Farewell to Dubai Expo, where Israelis could safely “enter” Iran, Syria

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A six-month window during which Israelis could visit Iran, Syria, Yemen and other countries that usually do not allow them, ended on Thursday with the closing of Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The event was personally attended by about 20 million people, another 150 million visited the country pavilions and other exhibits in virtual mode.

No ayatollah was seen in the Iranian pavilion, recognized as one of the eight best architecturally significant Expo buildings according to the Architectural Digest. Rather, the emphasis was on rich cultural heritage, Persian rugs and saffron.

With great irony, given that Iran has openly devoted itself to the destruction of the State of Israel, a special place has been given to copies of the 6th century BC of the burnt clay of the Cyrus Cylinder.

The text of the cylinder is widely seen as evidence of Cyrus ’decision to allow Jews to return from exile to Babylon to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem, confirming the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

The original was found in what was once Babylon and is now Iraq. It is kept in the British Museum.

A copy of the Cyrus cylinder of the VI century BC at the exhibition in the Iranian pavilion Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 31, 2022. (Sue Surks / Times of Israel)

In another paradox, in light of the repressive regime now in place in Tehran, the exhibition hailed the cylinder as the first human rights declaration.

Expo 2020 was extremely large and full of amazing and magnificent buildings, music, noise, flickering lights and swirling rivers of people. It was spotlessly clean, thanks to armies of silent workers who are constantly sweeping and wiping, and volunteers deployed everywhere to help manage the endless traffic of people.

This traffic reflects Dubai’s status as a new global hub between the Middle East, West Asia and Europe and the Indian subcontinent, which accounts for more than a third of the UAE’s population, and the Far East beyond. It is a brilliant stop on the new Silk Road, and at the World’s Fair, as elsewhere in Dubai, it seemed that all the nations of the world were there.

One of the most impressive pavilions representing the Middle East, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, was the pavilion of Saudi Arabia. It was the second largest after the UAE and conveyed messages of heritage as well as power and vision.

Phrases such as “We are in interesting times” and “Where change begins” crossed one of its outer walls.

Visitors to the Saudi Pavilion Expo 2020 in Dubai, standing on the balcony and looking at a cinematic panorama of images, United Arab Emirates, March 31, 2022 (Sue Surks / Times of Israel)

The entrance was via an escalator that carried visitors past three-dimensional models of Saudi buildings on which moving images of people were projected.

The main exhibit consisted of two huge panoramic screens with a balcony for visitors in the middle. Gorgeous views of coral reefs, sand dunes and oases, as well as Mecca, modern cities and oil fields of the kingdom filled the top screen, and the bottom projected aerial photographs of the same places.

Compared to the Saudi pavilion, the Syrian pavilion was rather sad, reflecting either the country’s financial situation or the fact, according to the Associated Press, that it was invited only two years ago, after the UAE reopened its embassy there, and was the last. to start building.

With perhaps an exaggerated sense of optimism, the welcome sign explained that the country wants to showcase its rich cultural history, “as we seek to rise again and regain our place in the world.”

Women walk the Syrian pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 2, 2021 (AP Photo / Jon Gambrell)

The movie there was old and shaky. The main exhibit “I am a Syrian” was a series of wooden rectangles on which the Syrians painted what was most dear to them in their country.

Of the hundreds of images of landscapes and cultural sites, one photograph spied on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and another on his wife Osma.

The Lebanese pavilion was surprisingly pleasant, given the difficult financial situation of this country, projecting aerial photographs of landscapes and antiquities of the country, as well as showcasing modern dance installations and contemporary art objects.

Plaques made by Syrians can be seen in the Syrian pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 2, 2021 (AP Photo / Jon Gambrell)

I was unable to visit the pavilion of the State of Palestine because it was temporarily closed due to a technical malfunction.

But the exhibition, built by Yemen, is arguably one of the poorest countries in the region and a country torn apart by civil war.

The focus was on knowledge and wisdom, and the texts noted early water technology, astronomy, and “the world’s first skyscrapers.”

Watching the film in the Lebanon pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 31, 2022 (Sue Surks / Times of Israel)

A Yemeni gentleman, unwilling to give his name, asked me where I was from.

Hearing that I was from Israel, he smiled broadly and said, “Ah, Ahlan and Sahlan (which in Arabic means “hello”)! “

Then, pointing to jewelry sold in a small gift shop, he added, “Look at all these ornaments, they are Jewish!”

He marked items with precious stones such as amber with silver filigree. Yemeni silver coins were once Jewish.

Yemeni jewelry made of Jewish silver coins (Davidbena, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

In March, only one Jew remained in the country, according to a United Nations report on the treatment of religious minorities in conflict zones.

“There are a lot of Yemeni (sic) Jews in Israel, aren’t there?” he continued enthusiastically. “Eat Malawi and Jahnun (two types of pastries associated with Yemeni Jews and now popular with all Israelis).”

Saying goodbye, he said, “Greetings to Israel from Yemen!”

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