What would you wish Iran’s new president?

Three American students in Jerusalem ask Israelis and Palestinians to share one wish with Hasan Rouhani, and make a film about it

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Israelis and Palestinians expressed their wishes for Iran's future (photo credit: courtesy)
Israelis and Palestinians expressed their wishes for Iran's future (photo credit: courtesy)

What would you wish Iran’s new President Hasan Rouhani if you had the chance? That surprising question was posed to numerous men and women, young and old, Israeli and Palestinian, in a new short film titled “One Wish for Iran, Love Israel,” produced in Israel and released on Rouhani’s inauguration day, August 4.

Do people in this region even have an opinion on the new Iranian leader? Apparently they do. Wishes ranged from the personal (“God should help you, because we all need this”) to the political (“stop with the uranium”); from those wanting Rouhani to be more secular to those hoping he was religious. But all the wishes, bar none, were deeply compassionate and — perhaps surprisingly — devoid of hate.

Approaching people on the streets of Jerusalem with a black-and-white portrait of Hasan Rouhani can be a daunting task (full disclosure: this writer participated in the production of the film as a translator), but the overwhelming humanity of the answers made filming an eye-opening, often moving experience.

The effect of “One Wish for Iran, Love Israel” is enhanced by the complex, vivid cinematography of Jeff Handel and the mesmerizing spoken word poetry written for the film and recited throughout it by Andrew Lustig.

Director and editor Joseph Shamash said the inspiration for “One Wish for Iran, Love Israel” came from a short film produced in Iran by director Ali Molavi and uploaded to YouTube in February, called “Fifty people one question.”  

“When I saw that video it appealed to the Persian part of my identity, a Jewish boy born in Texas to Iranian parents, a Jewish cowboy. It was a complex identity I’ve always struggled with,” Shamash told The Times of Israel.

But Shamash’s first attempt to emulate Molavi’s film didn’t focus on Iran; rather it asked passersby an open question, as Molavi did: “If you had one wish for today, what would it be?” The result, “One Wish Jerusalem,” filmed in one day at Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda Market and the Damascus Gate over the Passover holiday, garnered over 140,000 views in less than four months.

Shamash hoped that “One Wish for Iran” would do something that “One Wish Jerusalem” did not: engender direct dialogue with Iranians. At the end of the film, the Israeli interviewees express hope that one day they would solve the political issues between the countries “over a cup of coffee.”

“Hopefully, with Iran’s new president Hasan Rouhani, there will be hope for this ‘coffee cup diplomacy,'” Shamash said.

Joseph Shamash, left, prepares a merchant in Bethlehem for his interview (photo credit: courtesy)
Joseph Shamash, left, prepares a merchant in Bethlehem for his interview (photo credit: courtesy)

One day after its launch on YouTube, that may already be happening. A number of viewers from Iran have given the clip its first virtual “thumbs up,” saying the film deeply moved them.

“As an Iranian I am deeply touched by this message full of love!!” wrote one commentator using the name Flitterflummi. “I’d love to hug each and everyone who talks in that video !!!”

Darius Mazdak, a viewer whose avatar is Iran’s pre-revolutionary flag, wrote “from Iran with love. Long live Iran and Israel.”

Shamash said that those positive reactions affirmed what he knew “deep down in his heart” about Iranian attitudes toward Israel and the Jews.

Did anything surprise Shamash during the production of “One Wish for Iran?”  When reviewing the footage at his cousin’s home in Tel Aviv, Shamash was made aware of a sequence in which they, a team of three American Jewish students, were interviewing an Arab garbage collector at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, asking about politics in Iran.

“I was taken aback. I asked my cousin: ‘Is this a good thing, a bad thing, what do you think?'”

“He answered with one word: ‘Interesting.'”

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