Ramon Airport Opens Palestinian Wounds
Leaders oppose use of Israeli facility, but many prefer easier, less expensive way to travel abroad
Twenty-four Palestinians from the Bethlehem and Hebron areas succeeded in flying out from Israel’s Ramon Airport, near Eilat, on Monday, breaking the logjam on West Bank Palestinians’ travel that since 2000 has seen their international access limited to one point, the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge to Jordan.
Until the Second Intifada, Palestinians had a choice of traveling abroad via Ben-Gurion Airport in Lod, east of Tel Aviv, or Queen Alia Airport, south of Amman. Gazans, who were also able to use either crossing point, now face an agonizing, two-day torment of traveling through dozens of Egyptian checkpoints in Sinai to reach Cairo International Airport.
It shouldn’t take travelers more than one hour in either direction on the bridge. All unnecessary fees and connected expenses should be removed and the VIP service should be shut down.
Hazem H. Kawasmi, a Palestinian activist in the Karama (“Dignity”) − Freedom of Movement campaign, told The Media Line that Jordan needs to upgrade its facilities and reduce the cost of travel via the King Hussein Bridge if it wants to keep the enormous airport business it has enjoyed a monopoly on for years.
“It shouldn’t take travelers more than one hour in either direction on the bridge. All unnecessary fees and connected expenses should be removed and the VIP service should be shut down,” he argued.
The Palestinian people will not fall for the Zionists’ obstacles to travelers and will not accept the troubles and delays
Jordanian MP Khalil Atiyeh told The Media Line that the Palestinian leadership is opposed to the use of Ramon Airport, which he called “a conspiracy against the Jordanian airport and bridge.”
The Israelis have been erecting hurdles and causing delays at the bridge, he argued, adding, “The Palestinian people will not fall for the Zionists’ obstacles to travelers and will not accept the troubles and delays.”
“Jordan provides all the help needed for Palestinian travelers,” Atiyeh noted said.
Palestinian legislator Bernard Sabella told The Media Line it is not enough that Jordan has good intentions; what is needed is a strong infrastructure at the bridge to accept many travelers, especially during the summer busy season.
“This requires investment in the building, services, and roads as well as paying workers at the bridge a living wage so that they treat passengers with dignity and allow easy and speedy access to their final destinations,” he said.
Sabella called for stronger Palestinian-Jordanian cooperation “in order for travel from one country to another via the bridge to be professional and easy.”
Jordanian officials said that as of mid-August, 158,000 travelers had used the King Hussein crossing this summer. Rafat Mayyta, head of the Jordanian Directorate for Crossings Points, predicted that by the end of the summer, 270,000 travelers will have used the bridge.
Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, told The Media Line that the King Hussein Bridge has many connotations for Palestinians and represents the connection with Jordan and its people.
“The opening of Ramon Airport creates a gap we are not in need of now. The King Hussein crossing point is indeed a bridge between the two peoples and must be preserved,” he said.
I wish that our brothers and sisters in Gaza could also use the Lod airport, the Ramon Airport, or the Haifa Airport if they wish
Fouad Jaber, a Jerusalemite, said Palestinians, whether from the West Bank or Gaza, should have the right to travel via any crossing point they choose.
“I wish that our brothers and sisters in Gaza could also use the Lod airport, the Ramon Airport, or the Haifa Airport if they wish, as long as they can find a crossing point that is easy, inexpensive, and can preserve their dignity,” he said.
“I am opposed to those who say that Palestinians should not use any Israeli border point [while senior officials use them] if they find them easier to avoid harassment, the requirements of bridges, and high costs,” he continued.
Jaber also noted that major improvements are needed at King Hussein.
“The bridge needs to be open 24/7 and Jerusalemites should be allowed to enter on their Jordanian passport and Israeli-issued [laissez-passer] travel documents, and the 10 JD [$14] fee should be abandoned,” he said.
The Khaberni Jordanian news site compared costs for Palestinian travelers and concluded that using Queen Alia Airport costs them three as much as Ramon Airport.
The site also quoted Jordan Tourism Board head Abdel Razzaq Arabiyat saying that Queen Alia Airport is among the most expensive in the world. “A single traveler pays $81 in taxes whereas the very next highest airport tax is around $40.”
Jaber’s detailed comments appeared in two articles published on the AmmanNet website, with the following recommendations to the Jordanian government:
- Work with the US and Israel to allow Palestinians to use their cars to cross the King Hussein Bridge.
- Allow Jerusalemites with Israeli residency to use their cars on the Sheikh Hussein Bridge [known is Israel as the Jordan River Crossing].
- Carry out major renovations to the King Hussein Bridge.
- Remove all fees for incoming or exiting travelers.
- Open the Damiyah Bridge [known in Israel as the Adam Bridge] for cargo and passengers.
- Find ways to deal with a Jordanian tribe that has dominated services at the [King Hussein] Bridge for years.