Not long ago, perhaps less than a decade ago, I was one of those Iranians who viewed the Palestinians as terrorists and opportunists. As somebody who was born and raised in Iran, I can confidently tell you that this view is prevalent; there are many Iranians who viewed, and continue to view, the Palestinians in this way.
Tehran is one of the biggest supporters of the Palestinian Hamas movement, and the same goes for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, and ultimately it is the Iranian government’s support for such organizations that creates this feeling among the Iranian public.
Iran’s state media coverage regarding the Palestinian–Israeli conflict is characterized by propaganda. The Iranian people have not had the opportunity to hear the real story and to view what is happening to the Palestinian people from a moral standpoint. This gives rise to the prevalent view among the Iranian general public of Hamas as an opportunistic group that is coming to Iran for finances and seeking to embroil Tehran into the conflict.
The Iranian public are angered by the regime spending so much money on Hamas and Hezbollah when so many Iranian people themselves are living in poverty. Iranian society respects the principle of helping others, but there are other considerations that must be taken into account.
Iran’s international prestige has been severely damaged by the Islamic Republic’s support of these militias, not to mention the sheer amount of money it has lost.
I could tell you that when I was living in Iran, I was more sympathetic towards the Israelis than the Palestinians. The same goes for many other Iranians I was in contact with in Tehran during this period.
The Iranian public’s knowledge about the Palestinian–Israeli conflict is miniscule; everything the Iranian people know about it comes directly from the regime. This represents Tehran’s interpretation of events, which they put forward to serve their own interests.
However, I ultimately changed my view about the Palestinian–Israeli conflict after I moved from Iran to the US. I studied International Affairs at New York’s Columbia University, and this brought about a change in my assessment of the situation. It’s interesting to see that the prevalent view among intellectual Americans is one of support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel. This support doesn’t have anything to do with Hamas or Fatah, but rather it’s a democratic call for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories and abide by the UN Security Council resolution, which calls for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.
It was in the US that I learnt, and continue to believe, that the Palestinians are not a bunch of terrorists who represent a threat to Israeli peace and stability.
This brings us to the current round of conflict between Israel and Palestine, which has seen more than 1,000 Palestinians killed in the Israeli aggression against Gaza. As I write this op-ed, this conflict is ongoing, with all attempts to reach a lasting ceasefire ending in failure.
I am sure that many people in Iran are heartbroken by the sight of defenseless Palestinian women and children with no place to hide from the Israeli air strikes on Gaza. The one party that seems to be doing everything to bring about a desired ceasefire is US Secretary of State John Kerry, and not the Iranian side, unfortunately.
Speaking in late July, Iranian Supreme Guide Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to call for the West Bank to follow the approach being taken by Hamas in Gaza—namely, to pick up arms and fight Israel. During a speech to university students on July 23, Khamenei said: “Our belief is that the West Bank should be armed like Gaza. Those who love the fate of the Palestinians, if they can do something, this is it. The people there [West Bank] should be armed. The only thing that can uproot the distress of the Palestinians . . .[is] to have the strongest hand. It is to show strength.”
Following Khamenei’s comments, the Iranian, Arab and international media ignited, asking whether it would be better to seek a ceasefire, or fight as Khamenei urged.
Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, truly sought to help the Palestinian people, and some argue that if he were not ousted by the 1979 Islamic revolution, he would have played a major role in ending this conflict. However the Islamic Republic of Iran has a different regional goal than that of the former Iranian monarchy. There has been no communication between Tehran and Tel Aviv; in fact, Iran and Israel are each other’s greatest enemy.
If US President Barack Obama believes so strongly in the diplomatic approach, to the point that he has angered Tel Aviv—one of America’s closest allies—by making up with Iran over the nuclear dossier, then why can’t he enforce peace between Palestine and Israel?
On the other hand, Iran has the financial and military resources to continue supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and play the role of spoiler in the Middle East if they so choose. However, how long will they continue to choose to do so?
Edward Said, one of the greatest Palestinian–American intellectuals of our time, focused on the lack of communication between Washington and the Arab world when dealing with the Palestinian Cause. Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said quotes Said as saying that “the absence of initiative” is “our greatest enemy.”
The Palestinians don’t need more arms, they need more negotiators. Communication is the key.