In a scene that would have been unthinkable not so long ago, a Bahraini official on a diplomatic visit slipped out for an unplanned tour of the Holy City, declaring it to be “probably the most spiritual city in the world.”
Zayed R. Alzayani, Bahrain’s minister for industry, commerce and tourism, was in Jerusalem for three days this week. Times of Israel reported that during his official visit, Alzayani took a “stroll through Jerusalem’s Old City”, which included the Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters.
“Last night I personally went out to walk around the city, on my own, with a couple of friends,” Alzayani told The Times of Israel on Thursday during a briefing for Israeli journalists I kind of snuck out because I wanted to go and see and feel for myself, as a normal citizen, not as a government official. And I spent an hour walking in the Old City and I went to the shopping mall across the road. I didn’t feel threatened, I didn’t feel any security issues.”
“I’ve always spoken to people who’ve been to Jerusalem. And they always told me: It’s probably the most spiritual city in the world. I felt it last night. I felt it,” he said. “And the closer you get to the holy sites — I don’t know, maybe it was a weird feeling, maybe it’s just me — I felt there’s more spirit.”
He was able to see the Kotel (Western Wall) and the Temple Mount from a point that overlooks the holy sites.
“When I got to the balcony where you can see the Wall and Haram al-Sharif [Temple Mount], you could feel — the air was different,” he said. “It was a nice feeling. Probably the closest I felt to that was being in Mecca and Medina, as a Muslim.”
The Bahraini official spoke to some residents on his stroll.
“To my surprise, most of them were Arabs,” he said. “One person asked me where I was from. I said Bahrain, he was very welcoming. He said, ahalan wasahlan, good to see you here, and that was it.”
Alzayani met with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, after which he spoke about his aspirations for travel in the region.
Welcome to Jerusalem,
My friend, Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani, Bahraini Minister of Industry and Trade.
Your visit symbolizes our joint interests in promoting peace and change in the Middle East. pic.twitter.com/91ogj4UvRG
— גבי אשכנזי – Gabi Ashkenazi (@Gabi_Ashkenazi) December 2, 2020
“We are eager to launch direct flights between Bahrain and Tel Aviv,” he said. “With us today in the delegation is a significant team presence from Gulf Air, our national carrier, to make sure that that gets established and up and running as soon as possible.”
“This city has the element of religious tourism for all faiths,” he said, noting that the same has proven true for other religious sites like the Vatican.
“I can see the same happening for Jerusalem. We can have Christians from South East Asia coming here; we can have Muslims from India and Pakistan and Bangladesh, which we serve extensively throughout our network, coming here. And we can have Jewish tourism coming to Bahrain or beyond.”