By Houda Nonoo
The Middle East changed for the better last year. Plagued by a pandemic and searching for opportunities and hope, our dreams came true on September 11, 2020, when Bahrain and Israel announced that they would establish diplomatic relations. I recall sitting at the White House signing ceremony a few days later, filled with excitement as government and Jewish communal leaders, many of whom I knew from my time as Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States, celebrated one of the largest accomplishments to take place in the Middle East in decades.
The excitement in the streets was palpable, and social media was buzzing with comments, photos and videos of support. Immediately after the normalization announcement, our Jewish community in Bahrain received calls and emails from Jews around the world wishing us a mazal tov – or mabrouk, as we say in Arabic – and shared their enthusiasm and eagerness to visit us soon. We are looking forward to welcoming them. In the last few weeks, there have been many announcements about plans to make their visit more comfortable, whether it’s through announcements of kosher food or Gulf Air’s new Tel Aviv route, we’re looking forward to welcoming you.
While 2020 was historic for Bahrain and Israel, this year will be even better as we feel its influence. Here are some of the areas where I believe we will see a large impact in 2021.
– Business: The COVID pandemic impacted economies around the world. Now, as economies open up again, businesses in Bahrain have a new market to tap into: Israel. So too, businesses in Israel have a new market to tap into: Bahrain. The opportunities in technology, start-ups, fintech, industrial manufacturing, real estate, agriculture, food processing, consumer goods and more have no limits. Additionally, our countries can benefit from sharing best practices as we rebuild our economies.
– Healthcare: Israel is known for its healthcare innovation, creating cutting edge solutions to some of the world’s most complex healthcare challenges. By partnering, we can propel healthcare forward. We can also benefit from an exchange of doctors and medical training programs.
– Education: Bahrain and Israel put great emphasis on their educational institutions, and there is opportunity to collaborate on this front as well. Whether it be an exchange student program or a professor exchange, there are wonderful way to teach our students, who will be the future leaders of the new Middle East.
– Travel and Tourism: The travel and tourism opportunities are probably where the people of both countries are most excited. The Ritz Carlton in Manama recently announced that it will begin offering kosher food, and Gulf Air recently announced its Tel Aviv route. Israeli carriers are looking at opportunities to fly into Manama as well. During my recent trips to Israel, I heard from many people about their excitement in having visitors from Bahrain – both Muslim and Jewish – come to visit. The Abraham Accords have opened up larger opportunities for tourism as more American and European Jews are now planning to come visit. There are groups that are looking to come for Passover, and there are plans underway for other Jewish holidays.
While history was made this past year between our two great countries, in many ways, 2021 will be even more exciting as the impact of the Abraham Accords begins to come to fruition. At the core of this agreement is the desire to create a new Middle East, one built on peace and prosperity for all. I believe that the growing partnerships between Bahrain and Israel will lead to sustainable peace in the region. This year we will see collaborations in the business, healthcare, education and travel and tourism sectors that will further bring our leaders’ bold vision to reality.
The writer served as Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-2013. She was the first Jew to be appointed an ambassador of Bahrain.