Here’s a sentence that would have seemed like fake news just a year ago: “Thousands of Israeli tourists flocked to Dubai, even as ‘Made in Israel’ alcohol has become ubiquitous on store shelves in the city.” The UAE and Israel, after all, only fully normalised diplomatic relations as recently as September 2020. In December, over 70,000 Israeli tourists visited Dubai, firming up the long-held belief of many a market fanatic: Malls and markets are at least as important to peace between peoples and nations as treaties.
Israelis are discovering something that the upper and aspiring classes in India have known for years now. Dubai is essentially one large shopping mall, with quite a bit of entertainment and sightseeing thrown in, which makes for a great getaway. In fact, like Indians, Israelis are discovering that selfies with the city’s skyline in the backdrop are quite the status symbol. The stringent COVID-induced lockdowns in Israel’s cities have meant that Dubai has become a destination for everything from weddings to business conferences. And tourists have reportedly found little bigotry or animosity in the market-town. For societies that have historically been seen as antagonistic to each other, this is no small feat.
The sheer volume of the tourist traffic has been a pleasant surprise for many, including those who were worried that the detente 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 earliest bazaars, marketplaces have been a space for exchange, which is as much cultural as it is economic. And when people travel, when they interact with the host population, they come to see those who have been demonised as human beings — not merely the “other”. Besides, even if the Dubai malls don’t bring about world peace, who doesn’t like a little duty-free shopping?
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