A group of 40 West Bank Palestinian civilians made history on Monday when they flew to Cyprus from Ramon Airport near Eilat, which they had been banned from using until now.
Physicians and pharmacists and their families from Bethlehem and Hebron were among members of a group who were allowed to board a regularly scheduled Arkia flight to Larnaca.
“Until today, flights for Palestinians in a unique framework, and in particular from Ramon Airport, were just a dream,” Arkia Israeli Airlines CEO Oz Berlowitz said. “And indeed, the dream has been fulfilled.”
"The dream has been fulfilled."Arkia CEO Oz Berlowitz
Most Palestinians who go abroad fly out of Amman, entering Jordan via the Allenby Bridge crossing.
So can Palestinians go to Ben-Gurion Airport?
Some 10,000 Palestinians, including senior PA officials who hold Israeli-issued VIP cards, have been permitted to travel through Ben-Gurion Airport.
Amir Assi, a strategic consultant for Arkia who helped organize the trip, said West Bank Palestinians currently can access Ramon Airport only through special group options, such as this one. The airport is not open to individual West Bank Palestinians.
The Airport Authority had initially planned a pilot program of two weekly flights to Turkey for West Bank Palestinians, one through Antalya and another through Istanbul. The plan would have been executed through two Turkish airline companies, but there were difficulties organizing flight times and available aircrafts. On Sunday, the Airport Authority said the plan had been delayed.
Who is against the decision?
The Palestinian Authority on Monday renewed its call for Palestinians not to use Ramon Airport.
The owners of travel and tourist agencies in Jordan have protested the Israeli decision to open Ramon Airport to Palestinian passengers, arguing that it would cause huge financial damage to their companies and the Jordanian economy.
The opening of Ramon Airport to Palestinian passengers drew mixed feelings from Palestinians. Some expressed support for the move, saying it would facilitate their travel abroad, while others dismissed the idea for political reasons, dubbing it an act of “normalization” with Israel.
“We have already stated and appealed to the residents not to use the [Ramon] airport because this is an Israeli interest, and it’s harmful to Palestinian sovereignty,” PA Transportation Ministry spokesman Musa Rahhal was quoted as saying by the Palestinian Al-Watan Voice media outlet.
"This is an Israeli interest and it’s harmful to Palestinian sovereignty."Musa Rahhal, the spokesman of the PA Ministry of Transport
The PA continues to demand that Israel allow Palestinians to travel through the airport located north of Jerusalem and the airport in the southern Gaza Strip, he said.
Jerusalem International Airport in Atarot, north of Jerusalem (also known as the Kalandiya Airport), has been closed to civilian traffic since the Second Intifada in 2000.
The airport in the Gaza Strip, which was inaugurated in 1998 and named Yasser Arafat International Airport, also ceased operation in 2000. In 2001, Israel bombed the radar station and control tower. The following year, Israeli bulldozers cut the runway, rendering the airport inoperable.
Rahhal said the PA was also demanding that Palestinians be permitted to establish a new airport in the West Bank that would be under exclusive Palestinian control.