MARKA AIRBASE, Jordan - Palestinian Airlines is back in the skies after being grounded for seven years by the deepening enmities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Once hailed as a symbol of Palestinian statehood dreams, the carrier is a tiny operation, with just two 48-seat turboprop planes, two weekly flights, and a borrowed hub in Egypt. But Palestinians say just being on the map again is what matters.
In the late 1990s, when Palestinians appeared on the verge of a statehood deal with Israel, Palestinian Airlines operated from Gaza International Airport, flew tens of thousands of passengers a year to Middle Eastern destinations, and planned to expand to Europe. Those ambitions were crushed by the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in September 2000. Over the next year, Israeli troops destroyed the Gaza airport, and Palestinian Airlines was forced to move its base to El-Arish, an Egyptian coastal resort about 35 miles from Gaza.
Seven years ago, the airline stopped flying after its reservoir of passengers dried up. It had mainly served Gazans who, starting in 2005, could no longer reach El-Arish because of increasingly frequent Israeli closures of Gaza’s borders.