Ilan Sinelnikov
Ilan Sinelnikov

The Morning I Arrived First to Witness History

Photo from September 15, 2020, when I first arrived to the White House Lawn to witness the signing of the Abraham Accords.
Photo from September 15, 2020, when I first arrived to the White House Lawn to witness the signing of the Abraham Accords.

One year ago, on a chilly September morning, I was the first person to line up near the White House visitor’s gate at precisely 7 am. It was September 15, 2020 the morning of the signing of the Abraham Accords. As the gates only opened at 9 am for the event, the second person in line did not show up until 8:05 am. Nevertheless, I told myself the night before there was no way I am missing a morning like this sleeping in. This is a moment I’d waited to see for nearly my whole life. I was born in 1992 and was not even two years old when Israel signed the Washington Declaration with Jordan in July of 1994, ending the state of enmity between the countries, at the exact place I was heading to: the White House lawn. The Israeli- Jordanian peace treaty followed a few months later in October of 1994, but since then, for over 25 years, there was not a single significant development happening in the Arab-Israeli conflict in the direction of normalization. That is, until that special morning last year, when the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, with the help of the United States were signed.

The excitement of the participants that day was easily noticed, and anyone could feel the celebratory atmosphere in the air. I was grateful to be one of the invitees to witness the event, due to my work in the past decade relating to Israel’s advocacy on college campuses across North America and around the world, as the founder of the Students Supporting Israel movement. While waiting for heads of states to arrive, invitees from all four countries were exchanging friendly greetings, talking to each other, and smiling for joint photos. All felt like living a moment in history that will change the relations between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East.

During the signing ceremony, I heard the words of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and of President Trump saying and proving that peace is possible through strength. I heard the Emirati Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed and the Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, saying that our children will be growing up in a better Middle East. A year has passed since the signing of the Abraham Accords, and ahead of its one-year anniversary, as if to reiterate the promise, the UAE’s newly opened embassy in Israel displayed major signs on roads entering Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem that read in both Hebrew and Arabic: “Peace is the Future of Our Children”.

While this year went by quickly, it has brought a very refreshing message to the Middle East, and frankly to the world. While the peace treaties between Israel to Jordan and Egypt are not considered “warm,” the normalization that came with the Abraham Accords feels different. Whether it is the fact that the countries do not share a geographic border or do not have a history of direct armed conflict, different geopolitical circumstances, or whether it is simply the times that are changing, from the moment of the agreement there was a wave of tourism, official social, diplomatic, and business delegations, and even notably these days, friendly comments on social media channels of Arab Muslims sending greetings in Hebrew on Jewish holidays and on Israel’s Independence Day. All this has given us hope, a glimpse of a different regional dynamics where Jews and Arabs don’t need to be enemies – if only they decide so, like the famous bumper sticker in Hebrew that says “Yehudim VeAravim Mesarvim Lihyot Oyvim” (Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies).

Unfortunately however, the refreshing message of peace and recognition did not reach all. Notably, while the Abraham Accords shows us that warm peace between Jews and Muslims and normalization must start with mutual recognition of the other’s existence, we do not see any of it happening from the Palestinian side led by the corrupt Palestinian Liberation Organization and the terrorists of Hamas. Not only it is not happening now, but the projects into the future look grimmer with every generation of Palestinian children who are raised indoctrinated with Jew and Israel hatred. For this issue, I only have hopes that someday in the future this will change, and normalization will also be seen between the parties of arguably the world’s famous conflict.

Nevertheless, while the Palestinian refusal of recognizing Israel will most likely stand as is in the near future and is currently expected, the other group that seems to not get the message about the events in the Middle East is one of which I personally had higher expectations. It is the privileged students on campuses, the so-called intellectuals and humanitarians, who can hear but refuse to listen. These western students I encounter too often on campuses, who may read about the Abraham Accords, but who have never stepped foot in the Middle East, yet will still call for Israel’s boycott, compare it to Apartheid South Africa, and find a way to criticize and challenge its most basic right to exist.

What one can hear at the campus discourse today when it comes to Israel, only proves the disconnect of the academic world from the reality on the ground, and such a lack of education and disconnect can arguably be the number one challenge for more peace to come to the Middle East. When I spent the day at the White House, after establishing the SSI movement, and after nearly 10 years of activism on campuses hearing from too many anti-Israel students about their non-normalization policy calling not to talk to pro-Israel groups, and as I was warmly chatting with a Bahraini woman and man, it confirmed what I knew all along: that the Abraham Accords are proof that boycott is not the path in moving forward, that BDS is a hateful, Antisemitic movement, and that one day I will be telling my grandchildren about the morning I got in line 2 hours early to be the first person at the door in order to witness the historical moment where two people could in fact reach peace, because they decided to do so.

While some in the world today are trying to boycott the Jewish State, single it out, and delegitimize its existence rather than embrace it, I promised myself to keep fighting for Israel, not just for myself, but for all of the future generations that will benefit from peace. I pray that our children will be the ones that will grow up in a world where Israelis are welcome to travel to other Middle Eastern countries, Arab and Israeli athletes shake hands in sportsmanship, and the only rockets we hear that were launched are those of space exploration and not those aiming at Israeli cities. Let us hope that the Accords opened the door for true peace that also involves the people themselves and not just the leaders. Partnerships without incitement, but with recognition.

About the Author
Ilan Sinelnikov is the Founder and President of the national Students Supporting Israel movement.
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