The first ever commercial flight between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has taken place, and The Times of Israel is calling it the “Peace Plane”. But a better name would be the Occupation Plane.
Flight 971, with Benjamin Netanyahu and Jared Kushner on board, took off from Israel’s capital Tel Aviv and landed in Abu Dhabi, a result of the recent normalization of relations between the two countries. With that agreement, the United States has worked to align the Gulf monarchies with Israel to create an explicit front against Iran and to further normalize the occupation of Palestine.
This is no more clear when looking at the plane itself. On the cockpit of the plane, the word “peace” was written in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. Right beneath it was the name of the plane, Kiryat Gat. And Kiryat Gat is actually, if you can believe this, the name of the Jewish Settlement built of top of two Palestinian cities ethnically cleansed when the state of Israel was founded.
To create Kiryat Gat as an entity, the Palestinian cities of Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja, located just north of the Gaza Strip, were ethnically cleansed by Israeli armed forces in 1948 in a military operation dubbed Operation Yoav. Within a week, Iraq al-Manshiyya was completely destroyed and not a single trace of a Palestinian building can be found in the settlement. In al-Faluja, all that remains are fragments of the village wall and the foundations of its mosque. Israeli government offices and an airport were then built on the surrounding land.
Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja were not exceptional cases by any means. While the early Zionist movement popularized slogans to imply that Palestine was empty — things like “a land for a people for a people without a land” — it was of course evident that the land already belonged to someone else. Yosef Weitz, the President of the Jewish National Fund, a group dedicated to creating a Jewish state in Palestine, wrote in 1940, “Among ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both people in this country... and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, to transfer them all... we must not leave a single village, a single tribe.”
In total, 530 Palestinian villages just like Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja were ethnically cleansed or destroyed by the settlers. Israel regards this as its independence day, while Palestinians commemorate this as Al-Nakba, which literally translates to “the catastrophe” in Arabic.
Since the Nakba, the Right of Return has been a long standing demand of the Palestinian people and is enshrined in UN Resolution 194, which stipulates that right for more than six and a half Palestinian refugees, most of whom live just a few hours from their former homes. Israel refuses to comply with this and other UN resolutions, and this is one of many reasons that the vast majority of Arab people, and Arab states, have opposed normalization of relations with Israel.
And that brings us back to this “peace plane,” named after a Jewish settlement stolen from Palestinians 72 years ago. For all the excitement in the Western and Israeli press, you see no celebrations elsewhere in the region. Because far from paving the way to the “peace deal of the century”, this one looks like just the latest in a long list of false promises designed to provide cover for the theft and occupation of Palestinian land.