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The Opportunity of Bahrain

(Photo courtesy of author)
(Photo courtesy of author)

When Israel signed the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in September 2020, travel-loving Israelis celebrated. Have you already visited the Burj Khalifa or know someone who has? Likely, your answer is yes. Over half a million Israelis have already flown to the UAE.

While Israelis are enjoying the privileges of normalization with Dubai, our relationship with Bahrain is equally significant. I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Bahrain until I learned of the PICO Ambassadors program this fall and submitted my application. The Ambassadors program was envisioned by Jerusalem-based entrepreneur Elie Wurtman as a way of building bridges between Israel and countries around the world through youth learning exchanges focused on tech innovation.

I was honored to be among the 18 students selected for the first Israeli youth delegation to Bahrain organized by the PICO Ambassadors program. In preparation for this extraordinary opportunity, I dedicated about ten hours after school each week to prepare and develop the necessary skills for this trip — from collaboration and presentation to technical abilities in coding and design thinking.

While my family stayed back home in Jerusalem for Hanukkah, enjoying latkes, sufganiyot, and dreidel games, I boarded a direct flight for the Bahraini capital city of Manama and spent the last week on the island of Bahrain. There, our group met with students at a local school and jointly developed ideas to address the issue of water scarcity. We also visited the Jewish community in Bahrain, met with important dignitaries, and toured historical sites.

Often passed over for other destinations in the Gulf, Bahrain is a beautiful and relaxing vacation spot. Manama means “the place of rest” in Arabic. It has a stunning coastline, pleasant weather, and unique architecture.

Next Hanukkah, consider a trip to Bahrain. In addition to natural beauty and interesting sites, Bahrain also offers a truly authentic encounter with the Arab world. As an example, while Dubai is heavily populated by foreigners, in Bahrain the locals make up a far larger percentage of the population.

To truly achieve the goals of the Abraham Accords we must be prepared to travel beyond the familiar tourist routes and meet local residents face to face. On the PICO Ambassadors program, we developed friendships with students at a Bahraini school. We played soccer, told jokes, and shared meals.

If Israeli kids can do it, so can you. And as Israelis, we must.

In the Middle East, we can’t solve our problems on our own. Israel struggles with many serious issues, including water scarcity. We must work together with our neighbors to solve these problems.

With Israeli tourism to Bahrain, and Bahrainis visiting Israel, we can build the foundations of a strong, intertwined economic relationship. Israeli entrepreneurs can find new business partners, while Israeli investors can find new opportunities. A strong economic relationship will allow for closer political ties. Traveling to Bahrain is more than just a trip — it’s a statement.

Upon my return to Israel, I want to issue this challenge to Israelis: Visit Bahrain and be a part of a true normalization with the Arab world. Alongside the glamor and excitement of Dubai, Bahrain offers the opportunity for an authentic encounter with the local population. Only through such interactions is real peace possible.

I hope mine will be the first of many youth exchanges between our countries and together we can create a relationship built on cooperation, progress and mutual respect.

About the Author
Matan Silverstein is a 9th grader at Himmelfarb High School in Jerusalem.
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