In Israel, Emiratis and Moroccans check out tech and forge ties

July 04, 2021

By Jake Epstein

Twenty young Israelis, Emiratis, Bahrainis and Moroccans met in person in Israel last month, as they kicked off a weeklong tour of the country that included visits to innovation hubs and cultural and historic sites in a bid to celebrate last year’s Abraham Accords and growing normalization ties between Israel and the Arab world.

Dubbed “Leaders of Tomorrow mission to Israel,” the tour was spearheaded by Israel-is, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit organization founded in 2017 to connect young Israelis with their international peers in the hope of strengthening coexistence in the Middle East. For the project, Israel-is partnered with Concert — Together for Israel and the Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy.

Eyal Biram, founder and CEO of Israel-is, said the goal of the trip was to support the recent normalization agreements by boosting a connection between youths from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.

Israel signed the Abraham Accords last year, normalizing ties with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco and sparking a flurry of business and cultural ties between the nations. Last week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid officially inaugurated Israel’s embassy in the UAE, hailing the “historic moment.”

“If we want to start and build our shared future, we have to understand that we are coming from a shared past,” Biram said, referring to the biblical Abraham, the joint ancestor of Jews and Muslims.

Biram said the trip also aims to highlight youth leadership, and is hopeful that participants will return to their home countries and advocate for new normalization support groups that mirror Israel-is, alongside the newly set up UAE-is.

The process of creating similar groups in Morocco and Bahrain is underway, he said.

The trip focused attention on Israel’s booming tech and innovation ecosystem, with visits to medical laboratories at Bar-Ilan University and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation to learn about the past and future of the so-called Startup Nation.

Also included in the itinerary was a stop at the high-tech company Matrix, a pioneer in the integration of ultra-Orthodox women into the workforce, and meetings with a variety of local startups. Biram said introducing the innovation theme to the tour’s participants was a central part of the overall experience.

Saoud Saqer, an Emirati tour participant and a youth empowerment leader back in Dubai, said that before the trip he knew very little of Israel’s tech scene, and was impressed by the scope of the various innovation hubs he’s seen. He is hopeful to have similar startups take shape back in the UAE.

Beyond the tech ecosystem, there were cultural, historic and culinary visits to the Negev Desert; a yeshiva, to experience the study of traditional religious texts; System Ali House, a place for pioneering artists who want to promote social and political change; Shalva Center, which provides services for people with disabilities; an Ethiopian-Israeli heritage center; the Temple Mount; and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem.

Saqer highlighted the in-person component of the tour, cherishing the fresh face-to-face interactions after so many virtual meetings between Israelis and Emiratis. He said that he found a handful of similarities between the UAE and Israel, specifically the food and terrain.

He said it’s important for participants to build upon their experiences from the tour and create a tangible connection across borders to strengthen the foundation built by last year’s normalization deals.

Relationships between the countries “will not be just talking and meetings, it will be actual work that can be applied both in the UAE and in Israel,” Saqer said.


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