'The delegation represented a new spirit and transformation'

Young peace activists promote Abraham Accords in California

Sharaka delegation from UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Israel finds US audiences long on hope but short on information

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Activists Chama Mechtaly of Morocco (L), Omar Al-Busaidy of the UAE (C), and Fatema AlHarbi of Bahrain (R) speak during a tour of California organized by Sharaka, November 2021 (Sharaka)
Activists Chama Mechtaly of Morocco (L), Omar Al-Busaidy of the UAE (C), and Fatema AlHarbi of Bahrain (R) speak during a tour of California organized by Sharaka, November 2021 (Sharaka)

A delegation of young activists, leaders, and entrepreneurs from the Abraham Accords countries that flew to California earlier this month to speak about regional peace found audiences eager for hope, but low on knowledge, they said.

Israel signed groundbreaking normalization agreements in 2020 with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco and is working to close such a deal with Sudan, but despite the deals being brokered by the US, many there were unfamiliar with the details, participants found.

“I initially assumed that people in the US had a good degree of knowledge about the Abraham Accords and about what is taking place in the region, but after these meetings, I realized I was wrong,” explained Omar Al-Busaidy, an Emirati Fulbright scholar and entrepreneur.

“And in fact, from all aspects of the US society they are still uninformed about the weekly meetings, strategic partnerships, collaborations that are taking place between the Abraham Accords countries,” he said.

The group was organized by Sharaka, an NGO that emerged in the wake of the 2020 peace agreements to promote peace and cooperation in the region.  They met with Jewish leaders, Democratic politicians and activists, university and high school students, and civil leaders in the Bay Area and Sacramento from November 7-14.

One of their events was a panel discussion at the Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s oldest public affairs forum.

“One of our key messages to American audiences, speaking on the liberal West Coast, is that the Abraham Accords are real and transformative for the Middle East and hugely positive,” Dan Feferman, Global Affairs director for Sharaka, told The Times of Israel on Sunday. “Put aside the political polarization. Domestic American politics have nothing to do with the Middle East.”

Activists from the Abraham Accords countries speak at the Commonwealth Club during a tour of California organized by Sharaka, November 2021 (Sharaka)

Feferman argued that the US has been too focused on the Palestinian issue, which prevented the Palestinians from compromising at the negotiating table. “It allowed the region to demonize Israel to distract from its own problems. The region gets it now.  It realizes this has only come back to harm it and pushed the Israelis and Palestinians apart.”

In addition to Feferman and Busaidy, the delegation included Amazigh-Moroccan activist and artist Chama Mechtaly, Druze Israeli digital activist Lorena Al Kahtib, Syrian-born American journalist Hayvi Bouzo, and Bahraini peace activist and author Fatema Al-Harbi.

Bouzo felt she had a particular responsibility as a journalist to speak about the peace deals.

“Arab media played a major role in promoting antisemitism and turning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into an existential Arab-Israeli conflict and of course, demonizing peace,” she said. “As a journalist I believe that media has a crucial role to play; in educating the public, confronting disinformation, antisemitism and hate.”

As much as they opened the eyes of the audience, the participants seemed just as inspired by the interactions.

“The best thing I have heard through the tour, that we gave people hope, this was emotional to know that we’re making people hopeful about the Middle East and the future, where some said our talk was an eye-opener,” Harbi reflected.

“I have much more hope now,” said Bouzo. “The delegation represented a new spirit and a transformation in the Middle East, where Jews, Arabs and other ethnic and religious groups/minorities are finally talking and sharing their desired hopes, for this war-torn region.”

The young activists said they have new projects in the works to continue to promote peace in the region. Bouzo is working on an Arabic digital media show called “Yalla”  that seeks to humanize different groups in the Middle East by telling inspirational stories.

“I personally want to see more Emiratis travel to Israel as soon as we have the pandemic behind us,” said Busaidy. “I also want to see more Jews from around the world to visit the UAE and give their own personal accounts on how they feel in the UAE.”

Still, said some of the group, there is only so much they can do without active American backing.

“I believe that there should be more US support from both parties to support local efforts in the region and the support for direct Israel-Arab relations, as well as more Arab/Muslim countries to join the peace agreements,” said Bouzo.

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