After Israel visit, Emiratis return to UAE with positive views of Palestinians

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The first Emiratis who traveled to Israel have returned home with positive impressions of Palestinians, contrary to reports of tension between the two peoples following the UAE’s normalization with Israel.

Direct commercial flights between the UAE and Israel began on November 26, allowing Emirati civilians like Ahmad Bin Harib and his friends to travel to Israel for the first time in history.

Harib, who visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, said his group received a warm welcome from both Israelis and Palestinians.

Read more: UAE ‘will never abandon’ Palestinians, senior official says after Israel deal

“Our interactions with the Palestinians were very positive. They welcomed us and greeted us when they knew we were from the UAE. They seemed really happy in meeting us,” Harib said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

“And we were extremely happy in meeting our Palestinian brothers,” he added.

In awe of Al Aqsa

The highlight of Harib’s trip was visiting the third holiest site in Islam, Al Aqsa, located in East Jerusalem. The site has long been the source of conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims due to Jewish claims to the land as the Temple Mount.

“The visit was extremely pleasant and welcoming from the Muslims, Christians, and Jews. I saw firsthand how they all live in unison – in contradiction to what is portrayed by some of the media outlets in the region,” Harib said.

Bader Mubarak, part of a UAE senior delegation who visited Israel in October, said praying in Al Aqsa was “the most elating and breathtaking moment” of his trip.

Mubarak visited the cities of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and Haifa as part of a visit that aimed to discover high-tech innovation and business opportunities in Israel.

“We visited sites as old as history and interacted with Israelis as well as Palestinians. We didn’t encounter any problems nor difficulties while being there,” Mubarak said.

Dissenting voices

However, not all Palestinians have welcomed Emiratis following the UAE’s normalization with Israel.

Last month, a Palestinian guard at the Al Aqsa compound, which includes the Dome of the Rock and five other mosques, harassed a group from the UAE. The video of the incident went viral on social media.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem has also issued a fatwa banning Emiratis from praying at Al Aqsa, which has been condemned by senior Muslim religious leaders around the world.

Emiratis planning their visit

Emiratis like May Al Badi are undeterred by the few hostile Palestinian voices and have plans to travel to Israel in the coming weeks.

A member of the UAE-Israel Business Council, Al Badi has long held a dream to visit Israel and began learning Hebrew last year. She is currently co-authoring a book on Emirati food for kosher households.

“I am planning to go as soon as possible,” Al Badi told Al Arabiya English. “It has always been a dream of mine and I think the Abraham Accords have opened up a lot of opportunities - be it business opportunities, leisure opportunities or tourism opportunities.”

Read more: How the UAE is ‘keeping kosher’ for Jewish tourists after Israel deal

“We are all very excited about this and I cannot wait to visit the country I have always wanted to go to,” she added.

The UAE announced it would normalize relations with Israel on August 13, in exchange for the Israeli government’s suspension of plans to annex Palestinian land.

In September, diplomatic ties were formalized during a signing ceremony of the peace agreement, known as the Abraham Accords, alongside fellow Gulf state Bahrain at the White House.

Since then, relations between the two governments and peoples have progressed at “breakneck speed,” according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including the establishment of a UAE-Israel Business Council and a Hebrew language academy in the UAE.

Israeli delegations and civilians have already started traveling to the UAE, with some being welcomed by Al Badi.

“I have shown them Etihad museum, the Burj Khalifa, and hidden gems such as Emirati restaurants and cafes,” she said.

“As an Emirati, I feel obliged to share knowledge about my country’s culture and history. I can’t wait to be the one who now experiences their culture,” she added.

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