The 24-member delegation representing the “interfaith” organization This Is Bahrain, billed the visit as a gesture of “tolerance.” But Palestinians and many Bahrainis saw the delegation, which went through Israel, as a sign of official normalization between Tel Aviv and the Gulf kingdom.
Dozens of young Palestinian protesters and guards prevented the delegation from entering the al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, protesters in Gaza gathered near the Erez checkpoint to prevent any possible visit by the delegation to the besieged territory.
Senior Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk condemned the delegation in a tweet, saying that the group intent on “normalization” with Israel did not represent the Bahraini people who had always stood in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.
The Education Ministry in Gaza announced that the delegation would not be welcome in the territory’s schools, and children at a UN-run school named after Bahrain protested against the visit, chanting, “No to normalization!”
This tweet shows Palestinians gathered near the northern entrance to Gaza from Israel to protest the delegation:
The delegation insisted in a statement issued through the official Bahrain News Agency that it “does not represent any official body.”
However, members of the delegation suggested otherwise.
“The king sent us with a message of peace to the world,” one of the delegates, Sheikh Fadil al-Jamri, told Israeli media.
Another delegate, Muna Khoury, told the BBC that the trip was approved by Bahraini officials, saying, “Of course there is some kind of agreement with the government. How else would we have been able to leave?”
She also denied that any of the delegation had attempted to go to Gaza.
Bahraini nationals took to twitter to express their support for Palestine and their rejection of official normalization with Israel.
Many used an Arabic hashtag that translates as “Bahrain resists normalization.”
Warming up to Israel
The Bahraini government is paving the way for an overt relationship with Israel, despite the countries having no diplomatic ties.
It is also a reflection of the warming of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain and other Gulf kindgoms following Riyadh’s lead.
Earlier this year Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa denounced the Arab boycott of Israel and declared that citizens of his Gulf nation are allowed to visit Israel.
Hamad’s comments were made to Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, heads of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, during a visit to Bahrain’s capital Manama.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a far-right Zionist organization that aims to suppress the Palestine solidarity movement and smear critics of Israel’s human rights violations as anti-Semites.
In September, the Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted Hamad’s son Nasser, along with a 40-strong delegation, at what was also billed as an “interfaith” event.
“This is Bahrain” attended that event, where the Israeli national anthem was played and, according to Israeli media, “Arab officials stood in respect.”
Months in the planning
The delegation to Israel this week was clearly a fulfillment of the king’s call for normalization. Delegation participant Khoury told the BBC that this week’s visit had been three months in the planning.
In a now deleted tweet, Likud lawmaker Ayoob Kara posted a picture of himself with Samir Sadiq al-Baharna, a member of the Shura Council – an official consultative body in Bahrain.
“After I succeeded previously in bringing a Bahraini princess secretly for complicated surgery, I welcome the first public visit of a Bahraini delegation,” Kara wrote in the tweet. “Some of them are my personal friends (in the picture, myself and adviser to the king, Samir al-Baharna). We will continue to push for regional peace under the sponsorship of Trump.”
Kara appeared to be referring to an incident in which he claims he was involved in bringing an unnamed member of the Bahraini royal family to Israel for treatment, which an Israeli hospital confirmed happened in 2010.
Twitter user Yusuf Al Jamri posted a screenshot of Kara’s deleted tweet.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article erroneously described King Hamad’s son Nasser as his designated successor. The crown prince of Bahrain is the king’s elder son Salman.