Once a symbol of Palestinian hopes for statehood, the Yasser Arafat or Dahaniya international airport has become a constant reminder that Gaza is largely cut off from the outside world.
“The first place I worked after I finished my studies was the airport, it was the home that welcomed me and my colleagues. We lived as one family,” said 37-year-old Arafat, who worked at the airport for two years before it closed.
Looking out over what remains of the facility and its torn-up tarmac after years of bombardment and neglect, Arafat shook his head.
“There was grass and gardens and roses and beautiful things. The window of my office was here,” he said, visiting for the first time in a decade.
“Honestly, they were good days.”
The opening of air and sea ports will be a major talking point when Egyptian-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza, resume after a month-long pause.
For employees like Wassim al-Akhras, who worked in the control tower with Arafat, the reopening of the airport can’t come soon enough.
“When you see this building, and you see the ruins of Yasser Arafat International Airport, it brings tears to your eyes,” he said.
‘Symbol of sovereignty’
He said he was proud to work in a “symbol of sovereignty” for the Palestinians.
Close by, a young shepherd guided his small flock through the bombed-out interior of the arrivals hall and young men from the nearby town of Rafah picked through the debris for scrap metal to sell.
The airport was built with funding from the international community and symbolically inaugurated in 1998 by then-US president Bill Clinton and the late Palestinian leader Arafat.
But even if an agreement to reopen it is reached, the airport’s reconstruction would be impossible without construction materials, he added.
Israel limits the entry of such goods into the enclave because it says militants use them to build tunnels and fortifications.
As well as the Gazans themselves, the opening of the airport would give their goods a chance to reach outside markets — in a major potential boost for the territory’s battered economy.
“We know the people of Gaza are tremendously entrepreneurial, it is a vibrant economy that has really been affected by the blockade in the last years,” said Maria-Jose Torres of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA in the occupied Palestinian territories.