Final Flight

They were a group of young men who enlisted in the Turkish Army, which controlled Eretz Yisrael during World War I. One of the recruits, Dov Haus, was sent to serve as an officer in an elite unit near Damascus. His father, Baruch, an educator who had come to Eretz Yisrael from Russia, became ill and passed away while visiting his son at the army camp.
Officer Dov accompanied his father’s body to Eretz Yisrael, and he decided to remain there. After he became aware of the brutality of the Turks as they evacuated all the residents of Tel Aviv, he established himself as an opponent of their rule.
Wearing the uniform of a Turkish officer, he fought them as part of the Haganah, and despite being wanted as a deserter, he transferred weapons from the battlefront to the home front.
He was tried in absentia and sentenced to death. Ironically, he was hiding right in the lion’s den: He was attached to a delegation of the Turkish Army that had been sent to investigate water sources in the Syrian desert. When the delegation completed its task, he managed to get to Tel Aviv, and for several weeks he hid in the empty homes and in the orchards of the abandoned city.
It was in one of those orchards that a small, improvised airport was later built. In time it would be called Sde Dov, after the person who hid there, Dov Haus.
Not only was Haus one of the Haganah commanders, he was one of the founders of “Aviron,” the first Israeli airline. When he was killed in a car accident in 1940, it was decided that there was no place better suited to commemorate his name than the airport in Tel Aviv.
The area chosen for the airport was northwest of the city, near the Mediterranean Sea, and very close to the new Reading power station.
Most of the area was not yet settled in those days, but parts of the land were privately owned — which did not preclude the authorities from expropriating these lands for a public need. Construction took place over several months and the first flight departed on Friday, 27 Elul 5698, to Beirut through Haifa.
After the United Nations partition plan, Sde Dov became the official airport of the Haganah air force — which later became the Israel Air Force. The military base remains there to this day, and it serves the IAF’s Group 15, which operates spy and cargo aircraft. (The route to the southern city of Eilat was begun at the end of 5719/1959 by Arkia airlines, which was established by the government in order to link that distant city with the rest of the country.)
It’s hard to find a better manifestation of the “yihiyeh b’seder (it will be all right)” attitude prevalent in Israel than the Sde Dov saga. For decades, it has been well known that ultimately the airport would be closed down; it is situated on private land that is among the most expensive real estate in Israel. The shutdown has been delayed again and again.
Now, three weeks before the scheduled date of closure, it emerges that, indeed, no alternatives have been set up for the residents of Eilat and for the tourism industry. Although it is possible that because of pressure from the elections, the closure will be delayed yet again, all that means is that a few months down the line, we will be in the exact same spot again.
There are no good guys or bad guys in this story. There are only circumstances, which threaten the quality of life of thousands of residents of Eilat and the livelihoods of airline employees — most of whom live in that city — and those in the tourism industry. The owners of the land where Sde Dov is located, the big money people, are getting support from the state, which, in turn, has set its sights on the billions of shekels in taxes it hopes to reap from the massive project slated for that site.
The large parcel of land on which Sde Dov is located is called the “big bloc.” It belongs to more than two thousand heirs of the original owners of the land — most of them members of families who have lived in Eretz Yisrael for many years. The land itself is valued in the billions of shekels.
The plight of the residents and the workers is real, but is still not good enough reason to withhold land from its legal owners who want to realize their own rights to the land, and at the same time, help to alleviate some of the housing crunch of Tel Aviv. There’s no reason to complain to them or about them. They are in the right and the law is on their side. If someone will be negatively affected by the move — then the State should step in and find a solution; it’s not the responsibility of private people to do so, rich as they may be.
According to the current plan, on the afternoon of Sunday, 27 Sivan, nearly 81 years after the maiden flight — the last flight will depart from Sde Dov to Eilat. And then, instead of planes flying the skies, the horizon over Sde Dov will soon be dominated by skyscrapers. n