NEW YORK - Abraham Gutman, an Israeli Jew, and Dania Darwish, a Syrian-American Muslim, met in a global politics class at Hunter College in New York, and became friends, despite their political differences. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated in July, they were disturbed by the fury they saw on social media.
"We felt like Facebook is becoming more and more hateful, that every comment is more polarizing, and almost all the comments on my Facebook and Twitter feed were very black and white, and strongly worded," Gutman said.
So, early in July, as the conflict in Gaza exploded, he and Darwish started a Facebook and Twitter campaign: Jews & Arabs Refuse to Be Enemies. The idea was simple: post photographs by Jews and Arabs and Muslims who happen to be friends, lovers, spouses - or who just want to send a message of peace.
"We wanted to create a space where people had the same experience we had with each other, that you can disagree, but you can have a debate, and try to be part of a solution in a productive way," he said.
"The campaign was created really just [to] allow people to see people as people, and not the enemy, and not the 'other side,'" Darwish said.
In barely three weeks, the Facebook page has garnered tens of thousands of "likes" and Tweets, with the numbers doubling every few days. There is a photo sent by two girls in Gaza, and by a woman from inside a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv. A group portrait of workers at a bakery in Jaffa, Israel. Like most of those in the photos, they hold hand-written placards saying: Jews & Arabs Refuse to Be Enemies.
There are photos posted by both young and long-married Muslim-Jewish couples, gay and straight, and old friends, like an Israeli bride and her best friend, a Lebanese woman. Photos of families whose children are half Jewish and half Arab, and of adults who grew up in such families. One holds a placard asking, "How can I be the enemy of myself?"
Journalist Sulome Anderson and her boyfriend Jeremy, a business consultant, sent in a photograph of themselves on vacation, kissing. Jeremy was raised an Orthodox Jew and will never forget the deadly bombing of an Israeli bus he witnessed. Anderson is half-Lebanese, and has spent time in Palestinian refugee camps. They often disagree about Middle East politics, but talk it out.
"We obviously come from two very different ends of the spectrum," Jeremy said, "but we realized that we agree that the loss of human life is the key issue here. At the base of it, it's humans committing atrocities against humans, regardless of which side you're talking about."
"And they do that because they don't look at each other as humans, they don't think of this Jew or this Arab as a person that one would marry or date, no, they stop becoming people to each other," Anderson said.
Anderson's father, former Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson, spent seven years as the prisoner of a pre-Hezbollah Shia militia in Lebanon.
"I grew up with a real understanding of the hatred in the Middle East, and the price it takes on just ordinary people living their lives," Anderson said. "My upbringing made me understand that no matter anything bad that might happen to you, you have to look at the people who hurt you as humans, because that's the only way you'll ever understand what they're doing, the only way you'll ever find peace."
Darwish said, "This movement really allows people to confront the deepest feelings they have about the other side. I have a friend who was telling me she saw the page, and had to ask herself, 'Why don't I like this movement, and why is this person my enemy?' This acts as a way for people to confront animosity not with other people, but within themselves."