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UAE Spacecraft Brings No Hope for the Palestinians

Hagai El-Ad
Hagai El-Ad
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An Emirati scientist prepares for the launch of the Emirates' Hope space probe to Mars in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 19, 2020.
An Emirati scientist prepares for the launch of the Emirates' Hope space probe to Mars in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 19, 2020. Credit: Jon Gambrell,AP
Hagai El-Ad
Hagai El-Ad

The United Arab Emirates’ spacecraft heading for Mars is called Hope. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made sure to mention this in his announcement of the peace treaty with the UAE. After all, Startup Nation is happy to gaze into space, the heavens, the Persian Gulf or any other conceivable place, just as long as it doesn’t have to look straight at the Palestinians.

The Palestinians, unlike that spacecraft, didn’t merit a place of honor in the prime minister’s speech. The Palestinians, unlike that spacecraft, aren’t heading for Mars. The Palestinians, alongside us, live on the ground of reality.

PODCAST: Inside Israel's no-change, no-cost peace deal with the UAECredit: Haaretz

The setting aside, at least for now, of the formal annexation of part of the West Bank allows us to direct our attention to that very place – the ground of reality. For in reality, with or without U.S. President Donald Trump’s backing, the ground between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is home to 14 million people. And all of them are subject to the same authority.

Millions of them – all Palestinians – live without rights, vulnerable to state violence, dispossessed, displaced, killed and oppressed. Israel considered for a time whether to make this aspect of reality official by announcing an “annexation” or “applying sovereignty.” Some people questioned the practical implications of such a move, since Israel already acts as if this territory were its own.

In the end, Israel forged the deal announced by Netanyahu. The declarations will be put on the shelf for now, but the Palestinian people will not. With or without the UAE, and with or without annexation, there is already a consensus in Israel about continuing to rule over the Palestinians. The argument is only over the details and the amount of lip service to be paid.

United Arab Emirates and Israeli flags at the Peace Bridge in Netanya, Israel, Sunday, August 16, 2020. Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP

Netanyahu simply announced his preferred alternative for continuing the existing situation – without formal annexation (for now), but with the UAE. Yet under any possible scenario, anyone who wakes up tomorrow morning in Ramallah or in Khan Yunis will wake up to the same reality, one in which they are subjects with no rights and in which almost every aspect of their lives is controlled by Israel.

Netanyahu wants to talk about Abu Dhabi, but life itself, to use a favorite term of his, is attached firmly connected to Hebron and Nablus, Gaza City and Jerusalem. Because even after the Hope enters Mars’s orbit in a few months’ time, all of us here – Jews and Palestinians alike – will remain in the same shared orbit.

Look straight into the eyes of the people living under a regime of checkpoints, permits, military orders and walls dividing us. What hope – not in space, but here on earth – do they have in the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege for 13 years; in the Jordan Valley, where dozens of communities have no water and are repeatedly expelled from their hopes; in the bantustan of Ramallah, whose residents are surrounded by settlements and checkpoints; or in the Jenin refugee camp?

The moral questions that must be answered are, first, how our life here on earth will look when millions of people are already in the sixth decade of this rotten reality. And second, how we can oppose a regime whose essence is one group’s supremacy over another so that we can live in a completely different reality, one with justice and rights for all.

The answers to these questions won’t be found on another celestial body or through disruptive technologies. They won’t be found in the prime minister’s speech or in Washington. They are simple, fundamental answers that all decent people can find when they look other people straight in the eye.

Look closely at them. Then look inward. You know the answers.

Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem.

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