Bahrain bans citizens from contact with Israelis

Bahrain outlaws contact

October 27, 2009 17:00
2 minute read.

Jerusalem followed with concern on Tuesday reports that the lower house of the Bahrain parliament had passed legislation banning any contact with Israelis, with one source saying this was a direct result of the viciously hostile anti-Israel mood in the Arab world following the Goldstone Report and confrontations over the Temple Mount. Reuters quoted Jalal Fairooz from the Shi'ite Al-Wefaq bloc, an opposition group behind the move, as saying that "whoever holds any communication or official talks with Israeli officials or travels to Israel will face a fine... and/or a jail sentence of three to five years. "The motivation is that steps are being taken by certain countries to allow certain talks to be held with Israeli officials. Israeli delegates have managed to participate in events in Arab countries with no treaties with Israel," he said. Earlier this month the Israeli flag flew at a renewable energy conference in Abu Dhabi attended by a small Israeli delegation. This was reportedly the first time that an Israeli flag had been displayed in the United Arab Emirates which, like Bahrain, is a Gulf state with which Israel has no ties. The legislation passed the lower house of the Bahraini parliament, and now must go to the upper house, whose members are selected by the king. Israeli officials expressed hope that the move would be quashed by the royal family, and that Bahrain, which is an American ally and considered a moderate Arab state, would not, through this action, signal an extremist turn. A source in the Prime Minister's Office termed the move "unfortunate," and said it was a throwback to the Arab rejectionist positions of the 1960s and 1970s. "How does the Arab world think it is possible to make peace without contacts and talking?" the official said. "This is self-defeating. The Arab world says they want peace, but then can't talk to Israel. It makes no sense." The parliamentary move stands in stark contrast to a July Washington Post op-ed written by Bahrain's Foreign Minister Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, calling for more engagement with Israel. In the piece, Khalifa wrote that the Arab world had "not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel. An Israeli might be forgiven for thinking that every Muslim voice is raised in hatred, because that is usually the only one he hears. Just as an Arab might be forgiven for thinking every Israeli wants the destruction of every Palestinian." The Bahraini foreign minister wrote that the Arab world had not done a good enough job demonstrating to Israelis how the Arab Peace Initiative launched by Saudi Arabia in 2002 "can form part of a peace between equals in a troubled land holy to three great faiths." As a result of that article, Bahrain was viewed in Jerusalem earlier this year as the most likely candidate to positively answer US President Barack Obama's request to the Arab states to make some normalization gestures toward Israel. So far, however, neither Bahrain nor any other Arab country has stepped forward. In January 2007, Bahrain stripped citizenship from a Kenyan-born Bahraini runner, Mushir Salem Jawher, who won the Tiberias marathon. Jawher's citizenship was returned a few months later amid concern in Bahrain that as a result of the action they would be isolated by the international sports community. Bahrain, a pro-Western country with Sunni rulers and a Shi'ite majority, hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet. Last year Bahrain's king appointed a Jewish woman as his kingdom's envoy to Washington. The Jewish community in Bahrain dates back to antiquity, houses the only synagogue in the Persian Gulf, and today numbers between 30 and 50 people.

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