I- Historical Background
(With ref. to The Palestinian Airlines History Pages: By Wassim Chemaitelli)

Before its partition and the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Palestine, under British mandate, with both its Arab and Jewish populations had the most advanced economy, possibly the most educated population, and the highest potential for development in the Middle East. Airports in Palestine, including Gaza and Lydda were important stops in the prestigious network of Imperial Airways. Palestine Airways, founded in July 1937 by Pinhas Rutenberg, was second only to Egypt's Misrair as the oldest airline in the region and was based in Haifa. It started its operations with flights between Haifa and Lydda using 2 Shorts S.16 Scion 2 planes. As tensions between the Arab and Jewish communities increased in the late thirties, the airline's base was transferred to a new airfield in Tel-Aviv (the airstrip is currently known as Sde Dov Airport) in October 1938. The fleet was increased by a Short S.22 Scion and a De Havilland DH-89 Rapide in 1938. The Rapide performed a twice daily rotation between Tel-Aviv and Haifa, a route expanded to Beirut a few weeks later. Palestine Airways ceased its operations in August 1940 and its aircraft were taken-over by the Royal Air Force during the second world war. Palestine Airways' shares were held by Jewish entrepreneurs, its Hebrew title was "Netivei Avir Eretz Yisrael" (Air Lines of the Land of Israel) while its title in Arabic reads "Turuq Al Jawwiya Bi Filistin" (The Airline Company in Palestine), a discrepancy that was lost in the official translation to English.

Imperial Airways' Hanno (G-AAUD), a Handley Page HP42 seen near Samakh by the lake of Tiberias in Galilee in 1931. The airline had just established a junction there between the Kent seaplanes (which landed on the lake, to the astonishment of the locals) arriving from Greece and the HP42 service to India via Iraq and Persia. Copyright Unknown.

Lydda Airport, under construction in 1935. The airport was open for regular traffic in 1936. Lydda, the town close to the airport was inhabited by Palestinian Arabs before 1948. Following the creation of the state of Israel, the airport was taken over by the Israeli authorities, and renamed Lod Airport. It is currently the site of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport. Copyright unknown.

Misrair's De Havilland Dragon Rapide, seen in Lydda. Photo: A Himmelreich. Undated.

Left: Palestine Airways advertisement. Right: Luggage label, Palestine Airways, 1937, Daniel Kusrow's collection@Timetableimages.com.

The partition of Palestine and the wars that followed changed the region's face forever. The state of Israel, created on the largest area of Palestine, was an intended homeland for Jews. Strengthened by an efficient and devoted administration, enjoying strong support from the West and enriched by the influx of immigrants from all over the world it was rapidly able to evolve towards a modern economy. While it cultivated its strong ties and affinities with Europe and the Americas at all levels, this part of Palestine lost its natural share of the regional market as the result of its continued disputes with the Arab world. The remaining territories in Palestine fell under the administration of neighboring Arab countries which retarded economies by pre-1948 Palestine standards had little to offer.While having to cope with a massive influx of Arab refugees, these territories did not even enjoy geographical continuity. To the southwest, a narrow and impoverished semi-desertic enclave on the eastern edge of Sinai, the Gaza strip, became administered by the ailing Egyptian monarchy. To the northeast, the landlocked territories that came to be known as the West Bank (in reference to the Jordan river), including the old city of Jerusalem, were administered by the kingdom of Transjordan (known thereafter as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan).
Air Jordan (Left, Postcard from Telco-Sport,Beirut, late fifties) and its successor Jordan Airways (right, Viscount seen in Beirut) provided frequent regional services out of Jerusalem's Kolundia Airport during the fifties and early sixties.

