For the first time ever, Palestinians flew on Monday to Cyprus from the Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport, located near the city of Eilat at the southern tip of Israel.
The flight was part of an Israeli pilot program that seeks to improve the lives of Palestinians by allowing Palestinians from Judea and Samaria to travel to a number of countries from the southern Israeli airport.
Prior to Monday’s flight, Palestinians who wanted to travel beyond the limits of the disputed territories in the Promised Land had to first cross over to Jordan to catch a flight from there. Alternatively, in order to fly from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, they would require an entry permit to Israel.
Whether the new airport will be a success among Palestinians remains to be seen. At its closest point, it takes three hours to get to Ramon Airport from Judea and no less than five hours from Samaria, more than double the time it takes to get to the airport in Jordan. For that reason, the pilot program has focused on serving Palestinians from Bethlehem and Hebron, those who live closest to the airport.
According to Amir Assi of Al-Amir Group, a company that facilitates Palestinian travel from the West Bank to the rest of the Arab world, the new possibility to fly from Ramon Airport will make a difference.
“When a Palestinian leaves through Jordan, sometimes they have to spend a night before catching a flight; now they can fly directly to their destination,” Assi told the Israel Hayom daily. Traveling from Ramon Airport will save Palestinian travelers time and money, he said.
Arkia Israeli Airlines is operating the service to Cyprus from Ramon Airport; the Israeli airline, which was founded in 1949, flew 40 Palestinians from Bethlehem and Hebron to Larnaca on Monday. The route will not be exclusive to Palestinians, however, but also will provide seats to Cyprus for Israelis.
“Until today, flights for Palestinians in a unique framework, and in particular from Ramon Airport, were just a dream,” Arkia International CEO Oz Berlowitz said in a statement. “And indeed the dream has been fulfilled.”
Ramon Airport will be the departure point for flights to Turkey’s Antalya and Istanbul through Turkish companies Pegasus Airlines (Flypgs) and AtlasGlobal. However, plans to run flights to Turkey – also meant to begin on Monday – faced a temporary delay.
Palestinians in Gaza reportedly have voiced an interest in traveling abroad from Ramon Airport, but it is unclear whether they will be permitted.
The new flight opportunities from Ramon Airport will incorporate security checks for Palestinians wishing to travel from Eilat.
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, said that Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, COGAT, has been coordinating with the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Police to make sure that “proper security protocols” are in place at Ramon Airport.
According to The Times of Israel, Palestinian officials did not react positively to the new traveling opportunity, reporting that “Ramallah had not been consulted about the idea.” According to the newspaper, an official “dismissed it as impractical and argued that the Palestinians be allowed to have their own airport in the West Bank.”
The Ilan and Asaf Ramon International Airport opened in 2019, named after Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, and his son, Asaf, who was a F-16 pilot. Ilan Ramon died tragically in 2003, in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, while his son died in a training accident in 2009.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.