Filmmaker Joseph Shamash Tries To Bridge Gap With Iran

Video Documents Desire of Ordinary People for Peace

Video Guy: Joseph Shamash’s online film features on-the-street interviews with Israelis about Iran.
Jeff Handel
Video Guy: Joseph Shamash’s online film features on-the-street interviews with Israelis about Iran.

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published August 25, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
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Were you surprised by how few hard-line, anti-Iran responses you got?

No one said, “Let’s go bomb Iran.” I was looking for that. I was hoping it would be there, because I didn’t want this to be just a fluffy, everyone-loves-peace-and-happiness thing, because that is not the full reality. There are definitely people with hard-line attitudes who exist. But that wasn’t the reaction of the people we asked.

What I was surprised about was that Palestinians feel the threat just as much as Jewish Israelis do. What they were saying is, “If you want to support the Palestinian cause, don’t get a nuclear bomb and bomb Israel, because you’re going to annihilate us at the same time.” It hadn’t registered with me that the Palestinians are very concerned about this, too.

I heard that you were planning to post the video on Hassan Rowhani’s Facebook page. Have you received any response?

We haven’t posted it on his Facebook page yet; we are waiting to finalize the Farsi subtitles. If Iranians can see it, I want them to understand it. It would be really cool if Rowhani saw it.

There are a lot of Persian Israelis in the video. Did you purposely seek them out?

We definitely actively sought out Persian Israelis. I wanted to incorporate the Persian-Israeli narrative…. They have the most legitimate voice in expressing what Iranians are like and what life in Iran is or was.

The thing that came up over and over was this great desire among Persian Jews living in Israel to return to and visit Iran. They were saying how beautiful Iran is, that there are so many amazing and incredible places to see and visit. There’s this intense desire for them to go back to visit family graves, to see places where they grew up, to see old friends, their old school, the scenery. They miss the Persian culture.

I can understand that, because my grandfather, for whom I am named, died when I was 1, and my parents were already living in Texas. My father has not been able to go back to visit the gravesite.

Amazingly, during the filming of the video, I happened to meet an elderly man named Baruch who knew my grandfather. He and my grandfather had been friends and neighbors in Iran, and the man had memories of jumping from roof to roof with him.

You are Jewish, Persian and American. How do you integrate all the parts of your identity?

I am trying to tackle it head-on. For many years of my life, I pushed away one of my identities, whether it was the Jewish one or the Persian one…. Now I realize how rich my background is, and I want to be able to harmonize all elements of that. I have this amazing history and culture of three incredible countries, and all the while there’s an internal struggle and also an external struggle. I have to incorporate my own identity into some of the challenges that are facing us in the world. Part of this film was my three-nation identity trying to come out.

This interview has been edited for length and style.


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