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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bahrain and Jews

Bahrain is the 42nd country of the Muslim 47. It has a population of 1,046,814. 81% of their people are Shi'a Muslim which is their state religion. It has a Constitutional monarchy of which the people are very unhappy about.

Jews have lived in Bahrain ever since Mohammed since there are Arabic texts referring to a Jewish presence in Hajar during his time. Benjamin of Tudela of the 12 th century wrote that nearly 500 Jews lived in Qays and that a population of 5,000 lived in al-Qatifa. They had the local pearl industry. Nancy Khadhori, a Jewish lady of Bahrain has written a book, From Our Beginning to Present Day about her Bahraini Jewish community. She writes about knowing that most of the Jewish men were traders and women were teachers, nurses, and had strong friendships with the local citizens. She says that these Muslim Bahraini practiced religious tolerance. Before 1948, nearly 600 Jews lived in Bahrain but there was anti-Semitic rioting in 1947-48 and again in 1967, connected with Israel's birth and the 67 War. Many of them then fled.

Right now Jews in Bahrain are not allowed to visit Israel, even though Bahrain agreed to stop boycotting Israel in exchange for a free-trade agreement with the USA in 2004. By 2007, only 36 Jews remained in Bahrain, and it is the only Arab Persian Gulf state with a synagogue. They are in the liberal middle class and several are active in politics.

Today's Jews come from the 1900's when families immigrated from the large Iraqi Jewish community in Baghdad. Some anti-Semitic political commentary and editorial cartoon continue to appear, usually linked to the Israel-Palestine situation. The ambassador to the USA is Houda Nonoo, a Jewish woman who had been serving in Bahrain's 40 member lower house of Parliament. I wonder how she is faring right now with all the rioting going on. 200 people have been injured and 4 shot dead at 3am including a 2 year old when their police attacked sleeping rioters who were camped out in the capital's Manarna's Pearl Square. The police surpised the sleeping people with live bullets being shot as well as tear gas and angry police wielding and using their clubs. Now they have more reason than ever to dislike the al-Kalifah clan who rules the country.

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