Hours after millions of Iranians had taken to the streets chanting anti-Israel slogans and burning Israeli flags to mark Quds (Jerusalem) Day, an Israeli TV station on Friday evening interviewed an Iranian woman, in Tehran — a fascinating, sometimes surreal conversation, probably unprecedented since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Forty-year-old “Shaharanz,” a middle-class woman whose face was heavily pixelated to protect her identity, started and finished the Farsi-language conversation on Israel’s Channel 2 by wishing the Israeli viewers, in Hebrew, a “Shabbat shalom” — peaceful Sabbath. In between, she cried as she described impoverished Iranians imploring shopkeepers to give them meat and vegetables, and laughed when she recalled trying to get permission from the Iranian authorities to phone a Facebook friend in Israel to offer condolences after his father died.
Plainly, Shaharanz — the report stressed this was not her real name — is no ordinary Teheran resident; very few of them have Facebook friends in Israel, and fewer still would take the risk of speaking to an Israeli television station. Israel and Iran had warm relations until the fall of the Shah, but Iran’s Islamists leaders speak almost daily of the elimination of Israel, and Israel is said to be contemplating an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities to thwart what it is certain is an Iranian bid to attain nuclear weapons.
Shaharanz said most of the people who demonstrated against Israel earlier in the day “have no idea what Quds Day is.” She said people were compelled and paid by the regime to demonstrate.
She and a group of her friends, she said, decided to remain at home. “I am exposed to information from the outside world and talk about things to my friends, but most of the people are ignorant of what’s going on. The regime wants to keep people in the dark,” she said.
There were plenty of people in Tehran, “not simple people,” who didn’t even know there was an earthquake in Iran last week. Local news outlets were simply “full of lies,” she said.
She said the regime was feeding “senseless hatred of Israel” — that officials “go to the villages and talk about Israel” and “people believe what they are told.”
Asked whether people believed Israel would strike, Shaharanz said that the Iranian public was divided into those who consumed news solely from government agencies, who were convinced that Israel was about to attack Iran, and those who got their news from other sources, who thought it wouldn’t.
“Frankly,” she said laughing, “I don’t think many of the people would know what you mean if you asked them about uranium enrichment. They’d have no clue.”
If they anticipate an attack on Iran, she also said, they think it will come from America, not Israel.
The regime did not want war, she said, since it would harm its strategic objectives. But “the authorities” were not being hurt by sanctions; only the ordinary people were. She spoke of people “pleading for a piece of meat” and cried when describing a child who didn’t have the money to pay for vegetables.
More laughter came when she said that Israel “is not on the map” here — and it turned out she meant this literally. A Facebook friend in Israel’s father died and she wanted to phone him to offer condolences. But when she went to the authorities in Tehran to make the call, Israel was not on the list of countries. “They laughed at me. They thought I was playing a joke.”
Asked if she had a message for Israel, she said immediately: “I don’t hate you.” She said the Israeli and Iranian peoples would get along fine if they were allowed to get to know each other, and that “my people’s heads have been filled with nonsense.”