Crossing the Border of Israel as a Palestinian: A Living Nightmare

Editors Note: This post was written by a Palestinian who has bravely shared this story to tell the world about the struggles the Palestinian people go through crossing the border into their own country. However, due to the social unrest between Israel and Palestine and the detainment of relatives who have spoken out against this treatment, the writer asked to remain anonymous so that future trips to Palestine would not be jeopardized.

Palestine-Israel Jerusalem 3
Thousands of years of history in Jerusalem

Every year without fail, the hassle of my trip to Palestine begins before I even come close to Palestine. To familiarize the unfamiliar, as a US citizen with a Palestinian ID, I am only allowed to enter the West Bank, where the majority of my family lives, through Jordan using my Palestinian documents. When I say documents, I mean documents with a capital S. My US passport is supposedly packed away the minute I leave America and I pull out four documents (yes, I said four) that I need to cross a few miles. The process can take anywhere from a couple of hours to all day long. I count 12 hours as my longest trip from Amman to my home in Palestine, but some people may spend longer depending on the time of year and the surrounding political situation. Basically, you can fly halfway across the world in this time, when a typical drive should only take an hour and a half tops.

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Christmas in Bethlehem

My journey begins from the airport in Amman to Allenby/King Hussein bridge (following a 14 hour flight or so from the US). This generally takes about an hour, but with the way people drive in Jordan, you may make it there in less time – no promises on whether you are alive or not. The Jordanian end generally moves quickly, unless it is a busy time of year, in which case you can expect to spend several hours sitting on top of people in an overcrowded room waiting for your name to get called.

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Jerusalem

Palestinians have their own entrance and lines throughout the whole process of course – we’re special like that. If you have $150 to spare, you can always take the “VIP” entrance to somewhat surpass the Jordanian part of the process across the bridge. There are no “very important people” on the Israeli side though, so the hassle you avoid is very short-lived. If you don’t have the means or you choose to join the rest of the world, you get on a bus to cross the bridge and can also expect to be sitting there for several hours with little air conditioning and a LOT of angry people. Taking pictures is the very last thing on my mind at this point, so I’ve resorted to google for a picture of a typical day on the bridge.

Allenby Bridge Jordan
Allenby bridge- The sole entrance and exit for Palestinians living in the West Bank.          Photo source: Maan News Agency

Once allowed off the bus, key word being allowed, you are instructed to go through a metal barrier built on the sidewalk (think of cattle people), so that the extremely happy people sitting at the window (if you ever get there among the thousands of people pushing and shoving) can take your bag and make sure that your picture still matches the document you have. If you are going there in the summer, this will be an especially fun part of your trip in the heat. Expect to need a shower before, during and after. Once you get indoors, you stand in another long “line” to get the usual x-ray screening and what comes after if, god forbid, you ring. I usually plan my outfit well in advance for this endeavor to make sure there is no way in hell that machine makes a sound. You can anticipate being scolded at by someone at some point throughout this process. It’s normal and not normal at the same time.

After that, you join more endless lines to actually be allowed entry into Palestine by the Israelis (irony much?) My conversation with the officer usually goes something like this:

Palestine-Israel Bethlehem 1

Them: “Your last stamp on your Jordanian passport shows you leaving Jordan last year but nothing else until your return today – where were you?”

Me: “America”

Them: “Give me your US passport” – for the record: I have never been anywhere in the world (and I’ve done my share of traveling) where I’ve been asked for a passport other than the one I am traveling with. After going back and forth a few times, I give them my passport, which they stamp, indicating the number on my Palestinian ID. I ask for a separate paper to be stamped every time, since I visit many Arab countries and a stamp in Hebrew can cause issues. Needless to say, I have never been accommodated. According to them, I can’t be a Palestinian and American at the same time – in other words, If I want to visit Palestine as a Palestinian, there’s not a chance I’m visiting Israel as an American (or a Palestinian for that matter, but I assume most people sense that).

Art on the Israeli Separation Barrier by worldwide activists

Following this, you go through another line where they decide if your bag needs further checking. If this happens to you, you’re basically taken to a room where they rummage through the whole bag, question you if need be and then tell you to get packing. If you don’t go through this, you are led to a hallway where all the bags in the world are laid out on the floor and on top of each other – enjoy finding yours.

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Ramallah in winter

You then get on another bus that takes you to Jericho, where you go through Palestinian officers – pretty much present as another formality. This process is usually quick before you can head on to your next city. If you’re lucky enough, your final destination is Jericho. If not, you have a few more hours on the road ahead of you. Expect checkpoints. These are not as terrible as they used to be, but you may spend some time there if the army stationed feels like making your life more miserable. You may hear people say something like “6 hours – not too bad!” as you leave. It’s funny and sad how these things become the status quo, despite how insane they are. I’ve found that most Palestinians use humor as a way of dealing with our cause.

Palestine-Israel Sign
Signs you can find in Palestine – no Palestinian cars allowed on certain roads though!

