Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah
Palestinian Airlines is glad to announce that it is resuming flights after a seven-year hiatus. Although the airline makes only two flights a week, and has just two planes and a hub in Egypt, Gazans are happy they have their own carrier.
The airline conducts biweekly flights between El Arish, a city on Egypt’s Sinai peninsula adjacent to the border with Gaza, and Marka airbase, located outside Jordan’s capital Amman. This means that Gaza residents will no longer have to make the 250-mile (350 kilometers) trip to Cairo to get on a plane.
“I am feeling proud of flying our national carrier, Palestinian airlines, for the first time in ten years; to travel from El Arish airport is a good step because it will help me financially, physically and will also save time,” said Mustafa Abu Din, who bought four tickets at a Gaza City travel agency for a flight to Amman.
Despite its minuscule size – not rivaling even an average–sized commuter airline – the fact that Palestinian Airlines is back in business is important for all Palestinians for reasons of time and money, as well as national pride.
“The reason the airline is back is to reduce the suffering of our people in Gaza, who at the moment have to travel 400-500 kilometers from the border to Cairo airport from where they fly to the rest of the world,” Zeyad Albada, the company’s chairman, stated. “The other reason was to re-activate our Palestinian staffers because these are planes that raise the Palestinian flag which is a sovereignty symbol for us.”
The airline’s fortunes have been closely tied to the political situation surrounding Palestine and, more specifically, the Gaza Strip.
Back in the 1990s, when the creation of a Palestinian state seemed to be all but certain, the airline operated flights from Gaza International Airport, conducting tens of thousands of flights annually.
But the new century spelled disaster for both the peace efforts and the airline. With renewed hostilities between Israel and Palestine, Gaza International Airport was destroyed by Israeli troops. Palestinian Airlines was forced to move its hub to El Arish, an Egyptian coastal resort some 38 miles (60 kilometers) from Gaza.
Frequent Israeli closures of Gaza’s prevented many Palestinians from reaching El Arish, causing the number of passengers and flights to dwindle, which meant financial disaster for the carrier.
The situation was further exacerbated by the Palestinian split in 2007. The airline is owned by the Palestinian Authority, while the Gaza Strip, which it serves, ended up in the hands of rival Hamas.
Moreover, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, keen on maintaining amicable relations with Israel, largely kept the Rafah passenger terminal with Gaza closed.
But with Mubarak’s ouster last year, Gazans have gradually been allowed to enter Egypt to reach El Arish.
The West Bank, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, does not have a functioning airport, as plans to build one were panned by Israel. This means that Palestinians living there have to go all the way to Jordan if they want to fly.