Dubai: Meet Norah Alawadhi or “the girl from the picture of the UAE and Israeli flags in Dubai” as she describes herself on Twitter.
She was just “King Norah” on the social media platform till Emirati businessman-cum-writer Hassan Sajwani posted the photo of her and an Israeli woman—covered in their respective flags, holding their hands and facing Burj Khalifa from atop a skyscraper on October 6.
Within hours, the picture went viral and by that night, among the thousands who tweeted/retweeted/quote tweeted that photo were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ivanka Trump, daughter of and advisor to the US President Donald Trump.
“Exciting picture from Dubai. Peace for peace creates new friends in the Middle East,” Netanyahu posted while sharing the photo with the flag emojis of both the countries. Quote tweeting his post, Ivanka Trump wrote: “Great photo from Dubai.”
Story behind the viral photo
Sharing the story behind the viral photo to Gulf News, Norah said she happened to be in the historic picture quite coincidentally.
“The woman holding the Israeli flag is Ronny Gonen, a travel blogger from Israel,” Norah said. “She was on a visit here and I was introduced to her by someone I know.” She said she had already started talking to people from Israel ever since the UAE first spoke about normalisation of ties with Israel.
Norah said she had met Ronny casually and that is when she asked if Norah could join her for a photo shoot she planned for her blog ‘to make an impact’.
Norah readily agreed. But it was only when they reached the terrace of an 80-storey tower facing Burj Khalifa that both the women realised the risk they were taking for the shoot, she said. It was windy and they had to climb some steps and jump down a few to get on to the place that gave the perfect background of Burj Khalifa. “When we reached that place, my heart just fell out of my chest! We had the whole crew with us and the security approval. But I never knew I had the fear of heights till then. I had never felt so scared of heights even when I went to [the observation deck in] Burj Khalifa. It was scary in that open space above 80 floors.”
To her surprise, she said she realised that Ronny was also frightened of heights. “She didn’t want to take even one picture because she thought she was going to fall. But I had more guts to go with it and face my fear. I told myself — just do it. It is for a good purpose. I told Ronny, don’t worry, let’s do it. I said those little words and held her hand. We went closer to the edge. We stood there and she became confident enough.”
It took about half an hour for them to get the perfect shots of both of them facing Burj Khalifa with their backs draped in the flags. But when the pictures came out, Norah said she noticed that in one of them they were still holding hands and smiling looking at each other.
“It wasn’t staged. See, she trusted me,” she said.
‘I am proud of myself’
Ever since her picture became viral, Norah said she has had many critics on social media, whom she is completely ignoring.
“People have asked me — you are getting a lot of hate, are you leaving social media? Nay!,” said Norah who calls herself ‘King’ like the females who make a clear statement about notions of gender and power.
“I am proud of myself and what I did for my country. I want to create more things for my country. You have to have the guts to do it. And I was raised with that guts, thanks to my dad who is my biggest inspiration.”
Norah’s father Jassim Alawadhi is one of the first crime scene photographers to be employed by Dubai Police. As a Lieutenant Colonel, he had served as the director of Crime Scene Division and in 2010 he was given the UAE Appreciation Award for Science, Arts and Literature by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, on account of his contribution to his profession. Various members of the Twitterati now consider his daughter “the face of the historic peace deal” in the region.
“Peace starts with the politicians and continues with the youth,” Norah said in a pinned tweet. “As I said, our leaders make peace and we need to carry it forward through our young siblings and children in the future. They need to know that it is okay to make peace. There is no harm in trusting and respecting other countries, cultures and religions,” she noted.
The 30-year-old banking professional has already started working on a private initiative with Israeli youths.
She has been in touch with an organisation titled Israel-Is which educates and trains young Israelis with the skill sets and mindset to conduct meaningful encounters with their international peers. “I met the youth from there on Zoom. They are smart and many youngsters are already entrepreneurs. We are getting to know each other and learn the religion and culture of each other. I know about Diwali and I love history. It is nice to learn about Rosh Hashanah and Shana Tova too.”
She said, “We are going to create different forums. The first one will be ready in four weeks. We will tackle topics ranging from business and innovation to culture and tourism. Our peace deal is not just for business. We are going to have a cultural exchange too. For example, we are going to show an Emirati chef speaking about our food and telling us how the food here is connected culturally and all of that. I am using my father for the art forum to showcase his art work as an exhibition on Zoom. It is a personal initiative. We want to do something to touch lives. I want them to know more about UAE.”