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An Imaginary Tour of the Golden age of the Jerusalem Airport

Jerusalem24 – During the month of October, a photo exhibition was displayed in Jerusalem which was dedicated to the golden age of the now-defunct Jerusalem Airport, also known as the Qalandia airport, and which sheds light on the airport’s pivotal role in the economic and social life of East-Jerusalem under Jordanian rule. And since Jerusalem airport has almost never been celebrated by formal exhibitions before, therefore, the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom decided to accept the challenge. With this exhibition, FNF is seeking to enable more people to get a glimpse of these rare photos, bridge knowledge gaps regarding Jerusalem’s rich and diverse history and revive the heyday of the airport, which also stands as a symbol of freedom and cosmopolitanism.

As the exhibition takes the visitors on a Short nostalgic journey to this specific time in history, today on this episode of Vibes, Anne Koehler from the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, and one of the organizers of the exhibition, will be taking us on an imaginary tour around the exhibition.

Anne began by introducing the history behind it all. Originally the Qalandia airstrip was built by the British in 1925 and served the British army. After the 1948 war, East Jerusalem and also the area of the airport in the north of the city came under Jordanian rule. Then, the Jordanians quickly realized the potential of the airport for tourism in their region due to its proximity to the holy sites for Christians and Muslims. So, the Jordanian authorities quickly arranged an upgrade of the short runway and also complement it with a terminal building. From 1949 onwards, flights were launched from Jerusalem Amman/ Damascus then later not less than 17 different airlines, and at its peak of its operation, more than twenty weekly flights left Jerusalem Airport to Beirut and Cairo alone. It even had direct flights to Nicosia and Rome in Europe. Despite the great role of the airport, the Golden age of the airport ended with the 1967 war. The airport has yet served Israelis for domestic flights mainly to Eilat but later in 2000, it officially ceased operation and remained derelict ever since then.

Yet, Anne carried on explaining what the visitors are expected to see in the photo exhibition. As it magnificently captures scenes from the airport’s busy and glamorous days, when the airport functioned as a gateway to the world. As Palestinians travelled through the airport for purposes of work, study and also recreation. Back then, affluent Palestinian Jerusalemites would jump for recreational week end trips (performances, good restaurants, shopping family and friends). At the same time the airport functioned as a gateway for the world to the region – hundreds of thousands of visitors from the region and Europe passed through the airport to visit holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem – many on way to Mecca made a stop there, as well as countless dignitaries and celebrities; like Farid al Atrash and Um kulthum. So basically, the photos in the exhibition enable us to learn more about architecture, airplanes, about fashion back in that time.

The collection of the photos was challenging, said Koehler. FNF was lucky to make a connection with Al Qutob family from Beit Hanina. The father of the family was one of founders of Air Jordan and the family itself is in possession of a vast archive with photos from the airport and its travelers. In addition to Qutob’s archive, they also got the permission from Vera Tamari to use some photos from their family archive and made also a use of airline images from that time showing Jerusalem in their aviation connections from a website collecting airline Time table images.

Luckily, Anne stated at last, that the idea of bringing the exhibition to Ramallah/Amman and Germany is currently on the table.

To know more about Jerusalem’s rich history, listen to the full interview below:

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