Temporary exhibit turns back time on Kalandiya Airport

Kalandiya, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, opened in 1925 as the first civilian airstrip in Mandate 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)

A temporary exhibit about the now-decommissioned Kalandiya Airport, known as Jerusalem International Airport during the 19 years when the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan ruled the eastern half of divided Jerusalem, opened Thursday (October 28) at the Albright Institute of Archaeology at 26 Salah ad-Din Street.

Called “Gateway to the World: Jerusalem Airport 1948-1967,” the photography exhibit documents the airport’s glamorous “golden age” and its bygone role in the economic and social life of Jordanian Jerusalem. Juxtaposing historic and contemporary images, “then” vs. “now,” the exhibit includes historic pictures from the family archive of Dr. Mohammad Al-Qutob and the contemporary images of the abandoned runway, passenger terminal and air traffic control tower by photographer Arik Shraga, said curator Natalia Kopelyanskaya.

Passengers experience the period’s propeller aircraft, architecture and fashion of another century when Jerusalem was linked by more than 20 weekly flights to Amman, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Kuwait and Aden, as well as Rome and other capitals in Europe. No fewer than 17 separate airlines – mostly born through the constant merging and splitting of a handful of Arab flag carriers – served Kalandiya, which, despite its modest size and humble facilities, established itself as a hub when the overland route to the city entailed circumnavigating Israel through long rides over poorly paved roads, said historian Eldad Brin.

Among the airlines offering regular flights were the Lebanese carriers Air Liban and Middle East Airlines (which merged in 1964), Egypt Air and Air Jordan (now Royal Jordanian).

Kalandiya, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, opened in 1925 as the first civilian airstrip in Mandate Palestine. Lydda Airport, today Ben-Gurion, followed nine years later. The Jerusalem Airport’s popularity coincided with the global boom in commercial aviation after World War II, made possible through affordable flights in ever-improving aircraft. Jordan upgraded and lengthened the unpaved runway and built a terminal building.

 The exhibition documents the airport's glamorous 'golden age' (credit: Archive of Dr. Mohammad Al-Qutob) The exhibition documents the airport's glamorous 'golden age' (credit: Archive of Dr. Mohammad Al-Qutob)

Far busier than its counterpart in Zizya, 20 kilometers south of Amman, today called Queen Alia International Airport, Kalandiya brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city, including countless dignitaries. Spurring the construction of dozens of hotels, the airport was a key element in Jerusalem’s tourism and pilgrimage industry and greatly added to its cosmopolitan air.

While this international service ended with the 1967 Six Day War, Jerusalem’s airport continued in limited Israeli domestic use until 2001. Following sniper attacks from nearby buildings during the Second Intifada, the airport – called Atarot by Israel – ceased operation. It has been derelict since.

Plans call for the construction of thousands of apartments where the planes used to land and depart.

The exhibition has been initiated and coordinated by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, whose Jerusalem Office hosts a unique Israeli-Palestinian team.

“Gateway to the World: Jerusalem Airport 1948-1967” is open until November 28 at the Albright Institute, 26 Salah ad-Din Street, Jerusalem. Sunday through Thursdays: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. (except Tuesday, November 9), Fridays and Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.