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Will Palestinian airlines fly again? Open in fullscreen

Daoud Kuttab

Will Palestinian airlines fly again?

A resident from the Gaza strip, holding dual citizenship [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 November, 2016

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Comment: Could the possibility of a joint Jordanian, Israeli, Palestinian airport somewhere in the northern part of the West Bank revive Palestinian hopes for a better future? asks Daoud Kuttab
Ask any Palestinian and especially those living in Gaza about their number one problem of living under occupation and they are most likely to say that freedom of movement is the most difficult issue they face.

They will cite permanent checkpoints or temporary ones in the West Bank. They will most certainly talk about the next to impossible task of getting a permit to travel 45 minutes from Gaza to Jerusalem or simply the long and dangerous Wadi Nar road connecting Ramallah with Bethlehem without going through the walled East Jerusalem.
While Gaza has been under a siege for nine years, West Bankers wishing to travel have no choice but to go through Jordan which means that they need to pass through Palestinian and Jordanian border patrols at the King Hussein bridge, with no way of knowing how long it could take.
Palestinian airlines at one time was a godsend to the people of Gaza. Using the Rafah airport, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip where able to fly from Rafah to Amman, Cairo or Baghdad and if needed, from there to anywhere in the world.

In 1999 a Palestinian could travel from Amman or Cairo and reach his Gaza home within an hour or two and that included going through an Israeli security check.
In its short lifetime since establishment in May 1995, Palestinian airlines owned two propeller planes and an older Boeing jet that was donated by Prince Walid Ben Talal. It was one of the Palestinian government agencies that was actually producing revenue in addition to it being a huge relief for the population of Gaza.
Those were the golden days according to Khaled Mubarak, Palestinian Airlines' CEO who is based in Amman, Jordan. "When the second intifada broke in October 2000 and the Israeli airport liaison officer was killed, we were not able to fly. Israel dug up the runway and prevented us from flying either way."
For a while, Palestinian Airlines was able to use the nearby El-Arish airport, but eventually the siege of Gaza and the deteriorating security situation in Sinai and meant that this airport alternative was unusable.
'Israel dug up the runway and prevented us from flying' - Khaled Mubarak, Palestinian Airlines CEO
The lack of an airport has crippled the newly established airline company, forcing it to find alternative activities for its small fleet. The company's CEO says that one propeller plane was rented out in Africa while the other is now in Holland for maintenance. The old Boeing was sold for parts and the company's 120 staff have nothing to do as they await a political solution that can allow them to fly again.
Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defence minister touched on this subject in his recent interview with the Palestinian daily Al Quds. He spoke as a typical colonial occupier; offering perks and using threats.

If Hamas stops digging tunnels and launching rockets we will not only let them fly out of Gaza but we will rebuild their airport for them, he said. Lieberman's carrot also included the threat that in the next war Gaza will be the last one "because we will completely destroy them".
Israel has also unilaterally suggested creating a $5 billion dollar man-made island off Gaza that can include a sea port and an airport. Palestinians have not even been consulted on this idea, which many believe is aimed at diverting attention from their illegal siege of Gaza.
The lack of an airport has crippled the newly established airline company
Without a solution that could lead to the end of the Gaza siege some Palestinians are thinking of an alternative airport in the West Bank. Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad had suggested in 2009 the building of an international airport near Jericho. 

The Japanese government officials are discussing the possibility of a joint Jordanian, Israeli, Palestinian airport somewhere in the northern part of the West Bank. Japan has also been focused on supporting Palestinian agricultural exports.
The issue of a Palestinian airport or using Palestinian airlines to travel seems such a farfetched dream that Palestinians have long since written it off. The political and security restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupiers have been so powerful that they have stunted any creative thinking in this direction.

The emotional and moral power of Palestinians using their own airlines and traveling the world from their airport could do more to revive Palestinian hopes and aspirations of a better future, than thousands of words by politicians or empty political rhetoric in conferences.



Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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