July 12, 2009 / 7:35 PM / 8 years ago

Israel phone firm's West Bank wall gag fails to amuse

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A television advert for an Israeli cellphone firm showing soldiers playing soccer over the West Bank barrier has sparked cries of bad taste and prompted Arab lawmakers on Sunday to demand it be taken off air.

The jaunty commercial for Israel’s biggest mobile phone company Cellcom makes light of Palestinian suffering and shows how far Israelis fail to understand their neighbors, critics said. The company stood by the ad, however.

It shows a ball falling on an Israeli army jeep from the far side of a towering wall. A game ensues, back and forth with the unseen Palestinians after a soldier dials up “reinforcements,” including two smiling women in uniform, to come and play.

The advertisement made by McCann Erickson, part of U.S. Interpublic Group, ends with the upbeat voiceover: “After all, what are we all after? Just a little fun.”

Since the ad went out last week -- as Palestinians marked the fifth anniversary of a World Court ruling that Israel’s walls and fences in the West Bank were illegal -- some Israelis have taken to blogs and social networking sites to voice dismay.

“Aside from being a great contender for the ‘creepiest ads of all time’, this one-minute ad says a lot about how mainstream Israel likes to see itself and the Palestinians,” journalist Dimi Reider wrote in a blog which concluded most of his fellow Israelis did not understand Palestinians’ rage at the barrier.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament, said he had written to Cellcom demanding it pull the ad: “The barrier separates families and prevents children from reaching schools and clinics,” he told Reuters. “Yet the advertisement presents the barrier as though it were just a garden fence in Tel Aviv.”

“RACIST COMMERCIAL”

Few Palestinians watch the Israeli stations where the advert aired but there was outrage among liberal Israelis on the Web.

A Hebrew-language Facebook group called “I too got nauseous watching the new Cellcom ad” had signed up 218 members. They demanded “take this racist commercial off the air immediately.”

Israeli blogger Ami Kaufman told Reuters: “We see Israeli soldiers playing with ... the people that they are incarcerating behind the wall. But the most grotesque, most disturbing part of this ad is the fact that the Palestinians basically aren’t seen ... They’re like monsters or aliens ... This is the alienation that Israeli society feels toward the Palestinian people.”

Noam Sheizaf, another Israeli journalist and blogger, said it distorted reality: “In reality, if a Palestinian comes close to the fence to return a football ... he is likely to get shot.”

Asked to comment, Cellcom said its “core value is communication between people” regardless of “religion, race or gender.” It said the commercial illustrated the possibility for people of diverse opinions to engage in “mutual entertainment.”

A spokeswoman said it was a coincidence the ad came out so close to last Thursday’s anniversary of the 2004 decision by the World Court that Israel had no right to build hundreds of miles of walls and fences on Palestinian land it took in a 1967 war.

Israel built the barrier with the declared aim of stopping suicide bombers. For Palestinians, it has become one of the most hated symbols of Israeli occupation, a land grab whose course round Jewish settlements would cripple any state they establish.

Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr, Jeffrey Heller and Reuters Television; Editing by Jon Boyle

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