Crossing (from) Jordan

Hola! I’m writing this from the part-time trench (during exams) that is my room. A complete overhaul of scenery from last time’s overpriced cafe. I’m now sipping homemade tea, in case you needed a confirmation as to how much that whole experienced affected my wallet.

Few days ago, I was chatting with an old friend of mine. A guy I’ve known for 11 years. We talked about life in general, and how he’s adapted back to the life in Ramallah after being gone for a couple of years to study in Europe. Our chat eventually turned to talking about lifestyles, and how the lifestyle in Ramallah is so different than pretty much any other city in the west bank. If you think you know where this story is going, you might want to hold to your horses. The biggest difference in lifestyle is that if you live in Ramallah, you live in a sheltered bubble. Put aside all the festivals that happen here, all the foreigners that live here. This “open” lifestyle we live – regardless of what you think of it – it’s exclusive to Ramallah.

Our lives, for the most part, are easy. Or, easier. If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s one of the reasons why it’s so despised by most people who live in other cities. Religion and tradition aside, while we get to live in our little bubble, they have to go through the strenuous lifestyle associated with living in an occupied land.

This piece, however, is not about the differences;  it’s about the similarities. One in particular.

To make up for you trying to imagine what kind of a hell hole my bedroom looks like, here’s a (not so) funny anecdote: As a kid, I always thought the show “Crossing Jordan” was about the country Jordan. I never realized that the word is used as a first name until I actually watched a few episodes (And by a few I mean a couple, because it wasn’t that good of a show).

And as it’s customary with my well-swung, hugely-missed stories that introduce the topic at hand, today’s blog is about the trip from Jordan to the West Bank, and vise-versa.

I should preface it by saying that I won’t be talking about Gaza in this piece. I don’t know enough about  the situation in and out, what I do know makes me sick to my stomach, and I’ve never personally experienced it, so I don’t feel like it’s my place to act as a proxy for this story. It’s one you should probably hear first-hand, and I’m sure if you have a look on Google you can find something to read or a video to watch. If you’re still at a loss, get in touch with me via email and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Back to the matter at hand.

If you’ve been to the West Bank since Oslo, you know the only way in or out for people with a Palestinian passport (Or a Jordanian one, however for the sake of not losing sight of what’s important, and since the details of the travel arrangements are pretty much the same bar a few negligible differences, I’ll be discussing everything from the point of view of a Palestinian citizen, me) is through Jordan. It’s the buffer between us and anywhere else in the world. You cross the King Hussein bridge and that’s your ticket to the outside world.

On paper, it’s a short trip: 40 km, the distance separating Ramallah and Amman. If you live in the US, there’s a good chance you drive that much getting to and from work on a daily basis.

For us, however, we can’t do that.
Before I get into that, here’s a question to you dear reader, have you ever seen “the” picture of the Belgium-Netherlands borders?

On the left, there’s Belgium. Waffles, Brussels sprouts and Smurfs. On the right, overlooking the Belgian borders is a lovely little Dutch café. That’s right, Dutch. That café is in the Netherlands. Windmills, Stroopwafels and Dennis Bergkamp (That last one might just be my own personal association though, but it really should be yours as well).

It’s a fascinating image. If you ever wanted to give nationalism the middle finger, show it this picture. But for me, it’s more than just that. People have many dreams of things they want in life. I’ve shifted my own dreams in the last few years, altered what I want out of life. Now I dream of this, or something even resembling it’s uglier twin.

I’ve gone back and forth over whether the details of the trip are worth covering or not. In a nutshell, it involves having to move across 3 different borders (Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian and vise-versa, should note that the PA borders are better described as “Pseudo-borders”).

On the way out, you have to go through 3 layers of security, change buses 4 times, go through a minimum 2 metal detectors, and then stand in line, time and time and time again (This last one is pretty much a day in NYC, but I digress). That’s all before you’ve gotten to the Jordanian borders. The trip out used to frustrate me as a kid: It would take 4-5 hours on average for what really is a short trip. But things changed recently, I’ve started to despise the way back in more. Not just because it encapsulates everything horrible about living in an occupied country (Constant surveillance, having to be checked every few minutes, knowing really all of this trouble of going through 4 iron walls of the crossing point to get West Bank, where the good ol’ wall (You know, the one that divided entire cities) is running rampage.  Couple all of that with the increase in the number of people crossing into the country during the summer only makes summer trips worse. To put things in perspective: My father had come back from Jordan recently, it took him a solid 12 hours to get through.

Here’s where this tale gets even more interesting. Recently, the Israeli side introduced a VIP system to the trips from Jordan into the West Bank. Now, there was always a VIP system in place, but it was quite pointless given that all it did was take you across the Jordanian borders and to the gate of the Israeli border. But the expanded system now takes you across the Israeli borders as well.  In simpler terms: For the small price of ~$100, you get to leapfrog all that suffering. To give an example: My sister was returning from Tunisia recently, her plane arrived quite late which meant she’d most definitely have missed the last bus returning to the west bank. She stood in front of a crosspath: Try to squeeze yourself among the remaining entrants, and risk being turned around or not find a place on the last bus. Go back to Amman or find somewhere to spend the night on the borders (That last one which was a non-option). Either all of those, or go through the VIP system.

And she did. She says it took her 30 minutes to finish what usually requires 3-4 hours in crossing the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

Now think of this on a greater scale: Why would you want to go through this miserable experience when you can shill out $100 and skip this whole charade? Who in their right mind, if they can afford it, would want to do that?

And that’s the problem: If you can afford it. Most people can’t. If you’re returning home with 5 or 6 kids, you’re not going to pay a month’s wages to just cross the borders with ease. What this system creates, is further class separation in an already separated society. Go back through the article, you’ll already have noticed several incidents of this: Gazans, and the unmentioned holders of Jerusalem ID, or even Palestinians from the ‘48 lands. Alongside West Bankers, that’s already 4 different treatments. Add on top of it people who bribe their way across the borders, and those with people on the inside “Wasta”, and now the VIP system.

That’s bonkers. Absolute bonkers. Our society is one of the most divided out there, and for a group consisting of 4.5 million people, that’s batshit crazy. These divisions go even deeper once you dig in: In Nablus for example, the terms “City” and “Village” become very evident. Or how about the tribalism that exists within society in the form of “city-cism” where people from every city take sides based on who’s from their city, or who’s part of their family.

You can see why I take such an issue with a VIP system. It only adds more fuel to already existing fires. And if there’s ever been a strategy that worked on Palestinians, it’s divide and conquer.

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I’ve had this topic open as a draft for at least a month now. So there’s good chance my initial point to get across has changed severely, especially that the two anecdotes involving my family happened quite recently. Anyhow, hope you liked it. If you did, feel free to share, like and comment. If you didn’t, well, I’d like to hear why.

Till next time.

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