Seeing history — my journey to the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel

Seeing history — my journey to the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel

Over the past two years, as a native Israeli and now a passionate pro-Israel American, I watched in awe as country after country in the Middle East united in peace with Israel. In September 2020, the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel, and the progress toward peace has been constant ever since. Morocco normalized relations with Israel soon after, in December 2020, and Sudan did so as well in January 2021.

As common interests become clear, the sky is the limit for future solidified partnerships between Israel and her Arab neighbors. As time goes on and ties strengthen, peace will inevitably extend beyond governments to everyday people of different faiths, backgrounds, and cultures. The peace between peoples is already unfolding in the UAE and Bahrain, two places I had the privilege to visit recently on a delegation of leaders representing Development Corporation for Israel, more commonly known as Israel Bonds.

On a personal level, this trip took on great meaning. Though I emigrated from my native Israel to New York at only age two, the Israeli mindset remains within me, and now the family my wife Deena and I share. Beyond the language, culture, food, and traditions, I was raised in a different time, one in which Israel’s neighbors felt hatred toward Jews and Israelis, and we felt distrust in return. Along the way, there were many attempts at creating peace and ending conflict. With limited notable exceptions, these efforts did not create the ultimate peace with Israel’s neighbors that we hoped and prayed for. Our family knows the challenge of war well, as my parents and grandparents lost loved ones in the Holocaust and served in the Israeli army to protect the Jewish state from terror attacks. Growing up in the footsteps of an era of conflict, well aware of Israel’s adversarial neighbors, I could never imagine in a million years that Deena and I would be setting foot in an Arab country, celebrating a new era of peace and partnership.

Our delegation, comprised of passionate individuals from across the U.S., together with representation from Canada and Germany, met with Arab leaders in business, government, and culture, while witnessing firsthand Jewish life in both the UAE and Bahrain. Simply put, the delegation gave us hope. We were warmly welcomed by our Bahraini and Emirati hosts in a testament to the power of peace. The success of the Abraham Accords was on full display as we traversed one of the main bustling markets in Bahrain, only to find a synagogue situated right in the middle. The concept seemed impossible to be true: a synagogue thriving in a crowded center for an Arab country that has made peace with Israel? However, like in so many moments on this delegation, we saw what had once seemed unthinkable with our very own eyes.

For our family, joining a delegation halfway across the world was no simple decision. We have two young kids and we both work full-time, but we are so happy that the stars aligned and we were able to interact with so many fellow young professionals involved with Israel Bonds. Over our shared passion for Israel, and investing in Israel’s future, we, in a very literal sense, bonded. We bonded over the history we witnessed together. Our delegation met with ministers and leaders in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain, and we even were joined by Safra Catz, CEO of tech giant Oracle, who happened to be in Abu Dhabi on business travel and spoke to our group about the importance of actively supporting Israel.

In addition to the genuine warmth shown toward our Jewish faith, the strengthening of economic ties after the Abraham Accords was an unmistakable feature of the trip. Local ministers spoke with our delegation glowingly about how their new business partnerships in Israel have increased GDP without having to rely on oil production. They also looked to the future, expressing hope that their neighbors will see the economic benefits of peace with Israel and join them in extending a hand of partnership.

Arriving in Israel, where we met with President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and many others, we could not help but reflect on how far Israel has come. If we could tell our ancestors of the peace between Arabs and Israelis that we experienced, they might not believe us. Toward the end of the delegation, we visited Haifa, which carried special significance. I was born in Haifa, and it’s where I spent my childhood summers visiting my grandparents, my Safta
and Sabba.

This time, we were driven into Haifa by my friend of 30 years for a rare visit with my grandmother. Sharing the experience of our travels in the UAE and Bahrain with her was deeply meaningful.

In so many ways, this delegation underscored the importance of advocating support for Israel and working toward a future where Israel’s neighbors embrace peace. Now, having returned from this deeply impactful journey halfway across the world, we can say with confidence that everyone has a role to play. Through our close relationships with fellow young professional leaders in Israel Bonds, we’re proud to do our part to help Israel achieve peace for decades to come.

Idan Keren is the voluntary chair of New Leadership for Israel Bonds Metro New Jersey.

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