How the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Looks From Mars

All the human beings say they want peace in the Middle East, but none know how to achieve it. The Martians don't understand why.

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood
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A photo of the distant blue Earth above the Moon's limb, taken by the Apollo 8 crew in 1968, courtesy of NASA.
A photo of the distant blue Earth above the Moon's limb, taken by the Apollo 8 crew in 1968, courtesy of NASA.Credit: Reuters
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood

A view from Mars

The Martians make a visit to Earth. When they get there, everyone on the planet is in a huge meeting. “What are they doing?” say the Martians. “They’re discussing Peace in the Middle East,” says one of the Three Wise Persons.

“Hands up, everyone who wants Peace in the Middle East,” says the Chairman. Everyone at the meeting raises a hand.

“Now, hands up, everyone who knows how to accomplish it,” says the Chairman.

Nobody raises a hand.

“How can it be,” say the Martians to the Three Wise Persons, “that nobody can figure out how to accomplish a thing that everyone seems to want? The Beings of Earth are very puzzling to us. Oh Wise Persons, can you tell us why this thing seems so impossible?”

The First Wise Person says, “Some of them don’t really want it. They only say they do. Things suit them very well the way they are.”

The Second Wise Person says, “It’s Fear. Each side is afraid that if they make a deal, people supposedly on their own side will kill them, as with Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin. Also they are afraid that any deal acceptable to the other side will put their own side in danger. There’s a lot of sad history here.”

The Third Wise Person says, “It’s because of geopolitics. Each side is being played by larger powers. The larger powers will not let them make peace. Things are shifting. Iran must be considered. Also Russia, and, and ...”

“What then is the solution, Oh Wise Persons?” say the Martians. “You are causing us to become depressed.”

“Darned if I know,” says the First Wise Person. “It’s a no-win. Anything you suggest, someone shoots it down and then starts yelling at you.”

“Maybe if they all intermarried with one another, as in the days of Solomon,” says the Second Wise Person. “That would create alliances. It worked for him. Plus, he had concubines.”

“What are concubines, and are they good with chocolate sauce?” ask the Martians, who are quadrigendered and have sex with their ears. The Wise Persons sense a cultural misunderstanding coming up, and dodge the question.

“Now is not then, this is not that,” says the Third Wise Person. “The main thing is, there has to be Hope. Miracles have happened before.”

At this point the Three Wise Persons all begin calling one another names, such as Imbecile and Traitor, for each one prefers his or her own position.

“We see what the problem is, more or less,” say the Martians. “But from our own vantage point, which is on a planet far away and in another galaxy – we had to vacate Mars because of climate change – both sides would be well-advised to agree to jointly care for the ground they stand on. It isn’t very much ground, and it’s getting dryer and more polluted by the minute. If it becomes uninhabitable by human beings, what will they all do then?”

“That’s a longer-term solution, but you’ll never get a focus on it because human beings think only in the short term,” say the Three Wise Persons, happy to have a new party to disagree with.

“Best we can do,” say the Martians. “We would do better, only we don’t know how. We wish you well. Goodbye.”

And they get back into their spaceship and zoom away.

“Everyone wishes us well,” says the First Wise Person despondently. “Or so they say. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” says the Second Wise Person. “But if we wish hard enough, maybe it will come true,” says the Third Wise Person. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“But is there a will?” they ask one another. “That’s the biggest question. And even we, wise as we are, do not know the answer to it.”

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic and environmental activist. Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, she is author most recently of “MaddAddam.” This story was especially commissioned for the peace supplement.

The articles that appear in this section have also been published in Hebrew and Arabic.

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