The family we didn't know we had

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Michal Michelle Divon
Michal Michelle Divon

For many Israelis and Emiratis on the 'front lines' of social media, a relationship with the other side started in the virtual space right after the August announcement

By Michal Michelle Divon

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Published: Thu 28 Jan 2021, 5:23 PM

The signing of the Abraham Accords did something no previous peace agreement had accomplished for Israel - it welcomed the Jewish state into the Arab club of nations, accepting its people as an integral part of the Middle East.

It's been called many things, from 'geo-political earthquake', to arms deal, business deal, to political stunt. Whether you think the Abraham Accords were politically, militarily, or strategically motivated, there is one thing no one can ignore - Abraham's children have taken the lead, and the expanding family tree now has a life of its own.

When former US President Donald Trump; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani stood on the White House lawn on September 15, 2020, neither one of the leaders could predict how enthusiastic the people-to-people movement would be. The instant demand for Arabic studies in Israel and Hebrew lessons in the UAE brought new life not only to language schools, but also shed light on a suppressed curiosity that neither side knew they

even had.

For many Israelis and Emiratis on the 'front lines' of social media, a relationship with the other side started in the virtual space right after the August announcement. Eager citizens from both sides took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in order to openly celebrate and connect with the other side. Many of these virtual friendships then turned into cultural, educational & business initiatives that now operate on WhatsApp and Zoom regularly. The most astonishing moment, however, was the first time an in-person gathering was held in Dubai, where participants - complete strangers up until recently, were referring to one another as family.

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Justine Zwerling who founded the UAE-Israel Business Council have already hosted several gatherings in Dubai, the last of which neither could attend due to last minute travel restrictions imposed on those returning to Israel.

Despite Covid-19, the Abraham Accords era has seen at least two Emirati-led delegations visit Israel. The first of which was led by a high-ranking group of Abu Dhabi based Al Dahra executives back in October. The company signed MoUs with Israeli water-from-air-startup Watergen and Israeli irrigation company Netafim.

Israeli travel to the UAE picked up at lightning speed with the country listed 'green' up until recently, allowing Israelis to travel back home without the need to quarantine. During the month of December alone, over 65,000 Israelis visited the UAE according to Ben Gurion airport spokesman. Among them were Israeli delegations participating in GITEX, Israeli singer/songwriter Idan Raichel's who performed at Dubai Opera, a delegation of Israeli Mayors, Peres Center for Peace officials, Israel's ice hockey team who arrived for a friendly match against Dubai, and many tourists driven by intense curiosity to see and experience the intriguing destination.

Thousands of Israelis and diaspora Jews who arrived to the UAE to celebrate Hanukkah described the occasion as historic. For the small Jewish community living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the festival of lights marked the first time in which a Jewish holiday was publicly celebrated and recognised. Hotel lobbies displayed signs wishing visitors a Happy Hanukkah as the sound of Hebrew filled large parts of the city. Emirati guests who joined the candle lighting ceremony were also amazed to see the giant menorah at the base of Burj Khalifa - a site that neither side imagined possible before the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Ever since UAE tourism opened up for Israelis, several new Kosher restaurants and services have been added to the city landscape, and the site of kippa-wearing-visitors in Dubai easily outnumber Tel Aviv during high holidays.

The effects of the Abraham Accords don't stop with Israel-Jewish communities around the world are expressing great interest in visiting and learning about the UAE. Observant Jews who already visited the Emirates say they feel safer walking around with their prayer shawls here, than they do in Europe and even New York.

While Covid-19 has slowed down travel between the two destinations, excitement levels remain high. Israeli tourists are eager to get back in the air and look forward to introducing Emiratis to Israeli culture, cuisine, history, and the family they never knew they had.


Michal Michelle Divon, Senior Editor and Producer, Khaleej Times

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