Somehow, I manage to push this whole memory and process to the back of my mind when I hit the road on the way to whatever city I am headed to, knowing I’m going to have a blast. My homeland is beautiful.

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Jenin, Palestine

If you ever get the chance to visit, hopefully not experience what a Palestinian does to get home and can pretend there isn’t a terrible reality going on around you, I recommend the following:

  • Tour the historical sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem
    Palestine-Israel Jerusalem 1
    Jerusalem

    Palestine-Israel Bethlehem 3
    Bethlehem
  • Experience the city center and nightlife in Ramallah
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City Center in Ramallah, Palestine
  • Eat amazing food and dessert in Nablus

Palestine-Israel Food 1Palestine-Israel Food 3Palestine-Israel Food 2

  • And see the beautiful scenery in Jenin.

I do this every time I go home, with the exception of Jerusalem – because as we’ve already established, I’m not allowed in. You can also experience the olive-harvest season starting in October where you can join locals in picking and pressing some of the best olives in the world.

Palestine-Israel Jenin 2

  • Make sure you also stop by the infamous Israeli separation barrier and see some of the settlements with settler-only roads – you will get to see some blatant violations of international law! It’s not all pretty and I recommend you at least be aware of certain aspects of the situation on the ground.

 

Unfortunately, my trip back to Jordan is just as hectic, but this time, I don’t have as much to look forward to, I have a long flight ahead of me, I forget the fun I had and the horrible memory sticks until next time.

-Signed a Proud Palestinian

14 Comments

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  1. All I can say is Wow ! Never knew the struggle was this serious ! Such a beautiful place despite the fact though.

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  2. What an amazing story! Well written. I can’t wait to visit the beautiful cities but definitely not looking forward to all that.

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  3. This pained my heart. I can’t imagine having to go through all of this just to see my family. I can imagine having to take a day or two beforehand to mentally prepare for this procedure. We can only hope someday it will change!

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  4. This is so poignant. We live in our own little worlds just vaguely aware how difficult things must be here, but without fully knowing the extent of the hardships.

    Ameeta xx

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  5. thelifeofasolivagant April 22, 2017 — 1:52 pm

    This sounds like a nightmare to get there. It really makes you rethink your complaints about sitting for a couple hours at the border of Canada and the US… which I did all the time when trying to cross over to Buffalo to go shopping when I was in university. But as my boyfriend says, you don’t get to see the things other people don’t, if you aren’t willing to do the things other people won’t. A lot of people wouldn’t go through that hassle, but clearly worth it.

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  6. I cannot imagine what these people are going through everytime they want to see their family. My heart goes out to the author as well as to all the people experiencing this.I hope god gives more power to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is just awful and unfair and made me so angry! It’s unbelievable with how much stuff the Israeli government can get away with. Lots of strength to the author and other people who go through this nonsense and abuse!

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  8. I travelled over the border in Jordan to Palestine once and it was quite an (unpleasant) procedure. But I didn’t know that it was so much worse for the Palestinians. And it breaks my heart that you’re not allowed in Jerusalem. It’s one of the most fascinating places I’ve visited in my life.

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  9. A very interesting read. So sad… and so unfair. When will people start treating people like…people?!

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  10. I read it all in one breath, such a well written story. It’s quite ridiculous how the border control works, if you look at it from the universal point of view. My passport isn’t great either. One time I sat six hours on a border line from Ukraine to Poland and had to leave the bus and catch a hitch in the polish car to simply not miss my flight! This just makes me so mad.

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  11. Wow. That’s so intense and so sad. I’ve never considered how difficult it must be to cross some international borders. I hope, at least, the family time was worth it and hopefully in the future it’s an easier thing to do!

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  12. Having visited Jordan, Israel and Palestine last year, the contrast between your experiences and mine as a UK national is shocking. I didn’t cross at Allenby/Sheik Hussein bridge, I crossed at Aqaba/Eilat and then entered Palestine from Israel, both on the Dead Sea coast and from Jerusalem. But on both occasions we were just waved through. I absolutely agree that Palestine is beautiful, and I can’t get my head round why it is so hard for you to enter your own country. Fingers crossed for a less complicated world in the years to come.

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  13. I just returned from visiting Israel and Palestine. What a brave article. Honestly, I crossed into Palestine (Bethlehem) with an Israeli friend and her Palestinian friend who lives in East Jerusalem. It was crazy how nervous and scared he was at times if they spoke Hebrew on accident, and also when it came time to cross the border/checkpoint back into Israel. They didn’t stop our car, but he was already inventing a whole story with them in case they asked us. It was surreal. How many times have you done this I am curious (come from the USA all the way to Palestine)? I can’t imagine how it must feel for you and your family. I have a lot of respect for you and I thank you for sharing.

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  14. Great read and I empathize with you deeply. I go through the exact same situation every year. The only difference is I’m a Palestinian Canadian.

    Is there no legal way we can enter Jerusalem without having to resolve to sneaking across the border?

    One would think the amount of support given by the US and Canada, Israel would at least grant us access to our homeland!

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