BBC’s Howard Johnson on the tribulations of Palestinian Airlines

By no means exclusive to the BBC is the tendency of many a Western journalist to file reports or write articles outlining the difficulties of life in the Palestinian-controlled territories, but without providing sufficient background information on how those difficulties came about or the degree of responsibility which the Palestinians must assume for their creation. 

An example of such a report appeared on the BBC News website on October 13th.  In it, BBC reporter Howard Johnson documents the return to service of Palestinian Airlines, with flights from El Arish to Amman. 

The trials and tribulations of Palestinian Airlines are clearly laid at Israel’s door by Johnson who states in his 3.27 minute report:

“But the business ground to a halt following the second uprising against the Israeli occupation.”

“But in 2001 an Israeli airstrike destroyed the airport…”

“Israel won’t allow Gaza to reopen its airport because of security concerns…”

2001 was, of course, the year in which the world discovered that even civilian aircraft could be employed for terror purposes. It was also the second year of the terror war (or second Intifada) against Israeli civilians both inside and outside the ‘green line’ and an appreciation of the location of Gaza’s airport helps clarify why it could be seen as a threat. 

Under the terms of Article XIII of the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 and entitled ‘Security of the Airspace’, Israel was to maintain control of Gaza’s airspace. 

“All aviation activity or use of the airspace by any aerial vehicle in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall require prior approval of Israel. It shall be subject to Israeli air traffic control including, inter alia, monitoring and regulation of air routes as well as relevant regulations and requirements to be implemented in accordance with the Israel Aeronautical Information Publication, the relevant parts of which will be issued after consultation with the Council.”

“Aircraft taking off from, and landing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall be registered and licensed in Israel or in other states members of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Air crews of such aircraft shall be licensed in Israel or in such other states, provided that such licenses have been approved and recommended by the Council and validated by Israel.”

“Commercial, domestic and international air services to, from and between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip may be operated by Palestinian, Israeli or foreign operators approved by both sides, certified and licensed in Israel or in ICAO member states maintaining bilateral aviation relations with Israel. Arrangements for such air services, beginning with a service between Gaza and Cairo using two (2) fixed-wing aircraft with capacity up to fifty passengers each, as well as arrangements regarding the establishment and operation of airports and air terminals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, will be discussed and agreed upon by the two sides in the JAC.

Any such international commercial air services will be carried out in accordance with Israel’s bilateral aviation agreements. The implementation phase will be discussed and agreed on in the JAC.”

Gaza airport was indeed opened in November 1998, but closed after the commencement of the second Intifada. In November 2005, after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip, an Agreement on Movement and Access was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which included the following clause on aviation: 

“The parties agree on the importance of the airport. Discussions will continue on the issues of security arrangements, construction, and operation.”

Two months later, in January 2006, the Palestinian Legislative Council elections brought significant gains for Hamas, which went on to take over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007, divesting the co-signer of that agreement – the Palestinian Authority – of influence there. 

Interestingly, Howard Johnson appears to find no relevance to his story in the decision made by the Palestinian Authority to launch the second Intifada and thereby truncate the progress of the Oslo Accords. 

Neither does he appear to find it necessary to expand upon the subject of why Israel might consider an international airport situated literally meters from its border and controlled by a terrorist organization which does not co-operate with Israel on anything – let alone aviation safety and security – and which has been responsible for hundreds of terror attacks and the firing of thousands of missiles against Israeli civilians, to be a “security concern”. 

Instead, all the viewer of this report who is not conversant in Middle East history now knows is that Palestinians have awful trouble travelling, that Palestinian Airlines may not be financially viable, that the airport in Gaza does not function and that the mean old Israelis are at fault.   

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