As a traveler who loves the Middle East and prays for peace in the Holy Land, I was elated to see an EL AL 737 land in Abu Dhabi yesterday. The historic first flight marks another milestone in warming diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Historic EL AL Flight to Abu Dhabi
EL AL flight 971, operated by a Boeing 737-900ER, pushed back from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport at 11:13AM IDT and landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport just over three hours later at 3:48PM GST. The world “Peace” was written over the cockpit window in Arabic, English, and Hebrew.
El AL put the word “peace” in Hebrew, English and Arabic on the plane for the first commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, set to depart tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/eUf6d3UXHb
— Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) August 30, 2020
Onboard were dignitaries from the United States and Israel, including U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Jared Kushner, Director of the Office of American Innovation, who sat in the first row of business class and shared this video:
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) August 31, 2020
A historic boarding pass to commemorate the flight:
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) August 31, 2020
The flight was numbered LY971 because +971 is the country dialing code for the UAE (the return flight will be LY972, Israel’s country code).
The first official flight between #Israel and the UAE is officially listed on the Ben Gurion Airport website!
FYI: the flight from Israel is flight number 971 (🇦🇪 phone country code); the returning flight is 972 (🇮🇱 phone country code)! https://t.co/R0wxvkQdAx
— Embassy of Israel (@IsraelinUSA) August 28, 2020
The onboard menu listed several appetizing meal selections:
— Noa Landau נעה לנדאו (@noa_landau) August 31, 2020
The Israeli and U.S. delegations will meet this week their UAE counterparts in Abu Dhabi to discuss the parameters of the new peace deal, which will include formal recognition of Israel and the establishment of embassies in respective countries.
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Over the years, sometimes on many occasions, my travels have taken me to Israel, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. To Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon. To Kuwait and Qatar and Bahrain. To Oman and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Even to Iraq and Iran.
Such a lovely part of the world with wonderful, gracious, and kind people. Of course I am generalizing, but the hospitality in the Middle East is unparalleled. And yet the Holy Land remains the epicenter of division and strife. On all sides you have imperfect people seeking dignity and trying to provide a better life for their loved ones. I’m not just talking about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but about the Sunni-Shia strain, the Arab Spring, and the civil wars of Syria and Yemen. And there are sinister actors too.
Pictures of an EL AL flight crossing Saudi airspace and landing in a country that still does not print Israel on maps brought a smile to my face.
I realize the Palestinians are not happy about this. I realize they are still walled in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and see social, political, and economic apartheid exacerbated by this deal, even with the Israeli pledge to suspend new settlement development.
But this is good news. And the fact that EL AL flew over Saudi Arabia is perhaps even bigger news. Might the Kingdom be the next to recognize the state of Israel?
There’s so much pain and suffering in the world today and we live in an unprecedented period of uncertainty. That makes this milestone all the more historic.
I’m not cutting the wedding cake yet…we’ve seen peace agreements crash and burn in the past. Frankly, I’ve long stopped being an optimist when it comes to humanity. But the economic and anthropological ties that will soon be possible between “enemies” will melt both visible and invisible walls of division. In doing so, I hope these newfound links will usher in an era of peace and understanding that will lead to more liberty and justice for all in the region.