Surviving the crossing of Allenby bridge into Palestine and Israel
By Ali Younes
The journey to cross the Allenby bridge also known as the “King Hussein Bridge” that connects Jordan and the Occupied West Bank, starts off with the easy and fast Jordanian side where they process your passport and send you on your way to meet your fate at the Israeli hands as to whether they will let you cross into their territories or not.
I arrived at the Jordanian side of the bridge around 11:30 AM and by 12 I was on the Israeli side. The minute you get off the bus there, you were instructed to go through metal barriers built on the side walk that channel you like cattle to several windows where Israeli women look your at passport from behind a window make sure that you match the picture on your passport.
After that you enter a hall where you are processed also like cattle through yet another winding metal barriers that eventually takes you to the X- Ray screening process. This is of course is just the beginning and that you are not even close to be cleared to go on your way to your destination. I went to passport window and dark-haired middle aged lady asked me why am I coming to Israel to which I told her that I am a journalist and I am coming here to do a couple of seminars to Journalism students by an official invitation.
Then she asked me about my name and my father’s name and my grandfather and great- grand father names several times, and where I was born several times as well. After she was done asking me these redundant questions while staring at me, which made me feel that she was waiting for me to give a wrong answer somehow, she asked me to go and sit in the seating area, unbeknownst to me, then that it would take another six hours before I would see my passport again.
As I paced the place back and forth waiting for my passport to arrive, a middle-age Indian citizen , a Muslim, told me that he was part of the group he was coming with to visit Jerusalem were denied entry to Israel and Palestine . He, however, was left alone at the crossing point from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM waiting for his passport to be cleared. He told me that his is in the furniture business and wondered why the Israelis were keeping him in limbo this long. I saw him sitting or walking for long hours waiting remarkably polite and calm. A group of Malaysian or Indonesian- I wasn’t sure- pilgrims also waited for at least 7 hours for their passports to be cleared . Many of them spread down prayer mats and started praying in one corner of hall, others sat on the floor in a circle and started eating traditional food oblivious to the environment around them, but they were very calm and collected and at peace. Many of the men wore religious white caps and the women dressed in Islamic attire. I thought they perhaps were coming from Mecca where they performed a “Omra” which is a sort of an informal Haj. Going to Jerusalem to pray at Al Qasa Mosque after Mecca is an Islamic tradition that encourages praying at the Jerusalem’s holiest Islamic Mosque.
As for the Indian citizen, a young girl from the Israeli intelligence asked him about a family trip he made to Pakistan in 1999. He told me that he went there for a wedding.
I was shocked even though very few things shock me. I told him, however, that he should not be surprised because the Indian intelligence work closely with Mossad, and so is the Jordanian intelligence of course. Another Arab American man also waited for at least 6 hours to get his passport while a Palestinian-Australian man who came on the same bus with us waited only 3 hours.
But it looks like they investigate anyone anywhere and no matter what country he is a citizen of . As for me, they asked me none of that, only how long am I staying and where ( i am in a hotel) and if i have any friends in Israel or relatives. i told the young lady who asked me these questions in the lobby that I have no friends there. I was never worried of course i am so public, that they don’t even have to send an email to the Jordanian mukhabrat ( intelligence) to check up if i was a security threat or not. They can just consult Mr. Google.
But a key observation for me was when i was asked questions right in the lobby where people wait for their passports, by a young fellow, whom i figured he was from the Israeli intelligence, that he was an Arab. He asked me first if I prefer English or Arabic. English, i replied.
He was nice, professional and conversationalist in a way that appeared to be designed to give the subject a sense of ease and trust while he was ( the subject that is) being studied and measured for any sign of nervousness or suspicious behavior.
He was nevertheless helpful as i told him that this was a huge waste of time( which seems to be a policy there) in a mix of Arabic and English. I could tell he was an Arab ( not an Arabist), from the way he carried himself and walked back and forth which gives off his cultural background. He was surrounded by young guys who appeared to be of Russian stock and in training.
I asked him what his name was and if he was working for the Shin Bet ( the Israeli domestic intelligence) he said yes, it is the Shin Bet and told me his name which confirmed my thoughts.
While kept walking back and forth I saw a fair skinned young soldier and asked him to check up on my passport. he asked me for my name and what kind of passport, I said, American to which he said “Ameerkaani” in a distinct Northern Palestinian Galilee accent. I said Yes. He was trying to help me get my passport. I told him that it was with the Shin Bet. “Yea, these guys are different and difficult and we don’t deal with them,” he said.
I asked him his name and where he is from and he told of the name of his village and his name which is very Arabic. From the name of his village in the north and his accent and from the way he pronounced his name and subsequent Arabic dialect I sort of deducted his ethnic and religious affiliation.
He ended up reviewing my passport and eventually expedited it from the Interior minister’s office and saved me perhaps another hour of waiting time. He told me i should visit the Galilee, Haifa and Yafa. I told him i will.
(Email ali younes at : aliyounes@theArabDailyNews.com. Follow ali younes on twitter @clearali)
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Ali Younes is a Senior Political Analyst for The Arab Daily News online newspaper. He is a veteran news-editor, Journalist, and a Middle East analyst working for major American news network . He is based in Washington, D.C.
Reach Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org
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