For the past 16 years, Gaza has been under a complete blockade.
Among the dreadful consequences of the siege is that people have often been prevented from traveling.
Medical patients requiring treatment that is unavailable in local hospitals have not been spared the effects of Israel’s cruelty. Many have died after their permit applications were delayed or rejected.
Amid these restrictions, it is not surprising that promotions for trips abroad should generate considerable interest.
In theory, these trips allow passengers to leave Gaza via Erez, the Israeli military checkpoint. They can then board a bus to Ramon Airport in Eilat – a city in Israel – and fly to Turkey.
So far the trips have been a “great success,” according to Salim Dalloul from Bikeen Travel, one of the agencies that has arranged them recently. He is hoping that flights to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates will soon be permitted for people from Gaza.
Not everyone is rhapsodizing about the “great success.”
The majority of passengers taking part must be 35 years or over. Parents who are younger than 35 may avail of the trips but only if they are accompanied by their children.
And only people who buy tickets for round trips are eligible. At $600, the price of such tickets is far from cheap – considering that poverty and unemployment in Gaza are widespread.
Wissam Afifa, a writer and political analyst based in Gaza, noted that “only very limited numbers of Palestinians will benefit” from the flights.
Many would be wary of going on the trips as they “fear arrest by the Israeli security services,” he said.
The flights from Ramon, he suggested, may be part of a package under which Israel aims to “calm the Gaza front” while stepping up its brutality against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The Ramon trips follow a 2022 decision by the Tel Aviv government to issue permits so that several thousand people from Gaza may work inside Israel.
Such gestures are inadequate. “Gazans want to break the siege, improve their economic situation and fight unemployment,” Afifa said.
As the buses from the Erez checkpoint to Ramon only leave one day per week, they will not meet Gaza’s travel needs.
The Rafah crossing – separating Gaza and Egypt – is likely to remain the main point of exit and entry, Afifa predicted.
The trips to Ramon Airport have been denounced by some political parties. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine urged a boycott of the trips after news that they would be allowed was reported last year.
According to the PFLP, the trips should be viewed as part of efforts to make Palestinians economically dependent on Israel.
Those efforts date from the era of the Oslo accords, which were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s. Although depicted in the mainstream media as peace deals, the accords have enabled Israel to continue its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, with financial and political support from the United States and the European Union.
People living in Gaza have expressed mixed feelings about the new trips. Saed Mahdi, 40, has accompanied his mother while she has traveled to Egypt for medical treatment a number of times.
He pointed out that the trips are long – the road journey from Rafah to Cairo takes 20 hours but if delays occur a journey can last a number of days.
And they are expensive.
“If the matter is urgent, I have to pay the Egyptian authorities $200 for every passenger,” he said. “This is a financial burden that I cannot afford.”
As traveling from Rafah is so difficult, he contended that “if there is another way to travel, it will be better for us.”
Ahmad Salem, 30, is among many in Gaza who are suspicious of the trips to Ramon. “This step [the offer of travel through Ramon] is very strange,” he said. “Many of us even wondered if it was for real.”
The new offers of air travel do not erase the fact that for about two decades no civilian planes have landed in Gaza.
While flights from Ramon may be deemed a “great success” by a few travel agencies, it is highly improbable that they will end Gaza’s isolation.
Ruwaida Amer is a journalist based in Gaza.