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September 13, 2020 1:40 pm

I’m an Orthodox Jewish Woman Who Worked at the UAE Embassy, and I Know Peace Is Easier Than You Think

avatar by Hanna Gerber

Opinion

The national flags of Israel and the United Arab Emirates flutter along a highway following the agreement to formalize ties between the two countries, in Netanya, Israel August 17, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias.

Israeli and American officials arrived last week in the United Arab Emirates on the first commercial flight from the Jewish state to the Gulf kingdom. The historic bilateral normalization agreement announced last month surprised many but not me, a young Orthodox Jewish woman the UAE embassy in Washington, DC, hired last year.

As a high school student with a passion for international affairs, I applied and was accepted for an internship at the embassy last summer. Securing the internship was a dream come true. However, a small part of me was nervous. Would I be prejudged by the embassy staff because of my Orthodox Jewish identity? My internship was met with shock and perplexity by many within my community. Indeed, I myself did not know what to expect when walking into the embassy.

Yet within the first hour of my internship, I realized just how misplaced my concerns had been. The individuals I encountered at the embassy, from Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba on down, were not merely neutral toward Israel and Jews, as I had thought, but were all exceedingly hospitable and excited to work with someone who cared so much about their Jewish heritage. Many showed true curiosity in learning more about the Jewish people, to the extent that I even began teaching an Emirati diplomat conversational Hebrew ‐‐ in exchange, of course, for lessons in Arabic!

At the embassy, there was a profound cultural respect for Israeli and Jewish society. I was constantly approached with questions about Israeli politics and Jewish customs and laws. In my summer at the UAE embassy, I encountered dozens of Emiratis from all sorts of backgrounds, but not a single one had anything negative to say to me about Israel or the Jewish people.

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With that kind of respect, tolerance, and genuine openness in Emirati culture, is it any wonder that a peace deal came to be? Many see the Israel-UAE accord as an outcome of realpolitik interests stemming from tensions with Iran, shared technological capabilities, or the fight against radical Islam. What I saw at my internship at the embassy, however, went beyond practical considerations. It was genuine warmth and a desire for peace, which the recent “advisement” by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi instructing hotels to provide kosher food options clearly reflects.

For years, the media has portrayed Muslim-Jewish relations as strained and tenuous. This historic normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE proves that both sides are eager to move forward. The time has come to cement the reunion of estranged cousins, once and for all, and the UAE has taken bold steps to do so.

Hanna Gerber is a recent graduate of Manhattan High School for Girls and is currently attending a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem.

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