rows of young men seated 20-across were on the floor with their legs crossed and another hundred or so people in civilian clothes who were seated along the walls of the large hall.
Though I would have expected young cadets in training to be sleepy and restless, they were attentive and well-groomed. Clearly the cream of the crop of Iranian youth and there I was, holding the two identities with whom they may find themselves fighting a deadly war. I made up my mind not to hold back and go all out:
Though I am introduced as an American, and I do reside in the U.S., I am actually not from the U.S. I am an Israeli, son of an Israeli army general, and I too served in the Israeli army.”
I pause for minute to see what will happen. After all, this was the lion’s den and, according to the Israeli and American governments, they are terrorists. The hall was as silent as ever a hall with hundreds of people might be. I continued:
I am here today because I reject Zionism and the State of Israel that was established on stolen Palestinian land, at the expense of Palestinian lives.”
That was not going to be enough, so I had to go on, go deeper:
Change like that I had undergone usually comes as a result of a tragic experience and my case was no different. My perspective and my worldview had changed when three young Palestinians executed a suicide mission in Jerusalem and killed my sister’s 13-year-old daughter.”
It is in situations like this that one’s faith in humanity is restored. Regardless of how much demonizing goes on, regardless of how many times one reads that the other is evil, bloodthirsty and may be committed to terrorism, people’s compassion comes through at moments like this, and here it did not fail.
After I finished my remarks there was time for Q & A and the final question was about a comment Iran’s Supreme Leader made, saying that in 25 years there will be no Israel. They were wondering what I thought of his comment.
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From Revolutionary Guard base to local high school and more good questions
Once we left the base, we were headed to a local high school for another talk. I was unsure what I would say to high school kids, what level of pre-existing knowledge they might have on Palestine. Once again we walk into the prayer hall, this time at the high school, and here close to two hundred students were sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor, about a hundred adults sitting around the perimeter, and chairs and a mic set up at the front. I told the students I was from Jerusalem, Palestine and I asked them what they knew about it.
After a brief pause, one student in the front row raised his hand and gave a brief lecture:
Palestine was a peaceful place, where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived and worshiped together, until it was occupied, and today it is plagued with violence and war.”
That was a good opening for me and I went ahead to tell them my story and the story of Palestine. After I was done, during the Q & A I was asked whether it was true that the Jews came to Palestine and bought land there and then the Palestinians came and took it away. No, I replied it wasn’t like that, I replied; it was the Zionist Jews who came and took the land and the homes from the Palestinians. What did I think of the combination of religion and politics? I think they should be kept as far apart as possible, though I realize that in Iran this is not the case.
Is a “Hitler” needed to free Palestine?
The final question was more of a comment but it required a detailed reply. A tall, good looking young man stood up and said that he thought “Palestine could only be free if there was another Hitler.” The adults sitting around the room were visibly uncomfortable by the insinuation that only Hitler could free Palestine. But this was an opportunity. I know enough to recognize that when a kid in high school tells you what he or she thinks, and you absolutely hate it, this is a golden opportunity.
I reminded the boy of the statement made by the Supreme Leader, that a quarter of a century from now Israel will not exist, and, as I did earlier when asked about this, challenged him and the others to think of what he meant by that? Did he want people to die? Did he want women and children to suffer and become homeless refugees? Of course not. What the Supreme Leader was talking about is ending the cruel, racist Zionist regime that exists in Palestine today and seeing it replaced by a state where Jews, Christians and Muslims will be free to live and worship together, just as they did before.
With the death of 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic Razan Al-Najjar, it is hard to think of anything else. Her beautiful face looking at us from all the social-media outlets, the videos of her and the interviews are too painful to handle. So where is the connection between the death of this lovely, courageous young Palestinian and Yazd, Iran? The so-called “Iran threat” mantra repeated by Israel ad-nauseum is used in order to divert the world’s attention from the killing fields of Gaza. Unless we are able to see the smoke screen for what it is, to recognize that there is no threat in Iran but rather a peaceful, confident nation and that it is all about Gaza — it is all about Razan and countless, countless others in Gaza — the killing in Gaza will continue uninterrupted because of a concocted, fictional greater threat.
Top Photo | Miko Peled speaking in Iran.
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”