An American at Allenby Bridge Crossing
For myself, the Allenby Bridge crossing from Palestine to Jordan is a cultural experience, but for my Palestinian friends it is the sole entrance and exit from the West Bank to the rest of the world. The crossing begins in Jericho, where one passes from the Palestinian to the Israeli border, and from the Israeli border to the Jordanian border. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to all day long.
The long crossing ensures that every Palestinian must factor an extra day of travel to get from the West Bank to Jordan. Because the Amman airport only schedules international flights in the morning, all Palestinians must also spend the night before actually beginning their trip. These factors inhibit spontaneity and cut into precious time and finances.
And of course, the lengthy procedure is repeated upon return.
As we approached our first border exit, I noticed there were three entrances: the first, for West Bank residents who are confined to Allenby as their only exit option - this was the widest door and filled with the longest line of people; the other two doors had no lines at all - one was for East Jerusalem residents and tourists (those who have other exit options, including Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv), and I was surprised by the heading over the third door: VIP.
“That is for people who pay extra,” said my friend Rema. “If you can afford it, you have the option of paying $150 per person and expediting the entire crossing procedure.” She explained how she splurged on such a crossing recently. “Our family went to the US for summer vacation and our children enjoyed it so much. After we arrived back here, it was more than I could bear to drag them through this. It would have ended our beautiful vacation on a sour note. So we factored the extra crossing fees into our vacation budget and purchased the VIP treatment.”
Then followed a blur of long lines, slips of paper handed out and re-collected, waiting on busses, collecting and re-checking our luggage as we passed from one border to the next. When we finally got to the Jordanian border, all non-Palestinians were shuffled to another building.
In our group was a Palestinian-American mother from Chicago and her five young adult daughters who wore their hijabs with an air of unstudied coolness that marked them as foreigners. A fellow American asked them the question on everyone’s mind: “What will you do if Trump wins the election?” “Move to Canada,” one replied without smiling or batting an eye.
At the Jordanian desk, I submitted to the retinal scan, paid my fee, found my luggage and entered the hot night air, where we were greeted by waiting taxi drivers. I took a furtive photo of the building we had just exited, not sure if it was allowed or not. I soon discovered it was not after one of my American friends attempted the same. “No pictures!” screamed a guard, before hauling my friend over for questioning and photo deletion.
“Well that was good!” exclaimed Rema. “Only 4 hours—we made good time!”
On our return, I took notes.
After crossing through security at the Jordanian border, we were sent to collect our luggage at an outdoor area with a covered roof. There was a growing mountain of luggage beneath a chute; several sweat-soaked people attempted to dig through it. I joined them, looking for my carry-on suitcase.
“People try not to use their nice luggage when crossing the border,” said Rema. “It is often damaged here, or lost. If it gets lost or someone steals something out of your suitcase, too bad.” I attempted to move a few massive suitcases and heavy boxes– but even as I moved them, more fell on top of the pile. I struggled to retain my balance and protect my sandaled feet from heavy, falling items as I waded through the shifting mountain.
Relief! Suitcase found!
Eventually, we joined the outdoor line where we waited to board a bus that would carry us to the Israeli crossing. One of our team took the opportunity to use the toilet, which was a mistake. When the next bus arrived, we pressed through the crowd to enter as a group. After we were all seated, we realized that George was not with us. Panic ensued. One team member snuck off the bus and found him held back by a policeman to enter with the next group. “We are all together and we need him because he is carrying our money!” At this, he was released to join us. George and Baseel entered our bus to cheering, and off we went.
As we traveled by bus to the second border, three different men came to examine and collect three different slips of paper that were given to us at the previous crossing. Outside the window were barren yellow-tan hills and dry river beds, a few acacia and palm trees, the Dead Sea just a few miles south, and fences, razor wire, and a sandbagged Jordanian military post with soldiers manning a giant gun pointed toward oncoming traffic.
We came to a stop, where we were second in a line of three busses waiting to enter the Israeli crossing. There was a cluster of port-a potties outside and several of us took the opportunity to use them. As I walked back to my bus, I saw driver #1 leaning back against a pillow, dozing at his seat. As we waited, we saw an occasional VIP car pass us. The sun was low in the sky.
Check back soon to find out what happens next in their journey home.
Selah is a guest blogger who spent one year living and volunteering in the West Bank, where the greatest danger she experienced amongst the Palestinians was growing a muffin top from being overfed.