Inaugural flight to Cyprus for West Bank Palestinians departs from Eilat’s Ramon Airport
Charters to Turkey canceled by Israel on short notice
A pilot program allowing Palestinians from the West Bank to leave Israel’s Ramon International Airport took off on Monday when a plane carrying 40 residents of Hebron and Bethlehem as well as Israeli citizens departed for Larnaca in Cyprus.
The controversial plan was also to include charter flights on Monday to Antalya and Istanbul in Turkey, but Israeli officials canceled them a day earlier.
The 40 Palestinians from Hebron and Bethlehem traveled by bus to the remote airport, near the seaside town of Eilat, but nearly three hours from the West Bank.
Amir Assi, strategic consultant for Arkia Airlines, told The Media he was happy to see the maiden flight.
“It will open the door to many more flights with multiple destinations including Istanbul, Antalya, Dubai, Sharm el-Sheikh,” Assi says.
The initial plan will focus on Palestinians in the southern West Bank, primarily in the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem, due to their relative proximity to the airport, he said.
His plan is to market the project as close and affordable.
“The airport is about three hours away, at a cost of 75 shekels [$23] by bus to the airport. In addition, traveling through Ramon airport is cheaper than other alternatives. All this is in the interest of the pocket of the Palestinian citizen.
Palestinian passengers will pass a security check when leaving the West Bank heading south, in addition to airport checks for all passengers.
Ramon Airport is located in the Negev desert in southern Israel, 180 km south of the West Bank.
The alternative for Palestinians is to cross by bus from the West Bank to Jordan, before taking a flight to the country’s capital, Amman.
This year as in years past, the King Hussein/Allenby Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank saw a massive number of travellers. Palestinians crossing the Allenby Bridge checkpoint must first pass through several Israeli security checkpoints.
Entire call center unable to respond to volume of calls received from Palestinians
Assi says the response to the new road is overwhelming, saying he has received thousands of inquiries from Palestinians about the initiative.
“An entire call center is unable to respond to the volume of calls received from Palestinians. Our people in the West Bank are asking about this issue. »
We ask our employees not to go through Ramon airport. We have not been consulted and this is in the context of the global illusion that the Israeli occupation provides facilities for the Palestinian people.
Moussa Rahal, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Transport, told The Media Line that they opposed the idea.
“We ask our collaborators not to go through Ramon airport. We have not been consulted and this is part of the global illusion that the Israeli occupation provides facilities for the Palestinian people” , he said.
Last month, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh demanded the opening of al-Quds airport in Qalandiya, located in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem, and the removal of all obstacles in order to allow people and goods to move freely to and from the Palestinian Territories.
East Jerusalem airport was used by Palestinians until the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured the area and other Palestinian territories. Israel renamed it Atarot Airport but later closed it due to violent unrest nearby and because foreign companies refused to land there.
Despite official objection to the initiative, some Palestinians see it as an opportunity to save time and money.
Natalie Marouf, a resident of the West Bank city of Ramallah, told The Media Line that she would consider using Ramon Airport the next time she travels on board.
“It’s not wrong to use Ramon airport if Palestinians are allowed to use it. It will make it easier for us to get around and give us other options,” she says.
Hisham Ahmed, also a resident of Ramallah, told The Media Line: “I prefer to go directly to my destination and it will also help me save money. It’s a positive thing. The question is not about patriotism, it has to do with the question of services.
Israel’s main international gateway, Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, is not accessible to the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. About 7,000 PA officials with VIP cards and businessmen with special passes are allowed to travel through Ben Gurion Airport.
Assi says the program will expand to include Palestinian hajj pilgrims from the West Bank.
The pilot program operated one flight during the last hajj season, carrying 91 passengers, he said. “It was a successful experience.”
“Plans are under discussion as we speak; it is “semi-approved”, per [Royal] Jordanian Airlines, with a stopover in Amman,” he says.