Hurry Up and Wait: Crossing at King Hussein/Allenby Bridge

Since the 1994 treaty between Jordan and Israel, several border crossings have opened between the two countries. The most direct and busiest crossing from Amman to Jerusalem is the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge, named, depending on which side you are on, for either the late third king of Jordan (and second Arab leader to recognize the state of Israel) or British Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, who led many successful campaigns in the region during World War I.

The KH/AB is the only Jordan/Israel crossing that Palestinians are allowed to use. Even Palestinians with US or other foreign passports must cross here. Israelis are barred by Israeli law from using this crossing, probably because Israeli law also prohibits Israelis from entering most of the West Bank. On the Israeli side, the main road cuts straight through the West Bank en route to Jerusalem.

Amman and Jerusalem are only 45 miles away from each other, but the journey took me just over six hours. This is my experience at the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge.

6:50 am—Depart hotel in Amman by taxi, headed for the Jordanian departures terminal at the KH/AB.

8:00—Changed taxis for the last 7 km of the journey. (There was no particular reason for this. The first driver simply pulled over, met another taxi, and asked if it was alright if I went with the new driver the rest of the way. What choice did I have? I paid the first driver 25 JD, and the second driver 2 JD for the five minute ride.)

8:05—Dropped off at the entrance to the terminal. (The KH/AB Itself is still a kilometer or two away, but this is where the exit procedure starts.) There are several buildings in the compound, but no signs or direction from the border agents. I finally, and with no help from the cigarette smoking Jordanian soldiers milling about, found the building marked “departures.” I entered with my luggage and was told to turn around and put bags through airport-style security scanner. At least they were paying attention to security. (I actually passed by the scanner when entering, but there were loads of luggage piled on the belt, and the belt itself was not moving. So I decided to bypass it.)

8:10—I waited outside with my luggage, the morning sun already bearing down. After about five minutes, the belt started to move. I put my luggage through, entered the building, and collected my bags on the other side. With my luggage, I found a line and got in behind (of course) an Australian backpacker-type with a pony tail and beard. We waited for a few minutes, underneath flickering fluorescent lights. The departures hall was slightly chaotic, with, again, no signs or directions, but there weren’t too many people, and it was nowhere near as bad as what we were about to encounter. As the line progressed, I handed my passport to the Jordanian agent at Window 1, who looked at it and passed it to the agent at Window 2. The agent at Window 2 told me to pay the exit tax of 8 JD at Window 3, which I did. I was then told to board the bus waiting outside. My passport would be returned to me there. Slightly discomforting, but I couldn’t argue with procedure.

8:25—I climbed aboard the bus and the mood among the passengers was jovial. We all made introductions. There was an American couple, an American exchange student living in Amman, Jordanians, and Palestinians from Jordan and the US, not to mention my Australian friend and his silent Canadian counterpart. A driver and customs agents made their way down the aisle of the bus, and we paid the fare (4 JD plus 1.3 JD per bag), and our passports were returned to us. We sat patiently, waiting for the bus to fill.

8:37—The bus departed.

8:45—We stopped at the last Jordanian checkpoint, so authorities could inspect our exit stamps.

8:51—We approached and crossed the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge, entering a sort of No Man’s Land between the countries (though technically in Israeli territory). This is a photo of the approach. (The concrete bridge is in the background.)

20120628-184221.jpg

And the actual crossing:

20120628-184514.jpg

(Somewhere underneath is the River Jordan, reduced to barely a stream due to damming upstream. I didn’t actually see the river.)

Entering the Israeli side:

20120628-184938.jpg

8:54—We slowly continue, the bus stopping and starting again, through fences, concrete barriers, and various gates. Due to the large presence of security officials, I thought it would be wise to put my camera away for the time being.

9:00—I caught a glimpse of the Israeli flag, and here we were at last at the Israeli terminal. (It was a 20 minute or so ride from the Jordanian terminal to the Israeli one, but I’m sure we didn’t travel more than three miles, if that.) We waited on the bus, just outside of the terminal.

