Get ready for a really long post. First tammam, el hamdulillah, means Good, thanks to God. This is one of the ways to answer that you are doing well and is in fact pretty common.
So before classes started I decided to take a small trip to Palestine and visit my grandfather and his family who would be there.
(In advance I warn you that there are no pics with this post, because they were not allowed)
First I have to tell you the experience of crossing the border through King Hussein Bridge to Jericho, which is a very frustrating and irritating process.
So the border is controlled by Israel and I had heard of horror stories of what they do to people who they don’t want to let in, such as keep them for hours, interrogate them to later deporting them and banning them from entry for 10 years. However, in the hopes of being impartial I decided to put all the stories to one side and just go. I came in with no expectations and with little guidance of what to do.
To get there you must take either a bus or a taxi, a taxi, which was what I took, was 25JD (Jordanian dinars). Then you are left in a ‘bus terminal’, which takes you to the big checkpoint in the Israeli border. You get charged a 10JD exit tax + 5JD for the ride and 1.5JD for every bag you take. I found it peculiar that at this point the Jordanian authorities kept asking me where my last name was from because it was Arabic and when I said yes I know, but that I grew up in South America, no one said anything else.
Then you get to check point.
What shocked me the most was the size of the guns some of the soldiers carry who look like 20-somethings that came out of a magazine. Some also wear giant bullet/bomb proof vests. You get in line with everyone, mostly Palestinians who are Muslims carrying giant bags, and you go on to the first passport control, everything outside under a roof with some fans blowing making only a small dent on the heat. I got asked what my name was, where it was from, what I intended to do in Israel and for how long. The girl with long blonde hair looked and my passport and turned to the guy next to her, I don’t speak Hebrew, but understood only my last name followed by the word arabi.
At this point I realized that on my bus there was a total of three girls, including me, of about 20 something and we all had American passports and were traveling alone, we kind of huddled together in the line though we didn’t speak to each other. One girl had the outline of the map of Palestine tattooed behind her ear, she was petite with dark hair and a stylish outfit. The other looked like your regular American, blonde hair, nice jeans and a flower print blouse in pink and blue. When I looked down, I saw the tag on her luggage and realized her last name was Davis-Rosenbaum, a name of Jewish origin.
After the first checkpoint, we went onto a new one that resembled the security area in an airport, you cross a metal detector and your bags get x-rayed, then, you give a guy your passport. (This was inside yay!) I gave him mine and he told me to move to the side and wait, he took my passport and put it on a table next to the scanner and left it there.
For 30 minutes without anyone touching it, the passport was left there until a small woman of no more that 25, came and took me to a nook with a colleague of hers. She asked me what I was going to do in Israel, how long I was going to stay, what I was doing in Jordan, if I knew any Arabic, who was going to pick me up, and why I wanted to do this trip now. She then turned and said, “Ok, go ahead.”
Here came the third passport control, at this point Ms. Davis-Rosenbaum was nowhere to be seen (the area is not very big so you see where everyone is) but the girl with the tattoo was sitting in a new waiting area.
I went to the new window where I was asked the same questions plus what was my father’s name and my grandfather’s name, the latter was going to pick me up since I was staying at his family’s house. This annoyed me a little since it seem completely useless to me why they needed to know my 83-year old grandfather’s name during an immigration process, but oh well.
She then gives me a tourist form, takes my passport and tells me to go fill it out and wait. And then the waiting games began. I spent nearly an hour and a half until I started to lose my temper nobody would tell me anything and hoards of people were going through, all with Palestinian Ids and after they had been checked, someone would come out of an office with a handful of passports and called the names out, or got someone to help them.
Exasperated, hungry and bored (I forgot to take my book, plus there is no wifi) I stopped one of the girls and asked her what was going on and where the hell my passport was, highlighting that I had been waiting for nearly two hours. She responded with “American?”, “Yes”, “It’s going to take longer.” So I pointed out that there were tons of other people going through all I got was: “Those are Palestinians, this is procedure”.
Back in my chair and after I looked like a bit like a crazy person because I kept doing semi lunges just to fight of the boredom I started talking to an Irish girl. She had been there for 3 and half hours already with no clue of where her passport was. She was coming to volunteer in a program called Teach for Palestine, and decided her best option was to tell the truth when they asked what her plans were. She had been in Palestine once before, volunteering and had followed the advise of the other organization she worked with and that time said she was just touring the country.
During our chat she got pulled away to another office. I hence started talking to the girl with the tattoo, she lived in the UK and this was the fifth time she was coming to Palestine this summer. She told me that the longest she has waited was 7 hours. She also said this time one of the Israelis recognized her and said he was sorry when he told her to go wait at the side, that ‘you know’ it was procedure. She explained to me that a lot of people believe the waiting and the complicated process is a way to deter people from coming again, just because it’s a hustle, she however, said she’ll keep coming since after all part of her family was in Palestine.
She then left and the Irish girl came back, I asked her how it had gone and she said the questions were fine, but that she believed the process was not going as well. She told me they had asked her all the same questions and that in this occasion they took her phone and went through the messages one by one. “They made me accept I had come to volunteer before, now I wish I had deactivated my Facebook”.
That is the last I saw of here because finally a soldier came for me, to ask me the same questions as before plus asked for the phone number of whoever was going to pick me up, I gave it to her and she told me they would have to call them, since I had nothing to hide I told her there was no problem and that it was actually a good idea because they were probably wondering were I was.
15 minutes later I got my passport back with a paper visa from a male soldier, “Keep it with your passport, enjoy your trip.”
Having left Amman at 10 a.m. I was entering Palestine at 5:30 p.m.
I grabbed my bag, which had been left alone all that time and headed to Jericho, where my grandfather was waiting for me since noon.
This was my experience and there are hundreds more. After going through it I have a new opinion, but I won’t elaborate on that if you read this post I hope you get to your own conclusions.