An Emirati student is the first from the UAE to join an Israeli college, after his family developed a deep bond with a visiting Israeli businessman.
Mansoor Al Marzooqi, 19, has started online courses in government studies at IDC Herzliya and hopes to soon begin classes on campus at the private research college located north of Tel Aviv.
He said the brother-like bond between his father and the Israeli entrepreneur convinced him to transfer out of the University of North Texas in the US, after completing the first semester online last year.
The Al Marzooqis have become family to Patrick Assuline after they watched over him when he fell seriously ill with Covid-19 during a business trip to the Emirates.
Mansoor's father, Mohamed Al Marzooqi, regularly checked on Mr Assuline over 20 days in intensive care in January.
Mohamed then took home-cooked food for Mr Assuline as he stayed in hospital for another three weeks to recover.
The Israeli has become "Uncle Patrick" to the family. Mansoor decided to switch colleges after having conversations with him and his son Dimitri, who also visited Dubai.
"Uncle Patrick introduced my father to the idea and when we discussed it, I realised it is filled with opportunities and new experiences," Mansoor told The National.
“I’m very excited to go. Dimitri has studied there and explained how education there is not just based on theory but on practical experience. The more I heard, I realised this is my place.”
How 'Uncle Patrick' became family
Mansoor said some friends were surprised about his decision but understood once he explained the reasoning behind it.
“When Uncle Patrick was diagnosed with Covid and was in hospital for so many days, our relationship became true,” he said.
“We were praying all day and all night for him. He is human and we are human. We had to help someone who was sick and not in his own country.
“That he was from another religion and another country, none of that made a difference.”
The UAE has welcomed the recent ceasefire that halted the 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas movement last month.
The government has said the violence was a reminder of the urgent need for dialogue and a long-term solution to relations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Mansoor said his aim was to share the UAE’s vision of harmony.
“We never thought we would have relations with Israel or the Israeli people,” he said.
“But Uncle Patrick treats me as his own son and Dimitri has become my brother. Our leaders have taught us about values of respect, tolerance and prosperity.”
From home-cooked food to college ties
Mohamed met Mr Assuline during a seminar organised for an Israeli trade delegation in December.
On receiving a call for assistance from the Israeli businessmen who fell ill in January, he immediately arranged for him to be admitted to hospital.
"In the first 10 days, doctors said there was only five per cent chance of him surviving. As locals, we felt sad that someone came for a seminar and faced this, so we took a lot of effort to help him," Mohamed said.
“When he got better, my wife cooked special light food three times a day and I would take it to him. That made us family friends.”
He said their relationship was a sign of hope.
"We took care of him in Covid times when nobody takes care of people, so I told my son I was sure they would take care of him as a son," he said.
“When Patrick spoke of a good college in Israel for my son to study, I thought we should be part of my nation and my government’s plans for peace.”
The UAE and Israel signed the Abraham Accord last year that opened co-operation in health, investment, trade and tourism.
Mohamed said Emiratis were keen on following their government's lead.
“We have a government that has taught us to have mercy and to be patient in hard times. We love our government as our father,” he said.
“We want to show people the reality of the UAE. If my son goes as an example of good faith as an Emirati student to another nation, they will understand us through my son. I hope other Emiratis will also go to study.”
Long lasting connections
The promise of doing business in the UAE drew Mr Assuline to the country.
He hopes strong ties between the younger generation will be a landmark chapter in normalisation of ties and bring peace and prosperity to the region.
Mr Assuline cannot forget how the Al Marzooqi family cared enough to keep his wife overseas informed about his condition.
“The father of Mansoor was so generous with his heart,” said Mr Assuline, an investor in technology and renewable energy in Africa and Israel.
“When I left hospital, I found my brother next me. Mohamed’s family is my family.
"These are not words, these are facts. I can say this brotherhood is real.”
Once he knew Mansoor was keen on studying political science, Mr Assuline shared information about the college his son studied in.
He said the connection would be long lasting.
"We have a vision to educate our children, to create a climate of love and brotherhood," said Mr Assuline.
“It is important to open the door to others and show we can have success stories in studying in Israel.
“This is the message that there is a possibility to live in peace. We can show people love is possible, that Jews and Muslims can live together.”
Young students as ambassadors
It took several people to pave the way for Mansoor’s admission to a college in Israel, including Ilan Starosta, Israel’s consul general in Dubai who helped with visa requirements.
He hoped it would be the start of student exchange programmes and of medical professionals, including doctors.
“You don’t make peace just between governments, to make real peace is up to the people,” Mr Starosta said.
“What Mansoor’s father and Mansoor are doing is making the peace process a tangible thing. I hope the sons will do business. The next generation will be partners for sure.
“But this is more than business. That is not the reason for this friendship. It’s pure friendship.”