A delegation of Bahraini officials visiting Israel succeeded in piquing the interest of numerous Israelis as they visited famous places wearing their traditional keffiyehs and long white robes, according to a Times of Israel report.
The Bahrainis were guests of Sharaka, or “partnership” in Arabic, a group which sees itself as a “peace startup”, founded with the aim of translating the Abraham Accords into a warm peace between people. Such a peace has been sorely lacking in Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan, the first two Arab nations to make peace with Israel.
When arriving at the Western Wall, the Bahrainis who saw Jews praying there respectfully joined in and prayed their own prayers among the Jews, who looked on in curiosity and bewilderment at the strange spectacle. Seeing a Bar Mitzvah celebration, some of the Bahrainis joined in, dancing with the Bar Mitzvah boy.
The Bahraini delegation of businessmen, activists and officials posed for pictures with locals and placed notes in the stones of the wall. They were part of the first Bahraini delegation to fly to Israel on the new direct Gulf Air route from Manama to Tel Aviv.
Many of them conversed with Israelis and expressed their admiration for Israel- an unusual experience for many locals. A group of Chareidi girls asked where they were from and whether they could take pictures with them.
Traversing the entire country, the Bahrainis found Israelis to be charming and welcoming – except for Palestinians who called them traitors, blasted nationalistic music, or even cursed their families. The Palestinians view the Abraham Accords as a betrayal of the previously held political assumption that normalization with Israel must start from the Palestinians.
The Bahrainis however were unfazed by the epithets, choosing to ignore them as much as possible. They said the verbal attacks were entirely expected, and rather tame compared to some of what they’ve experienced on social media and from Palestinians living in Bahrain. However they chose not to ascend to Temple Mount, where foreign delegations have been verbally abused on many occasions by nationalist Palestinian elements.
A Birthright group encountered them next to the Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, which visibly excited the young Jewish Americans also visiting Israel for the first time.
“It’s amazing here; there’s so many different types of people and different types of culture just kind of meeting in one place,” remarked Rebecca Nadler from Florida.
Previously Sharaka brought over a delegation last December made up of Bahrainis and Emiratis.
“We want these brave pioneers who are being criticized by some at home to get to know Israel and Israelis with their own eyes,” said Dan Feferman,Director of Communications and Global Affairs at Sharaka. “We want to introduce them to specific organizations and people, especially from the private sector and civic society, in order to create relationships and collaborations.”
“They are also doing an important job positively representing Gulf Arabs here in Israel — a population that Israelis never really got to know until recently,” he explained.
For many members of the delegation, who had grown up with deepseated prejudices about Israel, the trip was an eye-opener.
Nayla al Meer, a PhD student and official in the Youth and Sports Ministry, described Israelis as “very beautiful, lovely, friendly people,” adding that “This is the trip of my life.”
Meer said that her family fully supported her making the trip.
Fatema Al Harbi, who works for the Education Ministry and serves as Sharaka’s vice chairman in Bahrain, is also an accomplished athlete and entrepreneur. Growing up, she had learned only “all the bad stuff” about Israel but wanted to discover what the country was really like by herself.
“I didn’t want to hear about it,” she said. “I didn’t want to see it through media. I wanted to experience it by myself, and see it by my eyes to know the truth, to know the reality.”
“I see them living peacefully,” she continued. “I saw a lot of Arab Israelis and Arabs; they love living here.”
Asma Alatwi, a 28-year-old who studied Hebrew in Cairo, and founded the Shemot Academy, the first institute for the study of Hebrew in Bahrain, said she came to learn more about Israeli life and culture — both Arab and Jewish — and to meet friends she has made over social media since the Abraham Accords were signed.
“If I get a chance I would like to discuss and expand the cooperation between Shemot Academy centers with ulpans here in Israel,” she said, referring to schools that teach Hebrew to new immigrants and other newcomers.
The group was especially moved by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
Bahrainis don’t learn about it at school, explained Khawla Al Shaer, who works at a pharmaceutical company in Bahrain. Shaer says that “We did learn about the Hiroshima bombing, for example, we did learn about World War One and World War Two and so on, but the Holocaust subject is a matter we should study and learn more about.”
“Being in that museum, and seeing all those pictures and all those documents, was amazing in a horrific way,” said Shaer. “I didn’t know how much effect it has on the Jewish people.”
She said that the museum “opened a door in her mind” that she intends to explore further.
Al- Harbi said that she had been taught about the Holocaust briefly in school, “but not about the people that died, that they were Jews, that it was intentional.”
She believes that Bahrain will teach about the Holocaust properly in schools in the coming years.
“I hear many stories about the Holocaust, but really I didn’t know the truth until I visited the Holocaust museum,” said Meer. “I will never, never forget what I saw.”