The king of Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, called this week for the Jews who emigrated from the Gulf nation to return. Natan Aloof, one of the veteran immigrants to Israel from Bahrain, responds to the royal call.
Last week, King Al-Khalifa and Bahraini Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa met in London with a group of expatriate Bahraini Jews who currently live in the United Kingdom. The meeting was highly unusual for an Arab monarch, although, in May of this year, King Al-Khalifa became the only Arab ruler to appoint a Jewish woman as an ambassador. Huda Azra Ibrahim Nunu, a member of the Bahraini parliament, was assigned to the island nation's embassy in the United States. The English-language Gulf Daily News reported that the Jewish delegation and Al-Khalifa discussed Bahrain's internal affairs and its efforts at modernization.
"This king loves Jews; therefore, he asked the Jews living in Bahrain to request Jews living in Israel to return. There are two reasons for it, one is lip service or to emphasize his love to the Jews there," Israeli immigration activist Natan Aloof commented in response to King Al-Khalifa's invitation.
"I want to tell you there are very few Jews in Bahrain. They all work as traders, they are obligated to the King, and in the parliament this wise king chose from every group representatives in the parliament, even the Jews, who are a small minority," Aloof explained.
For the most part, the Jews of Bahrain were treated well, Aloof said. But in 1948, "the Jews felt hostility. They were victims of looting - including my house. In Bahrain, the majority are Shia Muslims, which were behind most of the looting. That’s when I decided to come to Israel."
Aloof tried to promote immigration to Israel among four fellow Bahraini Jewish families, but "they refused. They have a lot of money, businesses. I gave up." The remaining Jewish community consists of 37 people, among them Ms. Nunu. "She is so loved, so educated," Aloof commented, "but I think that the people of the parliament don't like the idea that a Jew is there, and see her as a spy.... The king who loves the Jews promoted her to be an ambassador."
In an interview with the Jewish News newspaper Al-Khalifa said, "Bahrain has reached out for hundreds of years. We have got at least 30 churches in a very small country, and mosques next to churches, and synagogues next to churches. They are all living there, and I think this is the real Arab neighborhood."
Bahrain currently boasts one synagogue and a Jewish cemetery. The former, according to a Jewish Virtual Library entry by Ariel Scheib, remains a Jewish house of prayer thanks to the Bahraini government. Seeing that the synagogue now stands locked and empty, with only a few dozen Jews and most holidays marked in community homes, the local Jewish leadership sought to donate or convert the structure; however, the king insisted that it remain a synagogue.
Jews have lived in what became Bahrain since the times of the Talmud. The country is now a predominantly Shiite Muslim kingdom with approximately 700,000 subjects, although ruled by a Sunni dynasty.
A former Bahraini, Nancy Khedouri, wrote a book on the history of the Jews of Bahrain which was published in mid-2007. Khedouri's second book on Bahrain's Jewish community is to be published later this year.