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Abraham Accords to Abraham tourism: It’s time for an interfaith ‘Tripadvisor’

Crossing the religious divide between Jews, Christians and Muslim

Jack Gottlieb, founder and president of the World Jewish Travel, is an American businessman highly involved in philanthropic causes, who spends most of his time in Israel these days.

Photo by Noah Holm (Unsplash)
Photo by Noah Holm (Unsplash)

The Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan are a remarkable achievement. Not a week goes by without new efforts at normalizing the economic sphere, including trade agreements, joint ventures, or conferences. However, Israel’s new peace agreements must not stop here. The change can’t only be economic or diplomatic; it must involve the changing of hearts and minds.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of past peace treaties. The peace treaties that the Jewish state made decades ago with Egypt and Jordan were historic, but contained glaring errors that haunt us today. There were no systematic initiatives to unite the general population or to influence their attitudes towards each other. The politicians forged agreements, but failed to forge cultural and religious understanding among their peoples.

The latest peace agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan can be different. The seeds of deep societal change are already there. We simply need to grow them to become firm initiatives based on values and principles.

The agreements explicitly acknowledge that the shared heritage of the Abrahamic religions should be the new foundation for the relationship; hence the name Abraham Accords. They stress a vision encompassing hope, perhaps a revolution, in the way Jews, Arabs, and Christians view themselves and each other. Specifically, it states that this shared heritage should be the basis for “a spirit of coexistence, mutual understanding, and mutual respect.”

The question remains how to advance coexistence with each other and how it translates to modern identity, faith, and hope. This can be achieved, of course, through online seminars, academic cooperation, people-to-people programs, and interfaith programs. It is my opinion, however, that tourism, specifically Abrahamic tourism, is a novel method of building a strong cultural bridge between people.

The city of Jerusalem, especially, can provide tourists with a unique opportunity. Jerusalem contains iconic symbols of the Abrahamic faith, from the Al-Aqsa Mosque to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Western Wall. Within a small geographical area, lessons can be learned, through walking tours, as to both what happens when we are divided and when we are united. Israel, the West Bank, and Palestine are replete with amazing spiritual sites that can engender cross-border tourism, assuming the focus is on economics and not politics.

Some of our Arab friends in the Abraham Accords are already preparing new initiatives in the spirit of Abraham Tourism. Abu Dhabi is building the Abraham Family Complex to help “build bridges between religious leaders and communities as well as foster peace and harmony in an era that is too often defined by differences.” This iconic complex will house a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, and will contain an education center explaining the collective heritage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Additionally, the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum shows how the city of Dubai is contributing to this newfound spirit of peace and tolerance.

Now that the pandemic has paused travel, we must develop strategies to stake a big place for Abrahamic tourism. The best method these days to allow people to explore other cultures, as well as their own, is to take advantage of digital resources. It is my belief that what is needed is an innovative and comprehensive digital platform promoting Abrahamic travel, a kind of Abrahamic Tripadvisor.

This belief is inspired by my personal experience encouraging Jewish travel to the Diaspora and Israel through the use of a digital platform called World Jewish Travel. This not-for-profit website has filled a void for Jewish people facing difficulty arranging trips and wanting to explore their culture. The moment digital resources support a particular kind of travel, they become a realistic option and the key to building new tourism cultures. My foundation is ready, willing, and able to collaborate with the private or public sector in an advisory capacity to build this new platform.

The Abraham Accords can’t just be about improving commercial ties. The Bible tells us that our first patriarch was instructed “Lech Lecha,” to go forth on a journey, leaving all he was familiar with, for new experiences. The Abraham Accords allow us to walk in his footsteps and explore unfamiliar regions and religions. We will thereby fulfill the promise that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous and prosperous as stars in the sky.

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