A big component that is helping garner mutual understanding is religion and its place in both societies.
Those saying the Israel-UAE agreement isn’t peace but a business deal don’t know much about the Emirati culture and people. Emiratis would rather negotiate with friends – some say they will only do business with friends. This point is an important one to stress both to sceptics of the Abraham Accords and to Israelis looking to do business in the UAE.
To the sceptics I say, open your eyes. This peace is undeniably people-driven despite it coming at a personal cost to many. Emiratis publicly supporting the Abraham Accords are continuously targeted online while forced to absorb hateful rhetoric and death threats. Those in the spotlight have made one thing clear to me and to their followers – they will not be intimidated.
To Israelis excited about the prospects of business partnerships I will extend a friendly piece of advice – don’t come to the UAE expecting to find an oil well or money tree, you will miss out on the country’s greatest asset, its people, and leave empty handed. Expect the first few meetings of any nature to be introductory meetings. Show genuine curiosity towards your counterparts and their families, and know that once the relationship is established, business will flow naturally.
Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum spent the past week in Dubai celebrating Sukkot with the local Jewish communities (there are already two) and meeting local officials and potential business partners. Hassan-Nahoum says she came with two hats; the first as Deputy Mayor advancing opportunities for the city of Jerusalem, and secondly as co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council which seeks to help connect businesses from both sides. While Hassan-Nahoum visited in a professional capacity, she stressed that her most important objective was “to build an infrastructure for a warm peace” and help establish people to people relations.
“Unlike Israelis who are very transactional, Emiratis want to build relationships and build trust. I as a Sephardi woman very much relate to that, I’m more like them” says Hassan- Nahoum who is a big proponent of Sephardi heritage and Arab-Jewish culture. The Deputy Mayor is looking to position the city of Jerusalem as the epicenter of the Israel-UAE peace deal and is focused on welcoming Muslim tourists to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
A big component that is helping garner mutual understanding is religion and its place in both societies. “Our religions are the same, we are both descendants of Abraham” says Solly Wolf, President of the Dubai JCC who has been living in the UAE for over two decades. While in Israel Judaism is more fragmented, and criticism of government policy surrounding religion is widespread (topics like restrictions on Shabbat, the Rabbinate monopoly on marriage, and Haredi exemptions from military service) in the Emirates Islam seems to be much more united in its belief and practice. Despite the various sects of Judaism in Israel, a uniting force is the value of family best captured by the Shabbat meal.
Friday is a holy day for both Muslims and Jews. In Israel, whether religious or secular, families are known to gather around the table to enjoy each others company, together with an exaggerated amount of food. In the UAE Friday is not just a day for prayer but also ‘family day’ – a full day dedicated to family togetherness which is also practiced around the table with food.
Welcoming the stranger is a core principle of Judaism and also a core features of Muslim societies – it’s part of both people’s DNA. In the past nine days spent in Dubai, I have been invited to multiple family dinners and have left (speechless) bearing gifts to take back home with me. Rabbi Sarna, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates “warned me” about the unparalleled hospitality I will find here, and I can now confirm it personally. Israeli residents and officials like Hassan-Nahoum will have to make sure these gestures are reciprocated when Emiratis arrive to the holy Land.
While Israeli and Emirati passport holders await for word on direct flights and travel requirements, Israelis are advised to start preparing a menu for what I promise will be an unforgettable meal with new friends.
Michal Divon is a New York-based Israeli journalist and TV host, currently working with News12 Networks. She holds a BA in Government, Diplomacy and Strategy from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
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