Here is a phrase that would have seemed like fake news just over a year ago: “Thousands of Israeli tourists have flocked to Dubai, even as ‘Israel-made’ alcohol has become ubiquitous on the shelves of stores in the city.” The United Arab Emirates and Israel, after all, have only fully normalized diplomatic relations since September 2020. In December, more than 70,000 Israeli tourists visited Dubai, confirming the long-held belief of many market fanatics: shopping malls. and markets are at least as important to peace among peoples and nations as treaties.
The Israelis are discovering something that the upper and aspiring classes in India have known for years now. Dubai is essentially a big mall, with quite a bit of entertainment and sightseeing, making it a great getaway. In fact, like Indians, Israelis find selfies with the city skyline as a backdrop to be quite the status symbol. Strict COVID-induced closures in cities in Israel have made Dubai a destination for everything from weddings to business conferences. And tourists would have found little fanaticism or animosity in the town. For societies historically considered antagonistic to each other, this is no small feat.
The sheer volume of tourist traffic came as a pleasant surprise to many, including those who feared that the relaxation in parts of West Asia would be short-lived. Tourism and markets, after all, are more than just sectors and spaces that make money. From the first bazaars, markets have been a space for exchange, both cultural and economic. And when people travel, when they interact with the host population, they come to see those who have been demonized as human beings – not just “the other”. Plus, even though Dubai’s shopping malls don’t bring peace to the world, who doesn’t love a bit of duty-free shopping?