Expo 2020 is a stunning example of tolerance - opinion

With 192 countries participating, Expo is a striking example of what could be.

 A MAP in the Palestinian pavilion showing Palestine as including the State of Israel. (photo credit: EMILY SCHRADER)
A MAP in the Palestinian pavilion showing Palestine as including the State of Israel.
(photo credit: EMILY SCHRADER)

Following the Abraham Accords, the Middle East continues to develop at an unprecedented pace, with Israel-Arab relations stronger than ever before.

This alliance has been even further encouraged by the shared threat of a nuclear Iran, and while these looming threats are becoming more concerning as time goes on, you wouldn’t know it from the stunning example of tolerance and coexistence displayed at the Expo 2020 Dubai, thanks to the vision of the United Arab Emirates. Last week, I visited the expo to see what it’s all about, and what I found was a stunning example of tolerance where almost everyone seemed to be on board.

With 192 countries participating, the expo is a striking example of what could be, and what better time to host such an event than shortly after the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE? The expo is held every five years in a different city around the world and runs for six months. This year’s focused on the themes of mobility, sustainability and opportunity, and each country’s individual pavilions emphasized their contributions to one of these themes. 

This year’s event, which was initially delayed due to COVID-19, was also the first to be hosted in an Arab nation, but that’s not the only thing that makes this expo historic – for the first time, Israel also participated, and with an important message perfectly fitting to the theme of the expo.

Israel’s pavilion, intentionally designed in an open format to demonstrate openness, was centered completely around the power and harmony that comes from diversity and connection. With a 360-degree interactive video hosted by Israeli-Arab Lucy Ayoub, the story of Israel through innovation and diversity has been told to over 250,000 visitors at the expo so far. Atop the Israeli pavilion is an open-air seating area where a giant sign reads in Hebrew and Arabic “to tomorrow,” in a message of hope for the region and world. 

 The sign of Dubai Expo 2020 is seen at the entrance of the site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 16, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/RULA ROUHANA ) The sign of Dubai Expo 2020 is seen at the entrance of the site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 16, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/RULA ROUHANA )

While one might expect hostility from some visitors, particularly from enemy states such as Iran or Lebanon, the reality in Dubai couldn’t be farther from the truth. Speaking Hebrew and interacting with Arabs from 

all over the world, I didn’t encounter a single negative reaction during 

my week at the expo, even while visiting other countries’ pavilions such 

as Iran, Iraq or Syria.

Interestingly, absent from Israel’s pavilion was any mention of its history or any political messaging whatsoever. In fact, Israel didn’t even display a map. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Palestinian pavilion. While also a beautiful display of culture, their displays were highly politicized in a way that seemed out of place: from heavy Jerusalem imagery throughout the exhibit to maps displaying the entirety of Israel as Palestine.

They also had a coloring activity to color the map of Palestine and an interactive map of Israel, which they labeled Palestine, urging visitors to mark off where they are from on the map. Finally, their pavilion prominently featured sweeping nature shots of “Palestinian” cities today, including Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and Masada. The problem with this is, of course, that they aren’t Palestinian cities at all; they are Israeli and they are even within the 1967 borders.

While the rest of the participating countries, even enemy states, presented a forward-facing, apolitical perspective of their countries, the Palestinian pavilion used the expo, a symbol of tolerance and acceptance, to once again push political messaging and look backward instead of forward. The contrasting narratives were blatant and once again demonstrated that instead of progressing toward a brighter future for all the region and the Palestinian people, the Palestinian leaders are hell-bent on missing every opportunity they can.

Meanwhile, the UAE leads the way for the entire Arab world presenting a path forward for peace and collaboration instead of war. Of course, this doesn’t mean agreement on every political issue, but it does mean an open line of communication and understanding to create a better world. 

I would be remiss not to note the striking similarities between the vision of the UAE’s leaders and the State of Israel. Both nations are states that developed something stunning out of virtually nothing. Both nations massively developed only in the last decades, and both nations continue to expand and improve the world through technology, business, innovation and yes, peace.

It is only natural then, that the UAE and Israel, both nations of dreamers, continue setting an example for the region and the world of what the future can be.

The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.