Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Runway to Nowhere

2003. A building in the desert. Almost fabulous (as in fable, “a short, comic tale making a moral point about human nature”), planted mirage-like by itself in the barren countryside. Columns and arches in earth colors. I thought the building looked Moroccan or Tunisian (what do I know of architecture?). Of the desert. Cool inside without air conditioning. Expansive, elegant. A slight musty fragrance, perhaps from disuse. Once we were inside, my fervid imagination went to the ridiculous Hollywoodesque places an American's mind might go—a visualization of some scene of a deserted building in the desert in some blockbuster movie, meant to create fear before some great battle. We looked at the sales counter (apparently still being used although no one was there at that moment). A ghostly scene, almost creepy, supernatural. I remember wondering how this was possible. How could we, foreigners, simply drive up to this place, dismount our comfortable air-conditioned bus, walk a few yards in the August heat, and wander into this building without so much as a “by your leave?”

I have rummaged through my computer for pictures I took of the place (they must be on my old computer sitting unused in the corner—a cruelly fitting repository). I have found only two, but many such pictures lurk on the internet. The images are well-known.

Bill Clinton helped dedicate this building in 1998 (he must have approved its construction; how could he not have?). A reminder of historical reality: “….Netanyahu….had to give up something concrete—land, access, jobs, an airport—in return for something far less tangible: the best efforts of the PLO to prevent terrorist attacks….I had to keep reminding Arafat that I was committed to the peace process....” (1) Commitment was not obvious.

The PLO could not have prevented the Israeli terrorist attack that made this building redundant in 2001. It is now, of course, destroyed (2). The Yasser Arafat International Airport in Rafah was built by Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Germany and Morocco at a cost of $85,000,000. The Israelis did not destroy the runways in 2001, but rendered them cruelly useless. The PLO was powerless. A couple of days before our dreamlike stroll through the airport, we had seen what was left of the headquarters of the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” a pile of rubble in Ramallah where Yasser Arafat was holed up, barely escaping assassination by the Israelis.

Photos by Harold Knight, 2003

Arafat was unable to control any terrorism—Israeli or Palestinian. How could he when the President of the United States insisted that the violence that destroyed the only airport of the Palestinians was “retaliation for,” not the cause of, more cruel violence?

The question for today is whether or not that runway, even if it were restored, might still be the Runway to Nowhere. Netanyahu is again Prime Minister of Israel and even less likely to “give up something concrete.” That the new United States President is still powerless to do anything other than Israel's bidding, even in the impotent UN, is daily more obvious. The Bill Clinton attitude is apparently one of the concrete realities that Netanyahu will never have to give up.

In 2003 at the far end of the Runway to Nowhere stood the remains of the tower of The Yasser Arafat International Airport. I took a picture of the skeleton of the tower. Perhaps it's there even now. I have no way of knowing. Whether or not the tower still stands, the mangled radar equipment is obviously useless—a fitting symbol of the seemingly ever more useless search for justice for the people the airport was built to serve. A continuation of the cruelly “comic tale making a moral point about human nature.”

The cruelty of the Runway to Nowhere has come full circle.

(1) “ The hard-liners in his [Netanyahu's] coalition knew this and were making it difficult for him to keep moving toward peace by opening the Gaza airport or even letting all the Palestinians from Gaza come back to work in Israel. Psychologically, Netanyahu faced the same challenge Rabin had: Israel had to give up something concrete--land, access, jobs, an airport--in return for something far less tangible: the best efforts of the PLO to prevent terrorist attacks.
I was convinced Netanyahu wanted to do more, and afraid that if he couldn't, Arafat would find it more difficult to keep the lid on violence. To further complicate matters, whenever the peace process slowed, or the Israelis retaliated for a terrorist attack or began another building program in a West Bank settlement, there was likely to be a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its continued violation of UN resolutions, and doing so in a way that suggested what the negotiated settlement should be. The Israelis depended on the United States to veto such measures, which we normally did....I had to keep reminding Arafat that I was committed to the peace process...”
Clinton, Bill. My Life: The Presidential Years, Vol. 2. New York: Vintage, 2005 (372-373).

(2) See the following:
The Telegraph.Co.Uk
By Tim Butcher in Gaza
Published: 12:01AM GMT 14 Dec 2006
"Israelis accused of vandalising airport."

Jerusalem Post

Jan 2, 2009 19:10
"Hamas TV: IAF strikes target Gaza airport; 1 dead, 5 wounded."


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