13 July 2009

Contempt for Humanity: Increasingly Commonplace

Ad Showing West Bank Barrier Angers Palestinians
July 13, 2009

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli cell phone commercial showing soldiers playing football near Israel's West Bank separation barrier has angered Palestinians who say it is in poor taste and exploits their suffering.

The company behind the ad, Cellcom, said that in showing the soldiers kicking a stray ball back and forth across the wall with unseen Palestinians it wanted to send a positive message about communicating beyond barriers.

At least one Israeli peace group agreed, calling the ad "brave." Some Palestinians disagreed.

The commercial, which began airing in Israel this week, shows soldiers patrolling along the barrier's towering concrete slabs. A football hits their patrol jeep, setting off an impromptu game with people on the other side. "What do we want, after all? A bit of fun," a narrator says.

"It is weird and despicable to use the suffering and occupation as a means of advertisement," said Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Erekat said he found the ad "distasteful and sickening."

The Palestinians say the barrier, which runs largely inside the West Bank and leaves about 10 percent of its territory on the Israeli side, serves to sever them from their land, disrupts their lives and cripples their economy. Israel began building the fences and walls that make up the barrier in the midst of a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings targeting Israeli cities, and maintains that it is a crucial security measure.

In a response to the criticism, Cellcom said it did not intend a political message and that its only goal was to "allow a connection between people."

"The goal of the campaign was to get the message across that when people separated by religion, race and gender want to communicate they can, under any circumstances," read a statement from the company. "The campaign has no cynical or hurtful intention and does not take any position."

An Israeli Arab lawmaker called on the company to pull the ad, but the Israeli peace group Peace Now weighed in on Cellcom's side.

"I think the message of this advertisement is that there are people, normal human beings, on the other side of the fence who simply want to play football. For a commercial advertisement it is a brave move and I believe it is welcome," Peace Now's director, Yariv Oppenheimer, told Channel 2 TV.

Cellcom is not the first to make creative use of the barrier. In 2004, the Israeli fashion company Comme il Faut used the cement slabs as a backdrop for a catalog in what it said was an attempt to draw attention to the hardships caused by the barrier.

In the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, which is hemmed in by the barrier, one owner of a seafood restaurant had his menu painted on the wall, saying last year that he was "making something positive out of a negative situation."

Source / AP / New York Times

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