August Rush: Palestinians and Allenby Crossing

Palestine Region
Palestine Region

As the incandescence of August's sun peaks over the travelers on King Hussein Bridge. A young girl, almost eight, cries to her mother. "Mama, when is this going to end? Mama, why is this happening?"

As a result of an Israeli ban, Palestinians with West Bank IDs do not possess the option to travel through Ben Gurion airport as thousands of Israeli and carriers of foreign passports do. Instead, regardless of their destination, Palestinians carrying a West Bank ID must travel through the King Hussein/Allenby crossing, making their way through Jordan.

The bridge not only serves Palestinian travelers, but is also the main crossing for trade and labor imports from the West Bank; acting as the sole window afforded to Palestinians in the West Bank to connect with the outside world.

Ramallah should be a two-hour drive from Jordan's capital, Amman. Yet, with the procedures of the bridge the trip may take up to 12 hours. Travelers must cross three terminals, beginning with the Jordanian side, followed by the Israeli terminal and finally the Palestinian Authority-controlled exit crossing in Jericho.

The Jordanian terminal's entrance resembles a decaying ghost town. It is merely an ornament with rusting metal fences to keep people in line, similar to cattle being herded through barns.

In 1987, Thomas L. Friedman traveled and reported from the KHB/Allenby crossing. What is astonishing, is that 28 years later -- after the peace talks and Oslo Accords, which were meant to ease the lives of Palestinians -- not only has the situation remained largely unchanged, but it has worsened.

An estimated 23,000 Palestinians can travel through the KHB/Allenby crossing per week.

While people wait at the Jordanian terminal in a line barely moving, the sound of children imploring their parents for some comfort plays the soundtrack of the trip. Not a single fan or water cooler was in sight to provide relief from the heat. Incidentally, inside the terminal, all AC machines were broken.

In the late Eighties, under the reign of the late King Hussein, the bridge's namesake, a practice of revoking Jordanian citizenship from Palestinians was instigated. Even though Palestinians constitute over half of the Jordanian population, they still face a clandestine institutionalized discrimination. In 2010 alone, Jordan stripped citizenship from 3,000 Palestinians deeming them stateless people.

Emblematic of Jordan's complicity in Palestinian suffering, Jordanian officers on the bridge continue to express this sentiment in a more subtle manner.

The Jordanian officers seem uninterested in the affairs of the travelers. The officers smoke their cigarettes as people continue to shuffle in line. I witness one officer patting his partner on the shoulder, commenting with a grin "maybe they'll butcher one another." Teasing, as though they were watching a chicken fight.

After an hour and a half of waiting for an exit stamp, one is afforded the luxury to depart and search for their luggage scattered on filthy grounds with people stumbling over one another in a race to find their suitcases. The shuttle buses traveling to the Israeli terminal are on a first-come first-served basis, consequently the situation quickly escalates into a rat race to catch the first bus out of the terminal and onto the Israeli side.

The manager of the Jordanian bridge sits in the comfort of his air-conditioned office and pays little attention to the situation just outside his window.

Instead, when asked why this is a repeated occurrence he points to a file collecting dust on the edge of his desk and mumbles "See? We're trying to make it bigger and fix it so it can carry the capacity of the people traveling through here." He admits that "this building cannot function to provide for this many people." He continues to laugh with two other men in his office, as though mocking the farcically Kafkaesque disarray erupting only a few meters away.

Meanwhile, people outside continue to squirm between one another for a seat on the bus, heading to the Israeli terminal, aware the trip has only begun.

Jordan's practice of revoking citizenship from Palestinians invokes an underlying discrimination being translated by Jordanian officers in their seemingly austere manner as they treat Palestinians as a nuisance. "Why do you guys even come to Jordan? Just stay in the West Bank, it's better for everyone" an officer asks a Palestinian woman. Overhearing the comment, a young Palestinian man retorts as he awaits his exit stamp "We are like animals, isn't it enough we're going to be humiliated by the Israelis? We have to be humiliated here too?"

Although the terminals are about 20 minutes away from one another, once the buses reach the entrance of the Allenby bridge they can be waiting for hours at a time when Israel gives the green light to continue. Once off the bus, Palestinians must wait in line again as to be approved by Israeli forces to enter the terminal for a security check.

Israeli officers behind the window pay little attention to the Palestinians. Eye contact is kept to a minimum.

When they do look you in the eye it is usually to command or scold you. One Israeli officer shouts at a Palestinian woman waiting in line; "I choose if you enter or not. Okay? Now behave yourself." They are unabashedly aware of the power they possess.

Palestinians are subject to a rigorous security check, with little consideration given to children, handicapped or elderly Palestinians.

Travelers must pass through three different checks at the Israeli terminal alone, before being able to exit. Afterwards one can search for their luggage between the piles scattered across the tiles. Unless you are asked to be "randomly" searched once more, you can make your way to the Palestinian terminal.

In the corners of the building, several rooms are reserved for those subject to interrogation by the Israeli intelligence, the Shin Bet. Usually to ask questions about previous activities or in order to recruit Palestinian collaborators. It is more likely that young Palestinians are interrogated as they are more prone to respond to pressure.

Amal A. who was taken into Israeli interrogation as she crossed the bridge March of 2013 speaks of her experience. "They held me for a few hours and finally one man in civilian clothing led me into a room. The hallway connecting the room to the terminal was very narrow and the walls dirty. An officer motioned me to sit down and they began asking me questions about my political activities. When I refused to answer they threatened to arrest me."

In July 2015 Israeli forces arrested at least 37 "wanted" Palestinians on Allenby Bridge as they moved through the security checks. Ironically, a cardboard sign on the wall of the small hallway leading to one of the rooms reads in Arabic, "hope for the best and you shall find it."

Additionally, on March of last year, Israeli forces shot and killed Palestinian-Jordanian judge Raed Zeiter after claiming he tried to grab the gun of a soldier. Despite eye witnesses and other evidence suggesting otherwise, there was no report of a thorough investigation to the incident.

The last stop on the trip is the Palestinian terminal in Jericho. The Palestinian Authority has a presence on the bridge due to the Oslo accords, which was theoretically to give Palestinians more control on their exports and imports.

The Palestinian terminal is usually the easiest, Palestinian officers give you an unstamped paper, only as a formality. Finally travelers can make their way to a line of yellow ford Taxis outside. Drivers shouting their destinations, and scurrying to the gates to collect passengers as quickly as possible as to fill up the spaces in their car.

Once in the taxi, there is a synchronized sigh. It's over. As the taxi passes through a section of the apartheid wall in the West Bank, an elderly man who just made the trip through the bridge smiles and says "welcome home."