MANAMA, BAHRAIN (VINnews) — A Jewish midwife who moved to Bahrain in the 1930’s is now a national icon in the tiny Gulf state, and was even immortalized in a recent Kuwaiti-Saudi television series as Umm Haroun (mother of Aaron). The popular series, published last April and screened during Ramadan, was a harbinger of the eventual normalization and peace agreement with Israel.
Umm Jan (this was her real name) moved from Iraq to Bahrain where she served as a midwife to many prominent Bahrain citizens and was affectionately known as the “mother of everyone” or the “Midwife of Al-Muharraq”, Bahrain’s third largest city and its capital until 1923. Even though she died in the 1980’s, she is still remembered by many, even before the TV series ran.
Abdullah Askandar, a young pro-Israel Bahraini, published an interview with Umm Jann broadcast on Bahraini television and tweeted in Hebrew and English “the midwife Umm Jan helped deliver my mother in the 50s’ and my older brothers in the 70’s. She is a national figure who lived among us in peace and love and contributed enormously to the nation and to the country through her work, ever since arriving in Bahrain in 1937.”
Askander told Ynet that “all Bahrainis knew her. She was a well-loved Jewish woman who delivered most of the residents of this island for decades.”
Umm Jan immigrated to Bahrain after her husband was employed by the local oil company and she may have presaged the normalization being experienced in the Gulf states and Saudia Arabia in our time. The television series, which featured on Saudi’s MBC television service, focused on the tiny Jewish Kuwaiti community in the 1940’s and its relations with the broader community in the wake of Israel’s statehood.
For the first time, Arabs saw how Jews were victimized by the establishment of Israel and not just Palestinians. There were sharp responses from Palestinian surfers and some called the Saudis “primitive camel men from the desert.” Saudi surfers responded that for decades Saudis had donated millions of dollars to the Palestinians and that all the money had vanished without the Palestinians utilizing it to promote their national goals. They accused the Palestinians of ingratitude towards them.
The furor around the series caused Bahrain to issue an official statement published in Gulf News that “while the figure of the heroine in Umm Haroun is inspired by Umm Jan, a Jewish woman who lived in Bahrain, it does not describe her real life or role in Bahrain or her contribution to the local communities.”
“Umm Jan was an aristocratic woman and a national figure in Bahrain”, said Yousuff Mahmoud, who is responsible for the Bahraini news agency. “She received much honor and admiration in accordance with the tolerance, coexistence and acceptance of others which characterizes our country.”