The man who spoke Hebrew in Dubai
Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah, Israel's volunteer ambulance system, shot to notoriety last week when a video of him speaking Hebrew in Dubai went viral in Israel and across the Arab world.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not recognise Israel. The two states have no official diplomatic relations, although investigations have revealed high-level trade links including an Israeli-installed surveillance system used to protect oil installations in Dubai.
Many questioned how Beer had managed to travel to the UAE. Some speculated that the trip, organised around a conference about expanding the United Hatzalah model further afield, actually aimed to discuss military co-operation between the UAE and Israel.
Here, the joint US-Israeli national tells Middle East Eye about his trip to the UAE on his US passport, and his hopes for further co-operation between Israel and the Gulf States.
How did the video come about?
I made it because someone dared me to. He wanted me to dress like a sheikh and walk around Dubai speaking Hebrew. He said he’d donate two motorcycles [to United Hatzalah, which uses volunteers on motorcycles to improve response times] if I did it. I put the video on my personal Facebook – I didn’t know it would go so viral. It was all over Israel.
I didn’t think it would be a problem to speak Hebrew in Dubai – still, the last time an Israeli was in Dubai was a long time ago.
Translation: Friends, I’m here in Dubai. I wish you a nice week. You may think it’s Purim [a Jewish holiday where many wear outlandish fancy dress], but it’s not. We have been convinced by one of our friends here in Dubai to do this selfie so that we can receive two motorcycles [for United Hatzalah] in return. It’s worth it. We are here in Dubai – we wanted to look like locals so nobody could identify us. I think the police are coming to question us so I have to go.
What kind of reception did you get?
I didn’t have any problems. It was fun.
I like Dubai a lot – it’s efficient and entrepreneurial, which is very Israeli. We got [to Israel] 75 years ago, after the Holocaust, and built a whole beautiful country out of nothing. Dubai has also built a lot of very interesting things.
Dubai is not involved with the politics of the Middle East regarding Israel. The UAE is not political towards us. It’s all about money; they’re not looking for any trouble. I don’t think anyone in Israel has hatred towards Dubai, and I don’t think anyone in Dubai has hatred towards Israel.
The UAE has no reason not to have a relationship with Israel.
The UAE is seen to be under pressure to show solidarity with Palestinians. Surely that pressure is the reason there are no relations?
Look at countries like Jordan. They have a lot of solidarity with Palestinians. But they also have relations with Israel, although they are critical of Israeli policies. Because it’s such a small area, it’s better for us to work together without serious conflicts. There’s no reason that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries should not have good relations with Israel.
Israel is actually very much needed in the Middle East. Some countries don’t understand how important Israel is for the Middle East, in terms of stability.
Does Israel already have links with the Gulf?
They already share a lot – but it’s not official. A lot of these countries, like Israel, are very afraid of Iran. The same problem Israel has [with Iran], most of the countries in the region share.
In light of the nuclear deal with Iran, do you think there will be a public rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf?
I’m 100 percent sure of it. Nobody in Israel believes that Iran will stop developing nuclear weapons. Everyone knows they’re the biggest supporters of terror around the world. Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, they all have that same problem.
Are you hoping to expand the United Hatzalah model further in the Middle East?
A lot of countries are interested [in adopting the United Hatzalah model]. It already exists in the US, the UK, Canada, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, Panama, Brazil and Lithuania.
I had a meeting with the Queen of Jordan about it. It was a wonderful meeting, and she really liked it. She was very supportive of what we’re doing.
I would love for it to happen in different countries of the Middle East.