PA: Jerusalem airport symbol of Palestinian sovereignty

Opened in 1924, the Jerusalem International Airport, also known as Atarot Airport or Kalandiya Airport, was the first airport in the British Mandate for Palestine.

 TRAVELERS AND pilgrims arrive at Jerusalem Airport, 1960s. (photo credit: Dr Mohammed Al-Qutob Family Archive)
TRAVELERS AND pilgrims arrive at Jerusalem Airport, 1960s.
(photo credit: Dr Mohammed Al-Qutob Family Archive)

Palestinians are strongly opposed to Israeli plans to build a new neighborhood in Atarot because the area includes an airport that is “one of the symbols of the sovereignty of the State of Palestine,” Palestinian Authority presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudaineh said on Wednesday.

Opened in 1924, the Jerusalem International Airport, also known as Atarot Airport or Kalandiya Airport, was the first airport in the British Mandate for Palestine.

Royal Jordanian and Middle East Airlines, the national flag-carrier airline of Lebanon, used the airport in northern Jerusalem for commercial flights.

After 1967, Israel’s Arkia and El Al airlines used the airport until it was closed two decades ago, after the beginning of the Second Intifada, due to security concerns.

The Jerusalem Municipality recently advanced plans for a 9,000-home project in Atarot, which is located within the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality. The project would transform the 124-hectare (301-acre) site of the former airport into a new neighborhood.

 Prof. Mohammed Dajani, Jerusalem Airport, 1963. (credit: Mohammed Dajani) Prof. Mohammed Dajani, Jerusalem Airport, 1963. (credit: Mohammed Dajani)

Last week, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej announced that he was promoting a plan to establish a joint Israeli-Palestinian airport in Atarot.

Frej said that Ben-Gurion Airport is already functioning at close to maximum capacity.

“We need a secondary airport, and the strategic infrastructure already exists in Atarot for such a project,” he said in an interview with 103FM radio.

The project would provide a solution for the residents of Jerusalem and the PA, he argued.

Frej’s proposal is not the first of its kind.

At the botched Camp David summit in 2000, the Palestinians rejected Israeli maps that included Atarot and the airport within the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality.

Former Israeli negotiator and cabinet minister Yossi Beilin is said to have proposed that the airport be used jointly as part of a plan to give the Palestinians control over parts of Jerusalem.

But Abu Rudaineh, the PA spokesperson, said the Palestinians “reject all forms of Israeli settlements on the lands of the State of Palestine.”

The Israeli decision to build a new neighborhood on the lands of Kalandiya Airport is “dangerous and pushes the area toward escalation,” he said.

The spokesman warned that any attempt to “harm Kalandiya Airport would constitute an infringement upon a symbol of the sovereignty of the State of Palestine, which was recognized by the international community at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012.”

He was referring to the General Assembly’s decision to accord “Palestine” non-member observer state status in the UN.

Abu Rudaineh warned that the Palestinian leadership would make all the “appropriate decisions to protect the rights of the Palestinians.”

The PA Foreign Ministry also warned against plans to build a new “settlement” on the lands of Kalandiya Airport.

The new housing project is part of ongoing Israeli “violations in the occupied [Palestinian] capital,” the ministry said.

The PA Ministry of Transport and Communications appealed to the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Arab Civil Aviation Organization to intervene to stop Israel from building a new neighborhood at the site.

The PA ministry denounced the Israeli plans as “provocative,” noting that the airport, located “within the 1967 borders, is one of the oldest airports in the Middle East and one of the symbols of Palestinian sovereignty.”

Palestinian Prof. Mohammed Dajani, who belongs to one of Jerusalem’s historical Arab families, told The Jerusalem Post he was sad to see the Kalandiya Airport closed and that Israel is considering building a neighborhood at the site.

“The airport had a rich history, and I remember spending a lot of time there, since my grandfather and father had the license to cater for airlines and were in charge of the cafeteria and souvenir shops there,” said Dajani, a peace activist who gained international recognition for his work in helping to raise awareness about the Holocaust. “All international airlines used it, and it was a major landing spot for tourists visiting the Holy Land.”

Dajani said that he supports the idea of reopening the airport as a joint Israeli-Palestinian airport, adding that it “will facilitate travel for the Palestinians.”