Left: Little is known about Arab Airways, an airline based in Jerusalem and which advertisments echoed the claims of the Jordanian administration over the West Bank. Timetable from Bjorn Larsson's collection @ Timetable Images Website.  After the Arab debacle of the Six Days War, the West Bank fell under Israeli occupation. Jerusalem's Kolundia Airport (JRS) has since been known to the Israelis at Atarot Airport, and the featured postal cover commemorates the first flight operated to JRS by Arkia, the Israeli domestic airline.
During the fifties and sixties, there were no air services to Gaza while flights to the West Bank were operated through Jerusalem's Kolundia Airport (JRS). Regional flights were flown to JRS by several Arab airlines, most of the traffic being carried by those registered in Jordan (Arab Airways, Air Jordan, Jordan Airways, Alia). The Six Days war in 1967 and the occupation of the territories by the Israeli army ended these flights. Kolundia airport was taken over by the occupation and is currently known to the Israelis as Atarot Airport. Since 1967, the airport has mostly been used for short haul flights servicing the needs of Israeli clients. As for the Palestinians (a term restricted to the Arab inhabitants of Palestine after the creation of the state of Israel), whose tragedy secreted the largest diaspora among the Arabs, they have had to endure for decades tedious security checks and hardships, whether they flew westbound via Tel Aviv or had to cross the Allenby bridge and fly via Amman in Jordan. Striving to reduce the burden on travelers in order to improve the economy was hence only natural as the Palestinians achieved through arduous negociations some degree of autonomy in Gaza and small parts of the West Bank in the mid-nineties.
II- Difficult Beginnings 1994-2000
The idea of an international airport in the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority was particularly difficult to accept by Israeli negotiators for both security concerns (fearing that such airports would become ports of entry for arms and Palestinian militants living abroad, feeding the hostile movements within the territories), and symbolic reasons (international airports are usually attributes of independent states). Israeli approval was achieved only by restricting possible sites to the Gaza strip and by accepting close and direct Israeli supervision at all levels of operation. While officially declared as a temporary hub by the Palestinian Authority, it was obvious that the construction of the Gaza International Airport (GZA) was the best that could be accomplished before a comprehensive peace agreement was reached. Works on GZA started on January 20th 1996. The costs of building the airport, 75 million USD, were mainly covered by donations from Japan, the European Union and Morocco. Located on the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt near Rafah, it had a single runway that could handle most airliner types including the Boeing 747. The airport itself was designed to handle up to 700,000 passengers yearly.

Left: The terminal building, GZA. Photo from the Gaza International Airport Website.
Right: Palestinian Airlines Boeing 727. From The Palestinian Airlines Website.
Awaiting the official inauguration of GZA, Palestinian Airlines was cleared to start operating from Port Said Airport, in Egypt, using an initial fleet of two Fokker F-50s donated by the Dutch government and a Boeing 727 donated by Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The airline's first flight, PF141 carried hajj pilgrims to Jeddah on January 10th 1997. During the hajj season in 1997, 325 pilgrims were carried on seven round trip flights between Port Said and Jeddah. The airline continued operating out of Egypt ad-hoc flights and scheduled flights between Al-Arish (in Sinai, close to the border with Palestine) and Amman until GZA was inaugurated on November 24th 1998. The airline officially transferred its base to GZA and started operating scheduled flights from Gaza on November 27th 1998. Flights were initially launched between Gaza, Amman and Cairo. Palestinian Airlines registered 64 airliner movements in December 1998, carrying 1706 passengers.

A Palestinian Airlines Fokker F50, seen in Luxor, Egypt. Copyright Charles Falk @Airliners.net
Palestinian Airlines continued to develop through 1999. The airline carried 60,446 passengers, out of the 87,036 passengers who traveled through GZA during that year (= 70% of the total), and registered 1482 airliner movements, with its small fleet of 3 airliners. It was also in 1999 that the airline joined international air transport organisations, including the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO) and IATA (member serial number 400). In 2000, the network included flights to Amman, Istanbul (flights launched on June 6th, 2000), Larnaca, Cairo, Jeddah, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. Plans were laid for the modernization of the fleet. Two De Havilland Dash-8s were purchased in order to reinforce regional frequencies, they were delivered by the summer of the same year. Two Canadair Regional Jets were ordered and there were plans for the lease or purchase of 3 Boeing 737s in order to expand the network towards Athens, Rome, Frankfurt, Paris and London. In the meantime, an Ilyushin Il62 was leased-in as to respond to a higher demand for flights to the Gulf. Palestinian Airlines' highest level of operation was in the Summer of 2000. Other airlines flying to GZA at that time included Russavia, Tarom, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian and Egyptair.
The airline was grounded in October 2000 following the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and was forced to move to El Arish International Airport in December 2001, after destruction by Israeli military forces. of the runway at its previous base, Yasser Arafat International Airport, where it operated limited services.
On December 12th 2001 GZA was bombed by the Israeli army, which warplanes hit the control tower.  In January 10th 2002, the 60 million USD runway was competely destroyed by the Israeli army, shattering hopes for the resumption of flights to the airport in the forseeable future.

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