It is no secret that Iran is Israel’s most dangerous enemy in the Middle East today. But it wasn’t always that way, and many people in both countries still remember and long for the days of warm relations.
Some of those more level-headed Iranians and Israelis got a chance to work and socialize together in Japan over the past week while working as part of their respective nations’ humanitarian aid missions to the ravaged country.
The meeting between the Israelis and Iranians took part in the northern Japan town of Kamaishi, which was devastated by the tsunami that followed last month’s massive earthquake.
A team from Israel’s Zaka victim identification agency had been sent to the town to help pull bodies, and hopefully a few living survivors from the wreckage. They were surprised to find an Iranian aid team also working the location.
“We shook hands and became friends,” ZAKA Chairman and delegation head Yehuda Meshi-Zahav told Israel’s Ynet news portal. “At one point they set up a stand and wanted to hand out food and medicine to the locals. We joined in and there we stood, side by side, handing out food and medicine.”
To make the situation less tense, the Iranians removed their flag from the aid station, and the Israelis reciprocated.
The Zaka team members, all of whom are Orthodox Jews, were concerned at one point that they had offended the Iranians by refusing to drink the tea they were offered for kosher reasons. But all was made well when the Israelis accepted orange juice poured from a closed container instead.
At one point the Iranians reminded the Israelis: “You know we are cousins. The wars and conflicts are between the leaders, but between the people there should be peace. We can’t forget we were close once.”
Israel and Iran enjoyed extremely warm relations up until the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Nevertheless, Meshi-Zahav admitted that at first, the Israelis were somewhat suspicious. “We hesitated a bit because they hugged us so much.”