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Young Israelis and Bahraini take steps toward each other

Emily Gordine Berlin
July 14, 2022

An unprecedented gathering has brought together youth from Bahrain, Israel and Germany for a cultural exchange week in Berlin. They're pinning hope on the Abraham Accords, which seek to normalize Arab-Israeli relations.

Young people from Israel, Bahrain and Germany listen to a talk along the Spree river in Berlin
Young people from Israel, Bahrain and Germany find common ground in BerlinImage: Emily Gordine/DW

On the banks of Berlin's river Spree, a group of young people is gathered at the urban village Holzmarkt, which was once founded by Berlin-based techno DJs. The get-together is one of many events for 24 representatives from Bahrain, Israel and Germany who have been invited to the German capital for a week of exchange. Their itinerary is packed with team-building seminars, a tour of Berlin, discussions with artists, workshops and talks. It also included a short meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Initiated by the German Foreign Ministry and organized by the Goethe Institute, the series of events is meant to encourage dialogue and exchange in line with the 2020 Abraham Accords, which were brokered by then-US President Donald Trump and are intended to normalize relations between Israel and Arab countries.

Among the participants are students, doctors, journalists and accountants, who are all interested in forging dialogue — despite the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Establishing common ground

A young Israeli on a balcony in Berlin
Ziv Berrebi is a student at Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva.Image: Emily Gordine/DW

For Ziv Berrebi, a student from Beer Sheva in Israel, climate change has been a uniting issue. "We are all human, we are all students; we all see and take climate change as a case that is not about nationality or religion. We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water." 

Others talked about the status of women in their respective countries, including comparing job opportunities.

Group discussions often led to the realization that there are in fact many similarities regarding music, art, language, history or culture. The Lebanese singer Fairuz, for example, is very popular in both Israel and Bahrain. And both countries also use the same slang words, such as "yalla," which means "let's go."

For Majed Jaberi, an accountant from Hamed Town in Bahrain who deals in stock trading and cryptocurrency, digital access of common markets was also a common talking point. "I saw that there are people with the same interests, and we might collaborate in the future."

Simply coexisting

Even when opinions diverged, understanding remained possible. "We had quite a different opinion over what a casual dress code means," said Ramos Farina, a member of the German delegation.

"But it's OK to be different — just because there is a conflict of views, you can still coexist."

Indeed, peaceful coexistence is among the goals of the Abraham Accords. The joint statement, agreed by Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, seeks to promote dialogue and peace in the region. After the initial creation, Sudan and Morocco followed suit in signing the accords and normalizing ties with Israel. Since the deal was struck, a trickle of official delegations among the various countries has ensued.

In Berlin, participants are optimistic about the change the accords can bring.

"I think it's good for the Middle East and especially Bahrain," said Jaberi.

Reflecting on his recent trip to Israel, he said: "In the media you only see the war part and the problems. But when you go there, you see how people are living together, how different religions are all in one place, having their normal life." He believes the Accords can bring peace in the wider region.

A young woman from Bahrain stands near the Spree river in Berlin
Fetema Al Najem is a journalist and presenter in BahrainImage: Emily Gordine/DW

Bahraini journalist and presenter Fatema Al Najem is also supportive: "Bahrain is normalizing relations with Israel and I'm totally with it. […] Bahrain and Israel have mutual interests, and both countries are going to benefit from this."

Avoiding divisive discussions

When asked about the Palestinians' criticism of the Accords, many of the youth delegates were reluctant to comment.

Their Israeli counterparts seemed a bit more open. "I understand this criticism," says Berrebi.

He agrees that more needs to be done, but still believes in the Abraham Accords as part of a concerted effort. "Our region is thirsty for such actions; but in parallel, there must also be solutions with our closer neighbors."

He hopes that the accords will create a sphere of influence around politicians on all sides to create such solutions.

Said Berrebi: "I am optimistic."

Edited by: Sonya Diehn