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“I didn’t know what was going on,” Bagraim recalled. “I imagined it was some sort of traffic offense. I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out and we’ll get him back here in a few days.’ [I] told the others to get on to an airplane and come back. I slightly underestimated the situation.”
For the bulk of his incarceration, Karabus was held at the Al Wathba prison, sharing a medical ward for a time with two brothers accused of murder. Karabus, who suffers from a heart condition, passed the time playing chess with one of the accused, a 26-year-old Cambridge University student who Karabus describes as “a nice guy.”
Without a chess set in the ward, the student fashioned one from a checkers board, drawing the pieces on paper and attaching them to the checkers.
“It wasn’t the greatest chess set but I played with him,” Karabus said.
A diary entry from the time reads: “Hot as hell, waiting out in the sun with shackles on wrists and ankles. Sitting in a 15 square-metre waiting room with 40 other prisoners. No word yet.”
Meanwhile, back in South Africa, Bagraim was campaigning for the doctor’s release and keeping the story alive in the media. For the past six months, Bagraim said, he has done “absolutely nothing else.”
Karabus was finally acquitted of all charges in March, but the saga didn’t end there. Several administrative bungles and delays kept him in the country for another two months.
His Jewishness was not a factor in his treatment by authorities in the UAE, Karabus said, but maintaining his religious obligations in a Muslim country was not always easy. At Passover, he stopped eating bread for a week.
He watched a seder and his grandson’s brit over Skype. In jail over Yom Kippur, he eschewed food and drink for the duration of the holiday.
“That was the easiest fast I ever did,” he said.