The first commercial Israeli flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi took off Monday morning, signifying the latest step in Israeli-UAE normalization efforts.
It comes just days after the UAE issued a decree formally ending the country’s boycott of Israel.
The flight, chartered by Israeli national airline El Al, was hailed by Israeli and US politicians as a historic occasion, as it carried an Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi in order to finalize the normalization agreement between the two countries, which made waves across the region when it was announced earlier this month.
On board the flight were senior US officials like Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, as well as a number of Israeli journalists who documented the journey from through Saudi Arabian airspace — the first time Israeli entry into Saudi airspace has been publicly acknowledged.
Prior to take off, standing in front of a red carpet and array of Israeli-US flags, Kushner told the crowd at Ben-Gurion International Airport that he believed “so much peace and prosperity are possible in this region and around the world.”
For Palestinians, however, watching the flight take off on Monday signified the opposite of hope and prosperity, instead serving as a reminder of the “betrayal” of their cause by the UAE, and their painful history since the Nakba.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh described the event as a “very painful” sight, adding that he would have much preferred to see a UAE flight landing in Jerusalem, “after it is liberated.”
Palestinians took to social media to express their opposition to the flight and what it represents, pointing to the irony of having a direct flight between Israel and the UAE, while Palestinians still do not have their own airport, forcing millions of Palestinians to travel through Jordan and Egypt in order to access the outside world.
Salem Barahmeh, Executive Director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, tweeted that “the flight captures the ultimate hypocrisy and moral corruptness of this sham – the claim that this is all done for our salvation and liberation.”
“We are still oppressed and discriminated against – we can’t even connect with the world from our own homeland,” he said.
Photos of the El Al plane went viral on social media, as supporters of the normalization agreement celebrated the new “peace” decal debuted on the side of the plane in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.
Inscribed below the “Peace” was the name of the plane, “Kiryat Gat,” named after the city located in present-day southern Israel.
Palestinians on social media pointed out the fact that Kiryat Gat was one of the first Jewish settlements built on the lands of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages that were depopulated in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel.
Kiryat Gat was built on the remains of the Palestinian villages of Iraq al-Manshiyya and al-Faluja, where it is estimated that Zionist militias killed over 100 Palestinian villagers and Egyptian soldiers before forcibly displacing the survivors — many of whom are living in the refugee camps of Gaza today.