Yasser Arafat Airport: A Symbol of Palestinian Freedom that Lives in Memories

Photo: DW News

Airportman.id – Palestine once had an airport named after the first Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat. Yasser Arafat Airport, which has IATA code GZA, is located in the Gaza Strip between the cities of Rafah and Dahaniya, close to the Egyptian border.

Yasser Arafat Airport had terminal facilities capable of serving up to 700,000 passengers per year and had a runway with asphalt pavement of 3,061 meters with a designation number 01/19.

The construction of Yasser Arafat Airport was initiated by President Yasser Arafat in 1994 and is the result of the Oslo Accords in 1993, which gave Palestinians the right to carry out construction in Gaza, but Israel gained complete control over the airspace.

The airport was built in 1996 with financing from Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Spain, amounting to 86 million US dollars. The airport design was designed by Moroccan architects and engineers with funding from the King of Morocco, Hassan II.

Figure 1. Palestinian workers prepare paving blocks during the construction of Yasser Arafat Airport in 1997 (Photo by Abed Khateeb)

There is an interesting story about the contractor who carried out the construction of Yasser Arafat Airport, Usama Hassan El-Khoudary. Quoted from the writings of Hind Khoudary, Usama's daughter, on the Al Jazeera news site, Usama made a low bid at the tender, which did not give him any profit because all he wanted was to be a part of the airport and its history.

The construction of the runway and apron began in 1996. To minimize development costs, Usama worked on constructing the runway in just 45 days, half of the completion schedule. Usama carried out the work with only about 150 workers and four vehicles used to roll out 3,000 to 3,500 tons of asphalt per day.

After the runway was completed, according to Al Jazeera, on June 2, 1996, Yasser Arafat called Captain Zeyad al-Bada, who was the Pilot Captain of Palestinian Airlines and also the private pilot of Yasser Arafat, that he wanted to be the first to land on the new runway of Gaza Airport.

"There is no aerial map, there is no radar, Gaza Airport is not even recognized globally," al-Bada told Al Jazeera. Al-Bada was worried that he would land on the runway with street quality asphalt, not high-quality asphalt. His hands and feet were shaking during the flight, but everything went well and smoothly.

"When I landed I saw a crowd of people dancing, I spontaneously took a small Palestinian flag from Yasser Arafat's cupboard and held it out the window, greeting the crowd outside."

Yasser Arafat Airport was officially opened in 1998. The airport's opening ceremony was attended by President Yasser Arafat and then President of the United States, Bill Clinton. The opening of Yasser Arafat Airport became a hope for Palestinians at that time for the State of Palestine establishment and a symbol of their freedom.

Figure 2. Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton performed a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of Yasser Arafat Airport in December 1998. (Photo by Stephen Jaffe)

Yasser Arafat Airport served as a base for Palestinian Airlines before being forced to move to El Arish Airport in Egypt due to the Israeli military attack on Yasser Arafat Airport in 2001.

Apart from Palestinian Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Egyptair had flown through Yasser Arafat Airport in mid-2000.

The age of Yasser Arafat Airport is very short, only about three years. In September 2000, the airport was closed due to the Palestinian resistance movement against Israel or the Intifada. Although the airport operations were resumed after that, Israel finally carried out air strikes and bombings on radar stations and control towers on December 4, 2001, and carried out damage to the runway using bulldozers on January 10, 2002. After that incident, the airport never operated again.

Figure 3. The condition of the Yasser Arafat Airport runway was damaged by Israeli bulldozers. (Photo by Alexander Zemlanichenko)

In March 2002, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) strongly condemned Israel for the attack. Israel is considered to have violated the contents of the Convention for the Eradication of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (Montreal Convention, 1971). ICAO urged Israel to take recovery measures so that the airport could be operated again.

On November 15, 2005, following the end of the Intifada, Israel and Palestine signed the Agreement on Movement and Access, which stated: "The parties agree on the importance of the [Yasser Arafat] airport. Discussions will continue on issues of safety arrangements, construction and operations."

But over time, Israel continued to argue that there would be security problems if Yasser Arafat Airport were opened. They were concerned about the smuggling of weapons and volunteers to support the resistance, and according to Israel, the airport has no benefit for the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian's dream of being able to air travel through the airport, which was a symbol of their freedom, is fading as the years go by.

Giovanni Pratama

Giovanni Pratama

Share this article to your social media:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *