Gaza Airport – The Legacy of the Palestinian Dream


1996 On June 2, a surprise phone call from Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front, arrived in Captain Zeyad al-Bada in Cairo.

Arafat told the then-39-year-old Palestinian airline captain and Arafat private pilot that he would be the first to land at the newly built Gaza International Airport.

“There is no sky map. There is no radar. Gaza Airport does not even have global recognition, ”Alberda, the airline’s current director general, told Al Jazeera.

Cairo International Airport has refused to schedule a flight to Gaza. Arafat even intervened with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to demand the release of the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority.

Al-Bada feared he would be “on the tarmac” rather than a high-quality runway. His arms and legs were shaking during the flight, and he was in tears when he landed at the airport.

“When I see a crowd dancing while I get off, I automatically pull a small pull [Palestinian] From Yasser Arafat’s closet he greeted the crowd with a flag and raised it from the window.

Alberda flew 55 times to and from Gaza International Airport after the official opening of the Oslo Accords in 1998, as part of the Oslo Accords, which were suspended on October 7, 2000, following escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

It was destroyed by Israeli forces in the second Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation.

Those who worked at the airport on the Palestinian border, which has been under Israeli-Egyptian sanctions since 2007, recall the pain and pride of their construction, which is almost 20 years old.

My father, who died eight months ago, was among those who helped build an airport, a symbol of Palestine, in a besieged area.

A Palestinian woman carrying a baby after visiting the terminal and air traffic control towers at Gaza International Airport in 1998. [File: Ruth Fremson/AP Photo]

The runway was built in 45 days

Arafat started the airport project near the southern city of Rafah, near the Egyptian border.

My father, Usama el-Khoudary, was a Palestinian contractor engineer who won a tender to build an airport and airstrip.

“Usama did not care about the auction price. I wanted to be a part of Gaza International Airport. He also wanted to be part of this history, ”his wife and mother, Marwa el-Khoudary, told Al Jazeera.

“He was in his 30s when he won the auction. His eyes were shining the day he was announced as the winner.”

I am the only daughter of nine children. I was only five months old when my dad started the project. My father believed that the birth of each of his children gave him a new tenderness. My eldest brother, Hammam, said: “Your gift to Dad is an airport auction.

Usama el-Khoudary (center); With daughter Hin in a white shirt [Courtesy of Hind Khoudary]

He decided to build the runway in half the expected time in 45 days to minimize the cost.

“I do not think I saw him for more than an hour in 45 days.

The project began in early 1996 with about 150 workers and only four vehicles, loading 3,000 to 3,500 tonnes of bitumen a day.

My father was founded in 1993 in Jabalya in partnership with NORCO, the only asphalt and paving company in Gaza.

Usama el-Khoudary, during the project [Courtesy of Hind Khoudary]

Saleem al-Atwneh, 66, was an asphalt worker who helped build the runway.

He told Al Jazeera that Israel should block the airport building. He said they were trying to block supplies and prevent them from entering their work area day and night.

“We worked 24/7 but we were happy,” he told Al Jazeera. It is a dream we make with our own hands.

We were tarmac workers and engineers when the plane first landed at Gaza International Airport. It was the first time the plane landed without a crash and everyone was very proud of us. ”

2000 July 26 Shortly after his arrival at Gaza International Airport, Arafat mobilized supporters [File: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo]

The opening of the airport appears to be moving towards Palestine. It became known as Yasser Arafat International Airport.

However, Israeli forces used bulldozers to blow up the runway in 2001 at Second Antif.

“After the overthrow of Israel, Usama and I arrived at the airport in the morning. We were very sad, but we did not lose hope, ”NORCO owner Yasser Rehan told Al Jazeera in a trembling voice. My father and Rayhan repaired the runway.

However, Israeli forces carried out airstrikes in 2001 and completely destroyed the airport and runway in the following years.

Gaza under the siege

My father was an engineer and construction company founded in 1985, and he worked as a fishmonger and fisherman throughout Gaza. In addition to 58 projects, including Al Karama Towers and Qattan Center, Infrastructure and housing projects were included.

However, he left the Gaza Strip in 2007. He died in December 2012 at the age of 51, leaving behind more than $ 2 million in debt due to a hospital project that was abandoned due to a blockade due to a hospital project.

Meanwhile, there is still 20 debts related to the airport project.

Rehan told Al Jazeera that the contractors had not been paid for the project due to disagreements. In return, he owed 2 million contractors ($ 615,000) for his work on the airport runway. PA did not respond to a request for comment.

Rehan, meanwhile, sold NORCO in 2007 and suspended all of his work due to sanctions that damaged the Gaza Strip.

Al-Atwneh has been unemployed for 10 years and is just one of thousands out of thousands on the Gaza Strip.

My brother and I left the Gaza Strip to earn more money to pay off my father’s debts. My three brothers were in Gaza with my mother

The death of our father was a turning point in my family life. My father encouraged me to become a successful journalist.

Photos and memories of Usama el-Khoudary [Courtesy of Hind Khoudary]

He is especially proud to work at Gaza Airport.

Gaza Airport is more than just a project. It is a symbol of freedom for the Palestinians. Flying the Palestinian flag in the sky is a Palestinian dream.

Bombed buildings are not uncommon in the Gaza Strip. But the airport is different. Palestine’s dream has been completely shattered.

The runway, built with enthusiasm and hope in 45 days, is a pile of sand. You may not even think that a plane has landed there.

Every time I pass by a damaged airport while I work in Rafa, I get upset.

However, Capt. Alberda told Al Jazeera that he was helping with plans to build a new facility on Gosh Gatif in southern Gaza.

He said he would apply for a building permit from PA after the planning and design phase is complete and funding is available.

Many believe Israel will never allow the new Gaza airport, but al-Barda has been optimistic about re-establishing this Palestinian dream since the establishment of the former Palestinian state.

In 1996, I landed the first plane without any building or guidance. We believe we can fly back to Earth from Gaza.

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