Watch: First Emirati student to join an Israeli university hopes to be a cultural ambassador

(From left) Mansoor AL Marzooqi, along with his father Mohamed bin Abdullah Al Marzooqi, and Ambassador Ilan Sztulman Starosta, Head of Mission Consulate General Of Israel in Dubai, along with Merzi Sodawaterwala, Founder and Chairman of International Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce (IFIICC), meet for the conference with the official of University in Israel at Armani Hotel in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Growing up, Emirati student Mansoor Mohamed Bin Shamekh Al Marzooqi never imagined he would pursue his higher education in Israel.

Today, he has made history by becoming the first Emirati student to get admission in an Israeli university.

Mansoor, 19, has joined Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, one of Israel’s leading academic institutes, to pursue BA in Government in which he will study public policy, diplomacy, foreign policy and strategy. On Sunday, top officials congratulated Mansoor on his achievement, calling it an important development in UAE-Israel ties.

While many Emirati students are now keen to study in Israel following the Abraham Accords that normalised the ties between the two countries, Mansoor took the first step after being influenced by the warmth of the friendship of a Jewish family.

Speaking to Gulf News, Mansoor shared the story of how he opted out from a course in Political Science at University of North Texas to join the Israeli university.

Mansoor, who has three younger sisters, finished his grade 12 from School of Research Science in Dubai and joined the Texas university’s fall semester in January 2020. However, after becoming friends with a Jewish family through whom he got to know about the exciting opportunity in Israel, Mansoor said he felt “Texas was not for him.”

How they became friends

“My father Mohamed Abdulla Bin Shamekh Al Marzooqi works with Sheikh Ahmed Bin Faisal Al Qassimi as a personal private consultant. During one of their seminars for international trade dedicated to Israel, the Israeli trade committee introduced to my father Patrick Assuline, a very influential person with several global business interests and above all a great, loving and caring human being.”

From left: Mansoor Mohamed Bin Shamekh Al Marzooqi, Mohamed Abdulla Bin Shamekh Al Marzooqi, Patrick Assuline and Dimitri Assuline. Image Credit: Supplied

Originally a Jew born in Morocco, Assuline had lived for a long time in Paris and recently became a citizen of Israel, he said. “My father and uncle Patrick developed mutual respect and friendship. Uncle Patrick suggested to my father that I study in Israel. My parents discussed this idea with me and I was more excited than ever. Uncle Patrick suggested that I meet his son, Dimitri.”

Dimitri was also studying in Israel in IDC Herzliya. “After meeting my brother Dimitri, I realised that Texas was unfortunately not for me. So, I decided to follow my brother Dimitri to IDC, one of the most esteemed universities in Israel.”

Twist in plans

However, something unfortunate happened in between and Patrick was hospitalised in Dubai for over a month. “Our family was very worried and prayed all day and night and took good care of each other, and here the brotherly relations between both our families were deepened with immense respect and care,” recalled Mansoor.

With the support of Patrick and his friend Dan Raviv, Mansoor had the opportunity to have a virtual meeting with Jonathan Davis, the vice-president for External Relations and head of the Raphael Recanati International School at IDC Herzliya. “His personality and extensive knowledge persuaded me even more to start my pathway to study at the University of IDC. Uncle Patrick never left me needing anything. He supported me immensely through my journey,” said Mansoor.

Mansoor Al Marzooqi at a video conference with an official of the university in Israel Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

He was accepted to the Study Abroad Programme at the Raphael Recanati International School for the Spring 2021 semester and he started his course online in March.

Getting a visa

“Having started my studies, a visa was an essential factor for me to fly to Israel,” said Mansoor. Patrick helped him with that as well. “He introduced me to his friend and business partner Merzi Sodawaterwala, the founder and chairman of IFIICC (International Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce) in Dubai. Supporting me immensely, he was also a prime source of motivation for me to continue on this path and move forward.”

Mansoor said Merzi brought up his case to the notice of Ambassador Ilan Sztulman Starosta, who heads the Israeli Consulate in Dubai. “Within hours, I got my visa and I was ready to leave for Israel,” said Mansoor. Inspired by the youngsters’ friendship beyond borders, Merzi also declared Mansoor and Dimitri as the youth ambassadors for IFIICC.

Mansoor is scheduled to fly to Israel later this week and expected to receive a grand welcome at the university.

Family elated, grateful

Mansoor and his family are elated about his achievement through which he is hoping to become a cultural ambassador. “It would be a pleasure to share the culture of tolerance, respect, and prosperity the UAE and Israel have with the world, binding a bridge with a deeper, stronger, and more peaceful world through our journey,” said Mansoor.

His father also expressed his proud feelings. “I am very proud that my son Mansoor is the first Emirati student to endorse the vision of our leaders in the Abraham Accords peace agreement. I am confident that both he and his brother Dimitri will spread love, peace, joy and hope for a better future in their momentous journey together,” said Mohamed.

Mansoor and Dimitri. Image Credit: Supplied

The father-son duo took the opportunity to thank the leaders and rulers of the country for giving them the possibilities for the momentous milestone. Mansoor said: “I salute and honour our leaders for taking this bold and courageous step to sign the Abraham Accords and bring peace through normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel and lay the foundation for a sustainable world for the current and future generations.”

Tremendous potential

In a statement to Gulf News, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Faisal Al Qassimi said: “I would like to take the opportunity of this occasion to express my sincere thanks to our government under the leadership of the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his brothers, their Highnesses the Rulers of the UAE, for providing this opportunity for the Emirati and Israeli people to exchange passion, brotherhood and cooperation in all fields, especially the educational field, which helps in exchanging cultures between people. Personally, I wish our son Mansoor Mohamed bin Shamekh Al Marzooqi prosperous progress and ask him to be a true youth ambassador and representative of the UAE to Israel. I hope that this initiative will be mutual between the two countries.”

Sheikh Ahmed also thanked Ambassador Ilan, who was present to congratulate Mansoor on Sunday when he held a Zoom meeting with Jonathan, Patrick and Dmitri in the presence of Merzi. “We welcome this very important development of Mansoor becoming the first Emirati student to join IDC University in Israel and congratulate everyone involved in making this happen,” said the ambassador.

“There is tremendous potential in the UAE-Israel ties and its landmark events like this which will lay the foundation for peace and prosperity,” he added.

Special saga of Mansoor and Dimitri

Patrick and Dimitri were excited to join the virtual meeting, celebrating the achievement of their Emirati friend. “It is our responsibility to create a world where our children can live in peace and harmony with mutual respect and love for one another. Mansoor and Dimitri’s friendship and brotherhood will be regarded as a landmark chapter in the normalisation of UAE-Israel ties and will bring peace and prosperity to the region,” said Patrick.

Dimitri said: “I am eagerly looking forward to meeting my friend and brother Mansoor very soon in Israel. We will do great things together by collaborating with our friends representing a diverse base of international students at IDC which will benefit not only our nations but also the entire world.”

Merzi said: “Education has an undisputed ability to enlighten people and promote a peaceful coexistence based on the shared belief in unity, mutual respect and goodwill for all nations which is a key to pave the way to a sustainable world,” said Merzi.

“This shared belief of Mansoor and Dimitri coupled with the spirit of IDC University to empower innovation through multilateral collaboration among its students is commendable and I wish they all grow in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and Man,” he added.

Thanking Merzi, Mansoor said: “He (Merzi) enlightened me and Dimitri of the promise to live with our neighbours in peace, dignity and prosperity that the Abraham Accords signed by our leaders holds for current and future generations. We both are very proud and honoured to represent IFIICC as its youth ambassadors given the esteemed credentials and achievements of IFIICC.”