1948: The British commander of Transjordan’s Arab Legion, had toured Palestinian Arab towns, including Lydda and Ramle, urging them to prepare to defend themselves against the Zionist horde.
The PLUNDER and LOOTING of Palestinian homes, farms, plantations, banks, cars, ports, railroads, schools, hospitals, trucks, tractors, etc. in the course of the 1948 war were a crime on a massive scale. For example, the looting of Lydda City was described by the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Abandoned Property in mid-July, 1948:
“From Lydda alone, the army took out 1,800 truck-loads of property.” (1949, The First Israelis, p. 69)
It should be noted that the great majority of the Palestinian people have been dispossessed for the past five decades, meanwhile, their properties are being used by mostly European Jews (who were victims of similar war crimes committed by anti-Semitic Europeans). Prior to being ethnically cleansed in 1948, the Palestinian people owned and operated 93% of Palestine’s lands, and contributed up to 55-60% of its national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“The airport used to be packed with thousands of travelers and we received presidents and world leaders,” he said, pointing to parts of the site in various stages of decay.
“Now it’s turned into a ruin, a waste dump. It’s a tragedy.”
Daifallah Al-Akhras, the chief engineer of the airport, admitted he wept on a recent visit to the terminal.
“We built the airport to be the first symbol of sovereignty,” he said. “Now you don’t see anything but destruction and ruin.”
When the airport opened in late 1998 it was one of the most tangible symbols of the Oslo accords.
Many saw the deals as paving the way to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but their five-year transitional period expired without a resolution to the conflict.
The airport was opened despite the assassination of the most senior Israeli signatory to Oslo, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, by a Jewish ‘radical’ opposed to the agreements.
By 1998 the accords were fraying, but Clinton, along with his wife Hillary, still attended the ceremony to inaugurate the Yasser Arafat International Airport.
Built with funding from countries across the globe, it hosted the newly formed Palestinian Airlines and was able to handle hundreds of thousands of passengers a year, with many airlines opening up routes there.
Once a commercial airport was established, the Palestinian Authority moved forward with a plan to establish a flag carrier for the embattled country.
The airline was officially announced in 1995 with financial backing coming from the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia, who donated two Fokker 50s and a Boeing 727 to help start operations.
The newly-formed Palestinian Airlines would also join the Arab Air Carriers Organization, with its introduction to the alliance coming in 1999.
While the airline officially started operations in 1997, limits were quickly established on where it could fly.
The Yasser Arafat International Airport was still under construction in Gaza, leaving the airline to commence service in the Egyptian towns of Port Said and Arish to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Amman, Jordan.
Once the airline’s home in the Gaza Strip was completed, all operations were transferred to the new airport.
Palestinian Airlines quickly expanded to include service to additional countries including Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
The airline would also come to take hold of an Ilyushin Il-62 to help with their expansion plans.
While the airline was expanding, it was not completely free of Israeli restrictions.
Under the Oslo II Accord, Israel had the right to restrict the airport’s schedule, which frequently saw the airport shuttered during the nighttime hours.
The airport’s security was also administered by the Israeli government due to fears that the Palestinians would lapse on security due to the economic instability of Gaza.
Unfortunately, the Oslo II Accord soured over time and increased tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians led to the breakout of the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.
Palestinian Airlines was forced to suspend operations while Israel and Palestine escalated their conflict.
Fearing that the Palestinians would use Yasser Arafat Airport for weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip, Israel made the airport a primary target, destroying both the radar and control towers in 2001 before carving up the runway using bulldozers in 2002.
In addition to its smuggling fears, Israel also claimed that the dismantling was in response to a Palestinian raid that killed four Israeli soldiers.
The destruction of Yasser Arafat International Airport did not sit well with Palestinians or the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
For Palestinians, the ruins of the airport were a symbol of a potential nation now reeling from the Second Intifada and a sign that Israel and Palestine may never trust each other.
Meanwhile, the ICAO saw Israel’s destruction of the airport as a violation of Palestine’s right to operate a commercial airport and strongly condemned the Israelis for their actions.
The ICAO called for Israel to pay for any repairs from the damages caused to the airfield, which Israel ignored.
With no home airport inside Palestine, the flag carrier fled back across the border and restarted operations at El Arish International Airport in Egypt.
However, getting Palestinians to Arish was a struggle, as Egyptian security could take up to a day processing those traveling into and out of the country.
To attempt to ease the issue, the airline still manned the ticket counters at Yasser Arafat Airport, hoping to sell tickets to passengers inside Gaza and simplify their flying experience.
With this restriction, and the flag carrier operating 30 miles from its home opposite a major international border, the consumer base for Palestinian Airlines slowly dried up. The airline removed the Boeing 727 and Ilyushin Il-62 from its fleet before suspending operations outright in 2005.
The Palestinian Authority would hold on to the two Fokker 50s and lease them to other airlines while they waited for a chance to restart operations.
That chance would finally come in 2012, when the airline announced it would restart service using its Fokker 50s and a route map that would, yet again, be based in Arish, Egypt with flights to Cairo, Amman and Jeddah.
But much like their previous experience at Arish, Palestine was at too much of a disadvantage to make use of their airline.
The airline would last less than two years before re-suspending operations.
The Palestinian Authority returned to leasing their Fokker 50s, with Niger Airlines currently being the home for the two aircraft.
Despite having no current operations, the airline is still an active member in the ICAO, IATA and Arab Air Carriers Organization.
While Palestine hopes to have the airline flying again, the prospect of coming home to Gaza grows bleaker and bleaker.
The airport sustained more damage in recent years, with the terminal and ramps areas taking heavy bombings by Israeli forces in 2014.
Given that the Egyptian rehabilitation attempts have proven too costly for the airline, Palestinian Airlines is currently a flag carrier with no home, no service and no clear future.