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A rosy Cellcom ad; a depressing response

By now you've probably all seen the Israeli Cellcom commercial that's been making the rounds:

Cellcom commercial. If you're reading this post in an aggregator or via email, click here to watch the ad.

I first read about it at Jewschool last week, where Kung Fu Jew points out that the ad has raised the ire of the Israeli left (and sparked some dark parodies -- the one to which I just linked cuts between the ad and a newscast, meant to suggest that Israel's response to the soccer ball which comes flying over the separation barrier is more air strikes on Gaza.) Kung Fu Jew notes, "I actually think [the ad] is rather benign. I mean, it's not accurate to reality. But it's got the slightest glimmer of hope in it, doesn't it?"

Well...unfortunately, that's debatable, as this story in Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz notes. At the most recent weekly protest against the separation barrier in the West Bank town of Bil'in, a group of Palestinians decided to try to re-enact the video in real life, to see what would happen. They kicked a soccer ball over the fence -- and were immediately met with tear gas grenades:

Again, if you can't see the embedded video, you can click here to watch.

Seriously: one side kicked a soccer ball, the other side threw tear gas. (Can one really wonder why Israel is so often accused of disproportionate response?) For more on the story of how that video was made, I recommend the BBC article Palestinians mock 'bad taste' ad.

I can see where Kung Fu Jew is coming from. My own first inclination was to see the ad through the rose-colored glasses of my hopes for peace and mutual respect between Israelis and Palestinians. Okay, granted, it's an ad about a fictitious soccer game which doesn't actually show any Palestinians -- just Israelis having a good time playing football with their invisible opponents on the other side of the enormous wall -- but leaving aside the literal invisibility of the Arabs and the way that the ad trivializes the separation barrier, there could be something kind of sweet about it... except that the reality of the situation is so incredibly bitter.

Cellcom says that the ad shows the core value of "communication between people" regardless of "religion, race or gender". There's something comical about that assertion, given how badly this particular piece of communication has been received. If that's what they meant to say, they didn't do a great job of saying it. The Hebrew voiceover in the original ad asks, "What do we want, after all, but to have a little fun?" I might posit that it depends on who "we" are. Some versions of "we" probably want an end to the separation barrier which, in the words of Rabbis for Human Rights, "expropriates lands, cuts people off from their fields, divides villages or surrounds them."

The wall's supporters argue that suicide bombing attacks, which had increased significantly during the Al-Aqsa intifada, have reached an all-time low since the wall was built. Its opponents argue that the barrier is an illegal attempt to annex Palestinian land under the guise of security, and that its very existence violates Palestinian human rights. As this report from Israeli human rights organization B'tselem argues:

The construction of the barrier has brought new restrictions on movement for Palestinians living near the Barrier's route, in addition to the widespread restrictions that have been in place since the outbreak of the current intifada. Thousands of Palestinians have difficulty going to their fields and marketing their produce in other areas of the West Bank... In setting the Barrier's route, Israeli officials almost totally ignored the severe infringement of Palestinian human rights. The route was based on extraneous considerations completely unrelated to the security of Israeli citizens. A major aim in setting the route was de facto annexation of land[.]

(My own feelings about the wall have much to do with the experience I had when I toured it last summer with ICAHD.) Given the controversy over the wall's existence, and given the human rights violations documented by organizations like Rabbis for Human Rights, ICAHD, and Machsom Watch, is the Cellcom ad really a brave display of reconciliation, as the Jerusalem Post suggests? Or does it render Palestinians themselves invisible while allowing Israelis to feel jocular about their ability to engage in imaginary football games instead of actually addressing the painful problems at the country's heart?

Maybe this is too much weight to put on an advertisement; maybe there's merit in depicting the kind of rosy coexistence we all yearn for. But from where I sit, an ad which actually showed the two sides meeting to play football would have been a lot more radical... and a reality in which an actual soccer ball kicked over a fence doesn't result in tear gas cannisters would sure be preferable to the one in which we live. Im tirtzu, ayn zo agadah (Herzl's mantra "if you will it, it is no dream")? I wish I could agree.

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