Iconic UAE-Israel peace image stirs antisemitism, online hate

Written by on October 13, 2020

The image has since been shared on Twitter by the likes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and White House adviser Ivanka Trump.

Emirati Norah al-Awadhi and friend, Israeli Ronny Gonen, stand facing the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, draped in their countries' flags (photo credit: ABDULLAH SAMEH HOUSSNY/@DUBAI.UAE.DXB)

Emirati Norah al-Awadhi and friend, Israeli Ronny Gonen, stand facing the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, draped in their countries’ flags

(photo credit: ABDULLAH SAMEH HOUSSNY/@DUBAI.UAE.DXB)

DUBAI – Despite death threats, a barrage of hate, Nazi rhetoric and antisemitic backlash, Emirati Norah al-Awadhi has no regrets about posing in an image with her Israeli friend. It has become an icon of the historic Abraham Accords.

Draped in the UAE flag and holding the hand of Ronny Gonen, draped in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, the two women are atop the 80th floor of a Dubai skyscraper facing the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

The image has since been shared on Twitter by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and White House adviser Ivanka Trump. It has become a symbol of peace beyond the politics of the historic accord on social-media platforms.

The backlash to the normalization of relations, signed at the White House last month, has swept across the Arab world. Many, including those attacking Awadhi, claim it signifies a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

In turn, the image from Dubai has been as controversial as it has been symbolic of the peace it represents. Both in Arabic and English, the reprisals have been harsh and distressing for the young Emirati.

“It has been scary and upsetting, and there has been a lot of hate,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “But hate is inevitable. Not everybody is going to agree with you, and opinions will always be there.”


— StandWithUs (@StandWithUs) October 6, 2020

Awadhi is learning to cope, including not looking at the comments when possible nor engaging with any of the naysayers.

“In order for you to not lose hope and to not give up, you need to always remember that No. 1, the whole country and the whole government is behind you, and No. 2, don’t take it personally,” she said. “I’m living in a country that is one of the safest in the world, so I know I’m okay.”

When the two women posted the photo, taken by renowned Emirati photographer Abdulla Salem, the complaints came in thick and fast and triggered Instagram’s algorithm to block them both temporarily.

Such viral photos are usually those of “influencers,” men and women with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of followers. But the two women have beaten the algorithm to show that peace is popular.

— Mostafa Ebrahim (@mostafazico86) October 6, 2020

They met at a UAE-Israel youth gathering and have become firm friends ever since, Awadhi said. They bonded through mutual connections of both religions, shared beliefs and values and a connection of genuine friendship, she said.

“We’re all human at the end of the day, and we all have feelings,” Awadhi said. “Why do we need to talk about the differences when there’s a lot of similarities. We’ve been seeing a lot of humans but very little humanity. Now we need to get back that humanity and forget the politics, forget the history, forget everything else. We’re all the same.”

Gonen, a Tel Aviv University student who was in Dubai for the third time, said she understood why the image caused so much controversy, but there has been great support from the Israeli community.

“Arabic Muslims supporting Israel see it as a betrayal, so obviously they will troll Norah more than me,” she said.

Awadhi is now taking legal action against an account posing as her on Instagram, which is trying to discredit her reputation.

Even with images of Hitler and Holocaust victims posted in comments alongside antisemitic hate speech and profanity, the young women are proud to have been part of a poignant visual reminder of this historic time, which is now being viewed as the quintessential image of peace.

Both agree that beyond politics, the future is in the hands of today’s youth.

“Peace starts with the politicians and continues with the youth,” Awadhi said.

“And the thing is, this is not a campaign; it’s a real friendship,” Gonen added. “It’s real peace.”

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