An Israeli in Dubai

From the moment I accepted the assignment - because I had a foreign passport - until I landed in Dubai on Sunday night, I veered between excitement and, well, apprehension. My concern spiked upon noting the travel alert regarding Dubai, until I realized the same applied to Jordan and Egypt. Then I relaxed, a little.

Landing in Dubai, I didn't know what to expect. Would the Passport Control officer discover I'd been born in Jerusalem? Or suspect that I was Israeli? Would he ask where I live and what would I say? (In the end I was just asked where I'd come from. I truthfully answered, "Amman.")

At the hotel I looked at the faces around me. Might one be security? Would I be arrested and if I was, how would I get word out? Scenes from "Midnight Express" raced through my mind.

Okay, that's overdoing it, but I was tense. At least that night. By morning I'd calmed down, especially after a tour of the town and a steak. I stopped using my eyes to look for trouble and started using them to learn. I started to feel more like a tourist and less like a spy.

I did adhere to the rules: not telling all and sundry that I'm Israeli, not speaking over the phone in Hebrew unless alone. Nobody at the hotel knew from whence I hailed.

The local currency is the dirham, which was set 12 years ago at 3.67 per dollar. Meaning one dirham is roughly the same as one shekel. You can use an international credit card issued in Israel in Dubai, as long as it doesn't have any Hebrew on it. Israeli SIM cards don't work here, though. My service provider gave me a British one, so I could get calls at my usual number, but not call Israel. In any case, I bought a local disposable phone for 99 dirhams, including 50 dirhams' worth of calls.

After four days in this wonderful place, I want to go home. Talking with the people has taught me respect for the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, his vision and resolve. He developed the emirate from a beach to the top of the international glitterati scene with hardly any oil revenue, which made me think unhappy things about the leadership in Jerusalem.

I learned about the order the local government preserves, the paucity of crime, the openness to strangers, and the political pragmatism of the emirs. I also feel uncomfortable about the hordes of foreign workers, who have a majority but no political power.

I write this on my last night in Dubai. I hope I haven't gotten carried away, and that tomorrow morning the Dubai internal security won't arrest me, torture me and cast me into the sea, leaving behind just a SIM card and a mystery. So I'm e-mailing this off right now, to be on the safe side.

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