The Abraham Accords Peace Agreement between the UAR, Bahrain and Israel is very good news but then we’ve been in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf for at least 1,500 years and they’ve always known we were an obstinate lot. Muhammad sent in an army in 630 to convert us but, as usual, we weren’t having it.
In the 12th century that indefatigable traveller, Benjamin of Tudela, found us running the pearl trade in Bahrain and a community of 5,000 in al-Qatifa. The pearl fields around Bahrain were then considered the best in the world. By the 19th century we were also strong in textiles and banking and relations with the Moslems were very good. Many. Jews emigrated to Bahrain from Iraq and contributed to the Bahrain economy. The Halwachi family, for example, transformed the Bahrain sweet industry.
Most of the community emigrated to Israel after 1948 amid anti-semitic riots, and the synagogue was burned down. The official government policy was still one of toleration and it was rebuilt in the 1980s. Eventually, the royal family was so impressed by Israel that when a Bahraini princess needed a very delicate operation in 2010, she chose to have it in Haifa rather than America.
When she recovered, relations with the few Jews left in Bahrain were further improved, to such an extent that Ebrahim Nonoo became the first Jewish member of the Shiura Council, the Bahraini Parliament. After Nonoo came Nancy Khadouri in 2013. Even more exceptional, another Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo, Khadouri’s first cousin, was appointed ambassador to the United States from 2008-2013. It wasn’t surprising that she was the first Jew to be appointed a Bahraini ambassador and the first woman as well.
There were more friendly gestures. In 2015 the ruler, Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, lit Chanukah candles in the palace with the community, and land was provided to build a new synagogue. Slowly but surely things returned to historic normal. In 2017 the Sultan denounced the Arab boycott of Israel. During an economic conference in Bahrain in 2019, the first morning service for 70 years was held, with a minyan including five rabbis who were delegates.
The country can also boast the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful co-existence, while Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center is a regular visitor to the region and a contact with the international community.
Bahrain’s capital, Manama, is also unique in the Arab world in having a small area of the town housing a Sunni and a Shiite temple, a Hindu temple, churches and a synagogue.
Religious toleration is taken very seriously.
Of course, it is very much in Bahrain’s interests to run a country whose laws are acceptable to the western world. There have been accusations of human rights atrocities and opposition to the court is dealt with severely.
At the same time most of the world’s largest financial institutions have branches in Bahrain and their contribution to the economy is an important part of the nation’s trade. There are over a million people in the country but half of them are non-Bahrainis.
The peace accord was initiated by President Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but it is the president who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.
The question now is whether other Arab states will join Egypt and Jordan in making peace with Israel.
Cooperation with a highly industrialised and scientifically advanced country on their doorstep would help them solve many of the problems for which they don’t have their own native experts.
The Bahraini princess would be one witness to that.