The Jewlicious Guide to Visiting the UAE while Israeli

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and some cabinet Ministers have expressed concern about Israeli tourists to the United Arab Emirates possibly causing offense due to a lack of knowledge about Emirati sensitivities and wildly different cultural standards. Israeli tourists, under the best of circumstances, already enjoy a very poor reputation around the world. As such, it has been recommended that a pamphlet be produced to let Israeli visitors to the UAE know about the sort of behavior that may seem innocuous, but is likely to cause great offense.

I’ve been to Dubai a couple of times so I thought I’d put together a list of things to avoid while being Israeli in the UAE. Here it is, in no particular order:

1. Modest Dress: Dress modestly in public places. Men should wear shirts and women should cover knees and shoulders while avoiding anything too tight, revealing or see through. At “international areas” like the beach or hotel pool, you can safely wear bathing suits and bikinis. Yoga pants / Jeggings are to be avoided in public places both in the UAE and like, anywhere else in the world. Cross dressing is forbidden and women are expected to cover their hair when visiting a Mosque.

2. Reservations: Especially during high season (October-March), secure your hotel way ahead of time. Also, make sure to make restaurant reservations ASAP. It’ll be nearly impossible to just walk up to a good resto and be seated for dinner without a reservation. Kosher restaurants are a new thing in the UAE and I don’t know how full they are but best play it safe! If a hotel has no vacancy or a restaurant no available seats for dinner, don’t make a ruckus. Being disruptive and noisy can actually get you fined!

3. Driving: Speed limits in the UAE can go as high as 140 kph (87 mph) and drivers often drive even faster, and are impatient if you drive slow in the fast lane. You think you’re tough because you’ve survived Israeli roads? Dude. These guys drive fast and they have crazy powerful SUVs and supercars. Don’t mess around. The UAE also has zero tolerance for drinking and driving – like ZERO. Don’t do it.

4. Transportation: Dubai is a big, sprawling city and with the heat, humidity and potholes, it isn’t particularly walkable. Use public transport/taxis/Uber to get around. Dubai has a Metro that’s fast but not super extensive and buses that cover most of the city but are slow due to traffic. The last car on the trains is reserved for women and children and there’s a VIP option for more money that will usually allow you to secure a seat.

5. Photography: Do not take pictures of people without their permission – unlike most of the Western world, this is considered an invasion of privacy. Especially do not take photos of women or families in public and do not take photos of military or government facilities. You can get into serious trouble if you do.

6. Pointing: Don’t point at anyone with your finger – it’s considered obscene. Obscene gestures in public are illegal and can land you in jail. If you must use your hand, use the whole hand.

7. Drunkenness: Public drunk and disorderly behavior can land you a fine and even jail time. Do not be drunk in public. Do not be disorderly in public. Do not drink or have alcohol in your possession in public. The UAE has recently relaxed their rules on alcohol consumption but still, why chance it? Save your heavy drinking for when you get back home and read the news. You’ll really need a drink then.

8. PDA: Public displays of affection beyond hand holding (only if you’re married though) are strongly discouraged. Foreigners have been deported for kissing in public. I’m serious. Save the French kissing, and even hugging, for your hotel room.

9. Body Parts: Do not show the soles of your feet or point your feet at anyone. Do not cross your legs. Eat and handle food with your right hand. Do not shake hands with anyone of the opposite sex unless they put their hand out to you first. Men are expected to stand when a woman walks into the room. One also stands when an important person or elder enters the room – basically, if you suddenly see everyone standing, don’t ask why – just do the same thing.

10. Respect: Don’t disrespect Islam or be critical of the UAE’s rulers. Don’t even swear or use bad language in public, you can be arrested, fined and/or deported!

11. Vice: Use or possession of drugs, having a baby out of wedlock, adultery, cross dressing and homosexuality are all illegal in the UAE. Don’t do a homosexuality while visiting. It’s getting better though – cohabitation used to be illegal and now it isn’t. Honor killings have been criminalized. Attempted Suicide was a crime and now its been decriminalized. Drinking laws have been relaxed as well, so now you can have and consume alcohol in your home.

The UAE is a very conservative, Islamic country. One can look at the gleaming skyscrapers, luxurious malls, and crazy wealth and forget that fact – but don’t. It pays to be prepared and to be informed about the local culture and norms wherever you visit, but particularly in the UAE where you can get arrested and deported for violating some of these norms. The country is beautiful and the people are warm, cosmopolitan and hospitable. Spending time in the UAE can be great fun, definitely go! But try not to be too Israeli, ok? Ok!

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About the author

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Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

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