DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Israel’s top diplomat to the United Arab Emirates attended a ceremony in Dubai on the grounds of the Arabian Peninsula’s first permanent exhibition to commemorate the Holocaust. Hours earlier, he’d attended an event establishing a joint venture between an Israeli and Emirati company.
The receptions on Monday were the clearest indication since a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip came into effect last week that the devastating 11-day war between Hamas and Israel and the violence that gripped Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in the days preceding it have had no visible impact on the UAE’s commitment to establishing deep ties with the state of Israel.
“What we see here is the exact opposite of what we see in Gaza… What we see here in the whole normalization process is a departure from the past,” Israeli Ambassador Eitan Na’eh said.
At least 254 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, in the Gaza Strip during the war. Another 1,948 people were wounded, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which does not differentiate between fighters and civilians. Twelve people were killed in Israel, including an Israeli soldier and two children. The bombardment of the blockaded Gaza Strip destroyed about 1,000 homes and badly damaged hundreds more. Hospitals, clinics and main sewage and water lines were also damaged or destroyed.
The violence, which erupted in the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, angered citizens across Gulf Arab states, some of whom expressed support for Palestinians and opposition to Israel on social media or in limited street protests.
The UAE government and its top officials publicly expressed concern over the violence in east Jerusalem and condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by Israeli security forces, as well as Jewish settler efforts to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
It signaled a rare rebuke of Israel by the UAE since the two countries agreed to normalize relations last year. Some questioned whether the UAE would pause or halt the momentum of its strategic relationship with Israel, which included launching direct flights, cooperating on intelligence sharing, welcoming tens of thousands of Israeli tourists, investing in the Israeli gas sector and announcing a $10 billion investment fund for a range of Israeli sectors.
After the violence in Jerusalem escalated into a war between Israel and Hamas on May 10 with Gaza’s ruling militant Hamas group firing rockets on Israel, the UAE muted its direct criticism of Israel and instead issued a statement calling on “all parties” to cease fighting. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which the UAE views as a threat.
When asked about the nature of conversations with Emirati officials during the entirety of the recent conflict, Ambassador Na’eh — who is posted in Abu Dhabi — said the people he’d spoken with “showed a lot of understanding and curiosity.”
There “was no tension” in the conversations, he said. “To our ears, the UAE has called for the cessation of killing on both sides. They were mourning the death on both sides.”
Na’eh spoke to The Associated Press from an open-air courtyard of the “Crossroads of Civilization,” a privately-funded museum in Dubai that was hosting an event showcasing its Holocaust exhibition. The museum’s founder is Ahmed Almansoori, a prominent Emirati figure who said the museum grounds were bestowed by Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The event, attended by Jews, Israelis, the German ambassador to the UAE and others, included a solemn hymn of a Jewish prayer in Arabic for those departed. Young Jewish children took part in a candle lighting.
The event focused on remembrance of the horrors of the Holocaust, the lessons to be learned from it and the importance of recognizing attempts at ethnic cleansing can happen and have happened since.
As guests exited, joint Israeli-Emirati flag lapel pins were being sold for 20 dirhams (around $5). A large piece of artwork in the courtyard depicted an Emirati man in traditional garb with his arm on the shoulder of an Israeli as they laughed and shared coffee under the word “cousins” written in Arabic and Hebrew.
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Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press