UCSB student Tessa Veksler and other students visit Israel and the United Arab Emirates,
two nations with good relations
In an example of world peace, a mosque, a church, a synagogue and an educational center are being built to create the Abrahamic Family House.
The site is on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
“This is the future to me,” Tessa Veksler told the News-Press, sitting in Storke Plaza at UCSB. “This is what needs to be happening. This is the type of conversation that I wish to be having when I’m talking about the Middle East.”
Miss Veksler, a UCSB junior with a double major in political science and communications, joined 39 other students across the U.S. earlier this year on a trip to Israel and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that are dedicated to peaceful relations through the Abraham Accords.
Made during the Trump administration, the Abraham Accords are a series of treaties that normalized diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The accords covered trade, culture and education, and before the agreement, Israelis couldn’t visit the U.A.E.
Since the accords were signed in September 2020, 130,000 Israelis have visited Dubai.
The trip was made possible by the Geller International Fellowship. Miss Veksler, who’s a member of the UCSB Student Senate, was the only student from UCSB and among the few students from California. She was chosen after a process that included a written application and an interview.
“I had never thought I would get in a million years an opportunity to go to the U.A.E. — not only as a Jewish individual but also as someone who previously lived in Israel,” said Miss Veksler, a 20-year-old Walnut Creek native. She was one of 25 Jewish students who were part of the cohort that visited the U.A.E. and Israel during the trip.
“I think just going and stepping off an Israeli flight to U.A.E. is revolutionary,” said Miss Veksler, whose parents and brother were born in Ukraine and left the nation in 1990.
During her trip to the Middle East, Miss Veksler and the other students met with Amir Hayek, the Israeli ambassador to the U.A.E.
Ambassador Hayek told the students that there had been $2.3 million in trade between Israel and the U.A.E. since the Abraham Accords were signed.
“He also said, ‘The Abraham Accords can’t fail,’” Miss Veksler said. “It’s the first example to the world what a potential peaceful relationship between a Jewish state and an Arab state might look like.”
The ambassador told the students that the president of the United Arab Emirates — Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan — replaced the Presidential Palace’s blue carpet with gray because blue is the color of the Israeli flag. The sheik had it changed so no one could say the U.A.E. was stepping on the flag of Israel.
“That really stuck with me,” Miss Veksler said.
She added that she and the students got to walk through the Presidential Palace, which is in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s enormous,” said Miss Veksler, who has visited 21 countries, including the U.A.E. “It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The students also saw sites such as a museum with a Holocaust exhibit in Dubai. Called “A Holocaust Memorial Exhibition,” it’s at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museums and features first-hand testimonies of Holocaust survivors.
Miss Veksler, who lived during her gap year after high school in Israel, said it was extraordinary to see a Holocaust exhibit in “a country that no one ever thought would have peaceful relations with Israel.
“You could tell the curator was very passionate about making sure he was getting interesting pieces and that he was telling an accurate story,” Miss Veksler said. “He acknowledged that for a long period of time, the Jewish story had not been considered being told in the U.A.E.”
Miss Veksler also noted, “The U.A.E. is the first country in the Middle East other than Israel to incorporate the Holocaust in its education.”
“Once you go and step foot in these countries, and you have a conversation with leaders who are at the forefront of progress and politics, you see there’s a new Middle East that’s forming,” she said.
The trip to the United Arab Emirates gave Miss Veksler and the other American students a chance to talk with the people of the United Arab Emirates.
“I never thought I could sit across from an Emirati and be Jewish and have them want to engage in a conversation with me,” Miss Veksler said.
“It was very heartwarming to sit with these individuals and know they were as happy to converse with me as I was to listen to them.”