Several Palestinians flew to Cyprus yesterday from Ramon Airport in southern Israel, as part of a trial programme aimed at allowing Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to fly abroad. The move is one of a series of gestures that Israel claims to be making to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in both the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“This is the first trip for us from Ramon Airport,” said Sofiane, a Palestinian pharmacist who declined to provide his surname to Al-Monitor. “We got this opportunity for the first time as Palestinians.” He added that the group he was with was made up of pharmacists from across the occupied West Bank.
A total of forty-three Palestinians from the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Nablus flew from Ramon Airport to Larnaca in Cyprus, said Amir Assi, a strategic consultant who coordinated the flight.
Ramon Airport opened three years ago. It has struggled to attract much international attention and business, which was reportedly the reason why the Israelis resorted to allowing West Bank Palestinians to use it.
“We were supposed to fly from Jordan but [the travel agency] managed to arrange a flight from the airport in Ramon,” explained Sofiane. “The security check was tricky, especially for the women, but things moved smoothly and here we are.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, many have criticised the move, describing it as an act of “normalisation” with Israel.
“We have already stated and appealed to the residents not to use Ramon Airport because this is an Israeli interest,” said Palestinian Authority Transportation Ministry spokesman Musa Rahhal, “and it’s damaging to Palestinian sovereignty.”
It is difficult for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to travel internationally, primarily due to the fact that – apart from PA officials and their families occasionally – they are forbidden to use Israel’s major Ben Gurion Airport near the capital, Tel Aviv. Their only route out of the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel is to travel through neighbouring Jordan via a border crossing in which they often have to wait for hours under difficult conditions.