Ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Iranian government has organized anti-Zionist protests on the last Friday of Ramadan, known as Quds Day (‘Jerusalem Day’). The event typically included chants of “down with Israel” and “down with the USA”. This year, however, the government allowed a different kind of anti-Israel protest to be held a few days early – a more peaceful one, organised by opposition activists.

In a very rare move, the interior ministry granted permission for the opposition to hold an independent protest. On July 23, reformists and opposition groups demonstrated in front of the United Nations office in Tehran, expressing their sympathy for Palestinian civilians who had lost their loved ones. This time, according to our Observers, there were no “down with…” slogans.

Several celebrities took part in the protest, including Iranian film director Jafar Pahani, who has won prizes at Cannes and done jail time in his home country, where he has been banned from producing work for the next two decades.

Some of the reformists who took part in this protest also took part in the official protest on Quds Day, but abstained from chanting some of the more violent slogans.

“This is a very important political event in Iran”

Isa Saharkhiz is an independent journalist in Tehran. He spent many years in prison due to his work. He took part in the protest on July 23.

This authorized protest was a very important political event in Iran, and it’s clearly due to the change in government. [Editor’s Note: Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, became president in August 2013]. It’s impossible to imagine this happening under the previous government. Five years ago, during the Green movement period, the opposition tried to take part in Quds Day protest. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi asked their followers to participate in the Quds Day protest, but not to follow the protest’s leaders, who were hardliners. They chanted their own slogans, and wore green clothing. The security forces quickly moved in and arrested them.

This time, lots of different groups and individuals took part, but the main role was played by feminist activists, in particular the ‘Mothers for Peace’. They insisted on the respect for life and peace, which is a far cry from the state’s propaganda on Quds Day.

I believe most Iranians are sick and tired of bloodshed and want a region without any kind of weapons.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ershad Alijani (@ErshadAlijani).