Will United Hatzalah inspire similar groups in the Middle East? – opinion

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ELI BEER (left) and Mohamed Alabbar in Dubai. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Shortly after Israel announced the peace accords with the United Arab Emirates, I spent a recent holiday with my family in Dubai.
I have visited Dubai twice before, and on both occasions, I did not reveal that I was Israeli. I traveled on my US passport and I tried not to look too Jewish. On both previous occasions, I went to promote the growth of United Hatzalah and United Rescue.
The first time I traveled there I was on my way to help start operations with a partner organization of United Hatzalah in India, and I was building the framework to help launch the organization in Dubai itself.
On my second trip, I was invited by the government to talk about how the work of United Rescue in Jersey City was improving response times there, in the hopes of opening up a similar organization in Dubai.
At the time I didn’t mention that United Hatzalah was founded and is the most active in Israel. I spoke only about our international teams and activities. I met with his highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. I spoke to him about our activities and left with a good feeling that we had made progress.
But this trip, that I took over the holidays just now, was different. After having missed Passover with my family due to being hospitalized in Miami with COVID-19, and not having been able to take a vacation with my family in the previous year either, I decided on the spur of the moment to take my family to Dubai. I booked tickets two hours before the deadline to leave the country due to the recent lockdown and off we went to Dubai via Ethiopia.
This trip was completely different. I wore my kippah proudly. No one in my family was afraid to show our Jewish or Israeli heritage. When we got to immigration in Dubai, the welcoming we got was incredible. The Emirati officials were ecstatic to see us.
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We told them we were from Israel and they expressed their wish to come to visit Israel. We traveled to the apartment that Rabbi Levi Druchman, the Chabad emissary of Dubai arranged for us and we had all of the meat that we needed as well as the Arba Minim, which we brought from Israel. Rabbi Druchman also arranged a beautiful sukkah for us outside in our yard overlooking the beach.
The highlight of our trip was meeting the Alabbar family, an incredible family, which was introduced to us by Avi Hier from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Mohamed Alabbar and his son Rashid met us and were incredibly gracious. In his younger years, Mohamed founded a company called Emaar Properties, which was the developer of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall, and he also created Noon.com.
I met with Mohamed, his son Rashid, his wife, Miriam, and their whole family. They are very proud Emiratis who are very close to all of the leaders in the region and have been big proponents of normalizing relations with Israel for a long time now.
When we met, I told them how proud we are at United Hatzalah of the cooperation between our Muslim and Jewish volunteers in Israel. They both loved the story about how Jews, Muslims and Christians found something in common and are able to work together. That is exactly what they believe in. They don’t see any difference between Muslims, Christians, or Jews, but rather believe that we are all human and that we all have the same problems, challenges and joys. But we all have to learn how to live next to each other and with one another, especially in this small region of the world.
Mohamed and his son told me that they visited Israel a few times and loved what they saw. Now, my family and I got the chance to visit their home and spend time with them. I got to introduce them to my newest grandchild, Gavy.
Gavy enjoyed sitting on Mohamed’s lap. It was a beautiful scene to see my beautiful grandchild sitting on Mohamed’s lap and playing with him. This is the Middle East that I am excited about. Their family showed us a sense of hospitality that made us feel like part of their family. These are special people that I wish that every one of us will know about.
I was so impressed with his humbleness that I gave Mohamed my own personal United Hatzalah vest that has my title on it and a flag of Israel. He was very appreciative of the vest and he told me that he was going to hang it in his office.
These are the people who decided to put all of the hatred aside and sign a peace agreement with us in an effort to find things in common with us, rather than find things to keep us apart. Hopefully, more countries will follow in the footsteps of the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, and will get to know the real Israel.
Before I left, Mohamed told me that he wants to think of ways to build organizations like United Hatzalah in other countries throughout the Middle East. I look forward to continuing to build our relationship and hopefully extend the work of United Hatzalah to helping people in all of the countries in our region of the world so that we can save more lives.
*The writer is the father of five children, a social entrepreneur and president and founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, an independent, nonprofit, fully volunteer EMS organization that provides fast and free emergency first response throughout Israel\.
He is also a recovered COVID-19 patient. *
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