Hundreds of Eilat residents gathered outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Monday to protest the impending closure of Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport, a move they fear will further cut off the southern Israeli city and contribute to dwindling tourism numbers.
The protest led by Eilat mayor Moshe Yitzhak-Halevi called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene and defer the closure of the airport slated for July 1. The airport sits on prime real estate in north Tel Aviv and will eventually be home thousands of apartments.
“Construction isn’t supposed to begin for another five years, so I’m asking, what’s the rush and where is this evil coming from? The answer is money,” he told the Kan public broadcaster at the protest.
Protesters carried signs calling on Netanyahu “don’t choke us off from the rest of the country,” and “Sde Dov is Eilat’s oxygen!” and “leave our tourism alone!”
According to the Globes Business daily, the state-owned land is slated to be developed into tens of thousands of affordable housing units in the suburbs of northern of Tel Aviv. In the next 5 years, some 16,000 apartments are due to be built on the Sde Dov plot, and another 14,000 in the land just north of the airport that had previously been off-limits due to its proximity to the airfield.
But Halevi and some Eilat residents are concerned that shuttering the airport which operates several daily flights from Tel Aviv to Eilat will deter both Israelis and tourists from making the relatively inexpensive trip to the southern city.
Without Sde Dov, visitors wanting to fly to Eilat would have to do so via Ben Gurion International Airport, increasing both travel time and expense.
Halevi says the additional cost and hassle could see the city lose visitors to other nearby beach locations like Cyprus or Greece, decimating Eilat’s already-declining tourism industry.
Eilat’s Yoseftal Hospital has also called to keep Sde Dov open, saying the added travel time could be disastrous for patients who need urgent transfers to other hospitals in Israel.
There was no comment from Netanyahu or his office on Monday, but reports in recent days said his interim government was working to find a solution to help ease domestic flights to Eilat.
On Sunday, the Ynet news site said the government was considering re-opening the Eilat airport to encourage travel to the city. Eilat’s airport, conveniently located in heart of its tourist district, closed earlier this year when the larger Ramon Airport opened, some 40 kilometers outside the city.