Last weekend, Hamada Odeh from Kafr Qasem, Sayf Nader from Jerusalem and Mohammed Issawi from Ramle, three Arab citizens of Israel, all race car drivers, conducted an interesting social experiment. “I got this idea,” Odeh says. “After the peace happened with the Emirates, a lot of my friends flew there. They said they were received there with love and respect, that the people there took good care of them.”
He had also been to the UAE a few times to compete in races before the peace agreement. He wondered whether Israelis would give Emiratis the same type of warm reception once they start coming here. The three friends put on spotless white galabiyas and white kaffiyehs and drove to the Herzliya marina, where they introduced themselves as visitors from Dubai.
Odeh, Sayf and Issawi says people quickly began to gather around them and show interest in the exotic tourists. The reactions were very positive. “There were things that were really heart-warming,” Odeh says. Issawi says, “There were lots of compliments and good wishes. We didn’t expect it to be so amazing. It shows that people respect one another and can respect each other even more,” he says.
Amid the yachts at the marina, Issawi says that, as visitors from Dubai, they fit right in. Eventually they revealed their true identities.
None of the people who were excited to see them could tell that the three were not actually Emirati tourists. Which is not all that surprising. To the average Israeli, an Arab is an Arab. They’re all pretty much the same, unless they are branded differently by an airline, a venture capital fund or a prime minister. “Differently” meaning branded as wealthy and powerful. Nothing more than that. A white galabiya and a luxury car make for very strong branding.
It’s unclear whether Odeh, Sayf and Issawi thought about the sophisticated rebranding of themselves or the irony of it. Interviewed on television by Yaron Avraham, they weren’t asked and didn’t talk about it. Avraham was keen, however, to close a deal with them: “When you visit Dubai as Israelis from Kafr Qasem, you send us the footage first and we’ll put it on the air.” This, though they’d just said that they’d already been to Dubai – what makes it so different now?
Avraham didn’t ask what would happen if three young Arabic-speaking men from Kafr Qasem, Ramle and Jerusalem decided to wander around the Herzliya marina on a Friday evening, not impersonating wealthy visitors from the UAE but just as themselves – three Arab men – and tried to get friendly with the locals. Would they have received such a warm and friendly reception then? Or is it more likely that someone would have decided to beat them up? Because of the white galabiya, the standard hostility and racism disappeared.