9:20—We were finally allowed off the bus on the Israeli side. About half the passengers disembarked before the doors close again. I didn’t make it off…

9:30—The rest of us were allowed to get off the bus, still in No Man’s Land, as we hadn’t yet passed through Israeli customs. We entered a long line, queuing for the first passport check. Men, women, and children jostled for position. (One woman kept ramming the back of my legs with her luggage cart. Space was at such a premium that people would manage to fill any small gap between you or your luggage.) It was chaotic, with people pushing, pushing their way through. If you didn’t play the game, you weren’t going to get anywhere, so I pushed too, cutting in front of people, standing my ground when there was nowhere to go… it’s how it’s done. No one takes offense. In fact, in the shadow of guards with automatic rifles, in the stifling heat, people were actually laughing with each other. Even the Israeli guards cracked smiles and said hello to people–something I did not expect.

10:00—I finally got to the front of the line, and a baggage employee (similar to an airport worker) took my two bags and gave me a receipt. I carried my passport to the first passport control window. After a quick check, and a sticker placed on the back of my passport indicating the level of my security risk (by marking a Hebrew number on it), I went into the Israeli terminal building, and was greeted by a mural that showed people shaking hands and the word “welcome” written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. I waited in another (thankfully shorter) line for an airport-style security check, and I proceeded through without incident.

10:10—I arrived in the main customs and immigration hall and entered, you guessed it, another line. The building was the size of an airport hangar, with tall ceilings and more bad fluorescent lighting. Immediately to my right was a cordoned off section called the “passenger waiting area.” I knew it was not a good place to be, probably reserved for people who were selected for additional screening, or who lacked the proper paperwork. It was a purgatory I wanted to avoid at all costs, so I stood in line patiently, smiling and making eye contact with any Israeli agent (some of whom were much younger than me) who passed by in the hope that they would let me through as quickly as possible.

10:30—I received a ticket from a very young Israeli woman who told me to go to window number 9. I stood in another line.

11:30—After an hour, and after watching a German couple who traveled with me from Jordan, as well as a twenty-something British man, being told to wait in the dreaded “passenger waiting area,” it was finally my turn to be questioned. The customs agent wore a Quiksilver t-shirt and a pair of jeans… certainly not what I expected from the Israeli security apparatus. Still, I pictured her in full uniform with a rifle strapped over her shoulder in an effort to maintain decorum and respect. She asked me the standard questions: “How long will you be here?” “Are you going to the West Bank?” And then she asked, “What is Sumner?” I was caught off guard. “My mother’s maiden name and my middle name. It’s British.” And then: “What is your father’s name?” “And his father?” I answered. She then called a colleague over, pointed at the computer screen and said something in Hebrew. Her colleague shrugged. I started to wonder if they had my whole genealogy in their database, or if my grandparents had any run-ins with Mossad when they visited Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey in the early 1970s. My answers must have been satisfactory, because she then stamped my passport and said, “Welcome to Israel. Enjoy your stay.” I almost laughed out of relief… no passenger purgatory for me! I made it!

11:35—I proceeded to another line, where they scanned the luggage tag I received, and I went into another hall to find my luggage. Suitcases were strewn about in no particular order. I found mine and exited through these doors into Israel.

20120628-193040.jpg

(Note the kitchen sink in the luggage cart to the left.)

11:45—After buying a sherut (shared taxi) ticket to Jerusalem outside the terminal, I boarded a minivan and we made our way to Jerusalem.

12:10 pm—We stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and showed the rifle-laden soldiers our passports. This was a quick stop, and we then continued to Jerusalem, passing Bedouin villages and the large and controversial Ma’ale Adumim settlement.

To Jerusalem!

20120628-194201.jpg

A view of Ma’ale Adumim from the highway. (The settlement is at the top of the hill.)

20120628-194548.jpg

12:40—We finally reached Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. I unloaded my bags and went to find a taxi to take me to my hotel. The driver wanted 40 NIS (Israeli shekels), or about $10. Knowing how much it should be, I started to bargain, but he wasn’t budging. I decided to walk, but after five minutes, exhausted from the day’s events and already sweating from the intense Jerusalem heat, I went back to the taxi stand and paid him his inflated fare.

1:00—I checked into the hotel. At last.

I haven’t explored much of Jerusalem yet. After a quick lunch and a much needed nap, I am about to head into the Armenian Quarter of the Old City for some comfort food—soujouk and lahmejune—and a beer.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a half-day tour of a Jewish settlement south of Jerusalem. This is by no means an endorsement of the Israeli version of Manifest Destiny (which has seen many thousands of Palestinians forcibly removed from their ancestral homes). It is simply a desire to hear all the different perspectives of life in this conflicted land.

Here’s to better understanding for all of us. Much love from Jerusalem.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s