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Israel, Palestine, Ramon

An Airport for Palestinians?

Israel’s Ramon International Airport allows some Palestinians to fly, but many find the concession laced with bitter histories.

Words: Issam A. Adwan
Pictures: Artur Tumasjan
Date:

On Nov. 22, 1974, UN Resolution 3236 recognized the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence, and sovereignty in Palestine. However, Palestinians have been denied these basic rights, including freedom of movement.

The Israeli administration and the surrounding countries, Egypt and Jordan in particular, have undermined freedom of movement through the enforcement of harsh policies depriving the majority of Palestinians of the West Bank, Occupied Territories, Gaza Strip, and even the diaspora to return to their homes and villages as stipulated by the UN resolution 194.

However, on Jul. 21, 2022, Israel announced that it would allow Palestinians to fly through the Israeli Ramon International Airport in the West Bank. As a result, 40 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank were permitted to depart Israel through Ramon Airport in the Negev desert on Aug. 22, 2022. While this is a welcome change, the Palestinian Authority sees Israel’s opening of the airport as not a benevolent move but a strategic one that Palestinians know well.

Under the concessions Israel offered, the Palestinian Authority urged Palestinians not to travel via the Ramon Airport in southern Israel, instead insisting that the Palestinians should have their own airport. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh stated that if Israel wants to “help the Palestinians,” it could open the Jerusalem (Qalandia) airport, referring to the closed Qalandia Airport in the northern section of the occupied West Bank.

BARGAINING FOR THE RIGHT TO TRAVEL  

The Ramon International Airport began operating in 2019. It is a significant airport for internal and foreign flights and emergency landings. The airport was expected to take up to 2 million passengers for internal flights and 350,000 passengers for foreign flights yearly, with an increase in capacity to 4.2 million passengers. During its first year of operation, the airport met its expectations, but flights and passenger numbers dropped significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closures. Nevertheless, Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, have paid close attention to the Ramon Airport, mainly because it is one of the only airports available to them.

The Ramon Airport was also strategically influential on Israel’s economy during the wars in Gaza. For example, in 2014, Hamas’s rockets reached Gush Dan, close to the Ben Gurion Airport, during Operation Protective Edge. In 2021, Hamas revealed a new series of rockets named “Ayyash” during Operation Guardian of the Walls that exceeded 250 kilometers. These new rockets may target Ramon Airport, especially now that Israel has extended its runway from 3100 to 3600 meters to allow it to be used as an alternate civilian airport in times of emergency.

Israel’s opening of Ramon International Airport to Palestinians of the West Bank is not a benevolent move but a strategic one that Palestinians know well.

In December 1998, the Palestinian Authority opened the Gaza International Airport in Rafah, the southern city of the Gaza Strip. At that time, the airport symbolized the Palestinian dream of establishing their state following the Oslo Accords, which were signed on Sept. 13, 1993. Gaza International Airport served as the main gateway to Palestine in general — and the Gaza Strip in particular — for just two years, closing in 2000 during the Second Intifada. Israeli warplanes bombarded the airport in 2001, during the 2008 war, and bombed it numerous times in 2009. And most of its materials and equipment were taken during the 2006 Fatah–Hamas conflict. The space is now in shambles.

However, with President Joe Biden due for a visit on Jul. 13–14, 2022, Israel decided to open up the Ramon International Airport to Palestinians of the West Bank and potentially Gaza in what appeared to be a rare demonstration of goodwill. In a meeting on Jul. 7, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz proposed to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to calm tensions by coordinating on “security issues.” One of the benefits of this coordination would be granting Palestinians access to the airport.

Israel’s policy toward Palestine prioritizes such micro-actions. In light of the continual occupation, which includes aggressive border policing, homesteading, and restricting movement, Israel publicly prioritizes micro-policy actions toward Palestinians to help safeguard its security and maintain normalized ties with other countries in the region. For Palestinians, though, negotiating on these smaller policies undermines their central political aim of reclaiming their sovereignty, right to life and freedom, and statehood.

Regarding the opening of Ramon Airport to Palestinians, it has allowed Israel to momentarily halt any resistance from the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has granted more work permits to Gazans. But these are short-term solutions.

WHEN CAN GAZANS FLY?  

Omar Shaban, founder and director of Palthink for Strategic Studies, called the move to open the airport “financial, psychological and physical blackmail” in a Facebook post. He was describing the bind many Palestinians find themselves in as they manage continual occupation and their political convictions, with the need to navigate their personal lives in the midst of continual oppression. “The story of the Palestinian traveling to and from Palestine is like a path of pain, suffering, humiliation,” he wrote. Shaban hopes that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, “especially the youth,” will have the opportunity to travel from Ramon Airport, especially since there is no other way to travel until Palestinians have their own airport.

The opinions of the people of Gaza are very diverse due to the situation’s complexity and the 15-year blockade, which deprived people of their fundamental human rights, including the right to travel. Many have expressed their wish to travel through Ramon Airport, while others preferred to die in Gaza and not to support Israel in any way.

Among all the opinions, one has dominated among the Gazans that brings a paradoxical mix of irony and sadness, which is that the word “Ramon” rhymes with a word in Arabic that means “they abandoned us” — by this, they refer to Palestinians of the West Bank abandoning Palestinians of Gaza.

Issam A. Adwan

Issam A. Adwan is a Gaza-based journalist and human rights activist who presently works at the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution as a media officer. He was the project manager for We Are Not Numbers.

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