Jerusalem24 – Israel’s Airports Authority announced last week that West Bank Palestinians would now be able to fly internationally out of Israel’s southern Ramon airport, ending weeks of speculation in both Palestinian and Israeli media that such touted plans would actually see the light of day.
Palestinians in the West Bank wishing to fly abroad must currently travel to Jordan through the overcrowded Israeli border crossing known to Palestinians as Al-Jissir, “The Bridge”. The crossing isn’t open 24 hours a day and operates for limited hours during Jewish holidays, forcing many travelers to make arrangements or pay to stay in a hotel ahead of their flight. There are also travel costs and relatively high crossing fees that make the journey an added financial burden.
Earlier this summer, a lack of capacity on the Israeli side to process the thousands of daily travelers saw hundreds of Palestinians waiting for hours or days in scorching conditions for a chance to pass the border.
According to Haaretz, an Israeli security official said Palestinians would board shuttles from the West Bank, undergo a security screening at an Israeli checkpoint and then go through Ramon airport “like any other traveler.”
The official said the initial phase is a pilot project but could be expanded to additional locations if successful. It is also planned that Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank will have access to the shuttle.
Three international airlines so far have requested the Israel Airports Authority add new destinations from Ramon airport, to Turkey and Poland.
The Palestinian Authority has said they were not consulted on this decision, do not approve it, and have demanded instead that Palestine’s long-defunct Qalandiya airport in Jerusalem be rehabilitated.
As Jerusalem24 reported last month, Palestinians themselves have so far expressed little public enthusiasm at the idea of flying from an Israeli airport.
One Twitter user commented, when reports initially came out mid-July: “I will not support the Israeli economy […] I will bear the hardship of the bridges, support the Arab Jordanian economy, use Queen Alia Airport and pay more costs.”
There were no immediate plans announced last week to allow Palestinians from Gaza to fly from the airport. However since then reports have started circulating in Israeli media, notably Channel 12, that Gazans may be allowed in the near future.
Meanwhile, both Jordanian authorities as well as travel agents, for whom Palestinian travel accounts for over 50% of revenue, have expressed alarm at the announcement.
The Association of Jordanian Tourism and Travel Offices called on Jordanian authorities to “take a position regarding the operation of Ramon International Airport.”
Jordanians fear this decision will have heavy implications for the tourism sector in Jordan, which already loses out on considerable revenue due to Israeli tour operators bringing tourists from Israel to Jordan for one-day trips, during which they spend very little in Jordan.
Meanwhile, Palestinians have started questioning on social media whether Jordanian authorities would start facilitating an easier transit for travelers at Al-Jissir.
“After talking about opening Ramon Airport for Palestinian travel, we hear complaints about the impact of this step on the tourism sector in Jordan. Will Jordan improve its facilities for the Palestinians, who used to be forced to cross the bridge to travel, after they start coming there voluntarily rather than forced?”
بعد الحديث عن عن فتح مطار رامون لسفر الفلسطينيين، نسمع شكوى من تأثر قطاع السياحة في الأردن من هذه الخطوة.
هل سيحسن الأردن من تعامله مع الفلسطينيين الذين كانوا يضطرون لعبور الجسر في طريقهم للسفر بعد أن يأتوه مختارين لا مضطرين؟
— Ibrahim (@AlsaAfigne) August 13, 2022
“Frankly, I was against traveling from Ramon Airport in the Negev. But on the other hand, the new procedures that will take place on the Jordan Bridge, such as the platform, booking tickets from certain places and specific numbers, insulting the traveler, throwing bags and many other things… I have become more in support of traveling from the new Negev airport.”
بصراحة انا كنت ضد السفر من مطار رامون بالنقب ،بس بالمقابل الإجرائات الجديدة الي بتصير في جسر الاردن زي المنصة و حجز التذاكر من أماكن معينة و اعداد محددة و اهانة المسافر و رمي الشناتي و كثير شغلات صرت مع السفر من مطار النقب الجديد
لمن معبر الكرامة يحافظ على الكرامة
وقتها السفر منه
— 𓂆M.W.Assi 🇵🇸 (@Mahmoud47372909) August 13, 2022