More than 50,000 Israelis have brushed aside coronavirus concerns, a terrorism warning and decades of tension to make the three-hour flight across the Arab Peninsula and traveled to the United Arab Emirates since commercial flights connected the two countries, The Washington Post reported last week.
The figure looks even more gargantuan if accounted for the fact that regular flights have only circulated between the two countries for about two weeks.
In the few weeks since commercial flights began between Tel Aviv and the Emirati cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Israelis have caused a remarkable tourism boomlet in the Gulf nation. Suddenly, Hebrew can be heard throughout the markets, malls and beaches of a destination that was strictly off-limits until the two countries achieved a diplomatic breakthrough in August and established normal relations.
The Washington Post reports that Israeli tourism officials expected more than 70,000 to arrive during Chanukah, in an unprecedented exchange between Israel and one of its historically standoffish Muslim neighbors.
According to the report, Dubai, the UAE’s prime tourist destination, has seen some changes designed to make it more welcoming for Jews.
The local Jewish community center has reportedly increased its staff sixfold, from five to some 30 employees, and about 150 restaurants started serving kosher food.
The first Israelis to arrive described a congenial culture clash unlike anything they have experienced in the region.
“This is much warmer than what we felt in Jordan or Egypt,” said Arieh Engel, naming the two Arab countries that have long had official relations with Israel, but not particularly friendly ones.
Israel’s breakthrough accord to normalize ties with the UAE was announced in summer, with the two countries signing the so-called Abraham Accords in mid-September.
The diplomatic deals reached between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and, just last month, Morocco have broken the long chill between Arab countries and Israel. Palestinian leaders accuse these Arab countries of betrayal by normalizing ties with Israel. But the UAE’s incentives for opening relations with Israel were significant. The ties look to be a boon to the UAE’s tourism industry and potentially worth billions of dollars in potential foreign investment in high-tech, agriculture and arms.
Looking to kick-start their tourist industries, Israel and the UAE also reached an agreement on visa waivers.