Telephone calls began ringing on Sunday between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, marking the first concrete step of a US-brokered diplomatic deal between the nations.
The agreement required Israel to halt plans to annex land sought by the Palestinians and means the UAE is only the third Arab nation to currently recognise Israel.
For Dubai’s small expatriate Jewish community, which has worshipped for years at an unmarked villa in this city-state, the calls represented so much more than just the convenience of being able to directly dial loved ones in Israel.
“There’s a sense of a miracle upon a miracle upon a miracle, as all of these hurdles fall away and people at last can come together and start talking,” Ross Kriel, the president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, said.
Direct telephone calls have been blocked in the Emirates, a US-allied federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, since its founding in 1971.
Since Thursday’s announcements, Associated Press journalists have tried to make calls between the nations without success.
But at about 1.15pm on Sunday, AP journalists in Jerusalem and Dubai could call each other from both landline and mobile phones registered to Israel’s country code +972.
Over an hour later, Emirati officials acknowledged Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan had called his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi.
Many economic opportunities will open now and these trust-building steps are an important step toward advancing states’ interestsIsraeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel
The Israelis later acknowledged the call as well, saying the block had been lifted from the Emiratis’ side.
Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel issued a statement “congratulating the United Arab Emirates on removing the blocks”.
“Many economic opportunities will open now and these trust-building steps are an important step toward advancing states’ interests,” Mr Hendel said.
Also on Sunday, Israeli news websites that had previously been blocked by UAE authorities, such as the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post and YNet, could be accessed without using means to bypass internet filtering in the Emirates.
In the UAE, a recorded message in Arabic and English would typically play before Sunday saying calls to +972 numbers could not be connected. The advent of internet calling allowed people to get around the ban, although these too were often interrupted.
Some in Israel used Palestinian mobile phone numbers with +970 numbers, which those in the UAE could call.
Deals between Israel and the UAE are expected in the coming weeks in such areas as tourism, direct flights and embassies.
Early on Sunday, the Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency announced a UAE company had signed an agreement with an Israeli firm for research and study of the coronavirus pandemic.
Alex Peterfreund, a cantor for the Jewish community in Dubai, read a passage of the Torah for visiting journalists.
“To start from scratch is quite exciting, to know that you start a community where there was actually almost no Jews in all those centuries, it’s motivating you also,” he said.
“We feel (like) pioneers.”