Dec 30 2005

Breaking travel records

Published by at 3:21 am under Blogs,Travel Blues

December 27, 2005

My trip from Amman to Ramallah this week was quite unusual. I succeeded in making the door to door trip in less than three hours. The taxi, driven by the veteran Haj Abdel Salam (who has been on the Amman-Bridge route for 38 years) picked me up from my Rabiah home shortly after seven am. I managed to get through the Jordanian passport control rather quickly, got was one of the last people to get on the first bus and was one of the first people to get off. Got through the Israeli passport control rather quickly (since I was the first there).

When I came to passport control window the Israeli border guard policewoman uttered the word that she must repeat many times at her window. Tasreeh quds. (Jerusalem permit). I remember thinking that it was interesting that after so many years of Palestinians from Jerusalem coming to these windows with their permit in hand and saying those same words, that the Israelis have accepted at least our terminology for the city of Jerusalem and they didn’t use the Hebrew word Yurshalim.



I went through rather quickly and since I had no bags that would delay me, I was out of the terminal by 8:50 a record of sorts for me. I even didn’t have to wait too long for the  service to Jerusalem to fill up since I managed to hitch a ride with someone taking a special taxi to Hebron via Jerusalem. It was 9:30 when I got to the Qalandia checkpoint. We had to walk about over a kilometer to get to the other side of the checkpoint (going in to Ramallah the Israelis don’t check you) I passed through the new fancy terminal and was able to get on the service taxis to Ramallah rather quickly. Coming back that evening I went through the many turnstiles of the new terminal, two new things stuck out clearly for me in the new terminal. The sounds. With soldiers hidden behind well protected glass windows and Palestinians like sheep going through the maze of corridors, you hear over and over Israeli women soldiers speaking through the loud speakers with extremely bad Arabic saying things like go “you woman with the child go here, put your bag over there, you haj (all men over 25 are called Haj by Israelis). The second thing that really surprised me was the signs. They were the same signs as you see everywhere, instructions of where to go, to prepare your documents, and other such mundane signs but what was so surprising for me was that in all these multi language signs (most were either Arabic, Hebrew or also with English) was that the Arabic was on top. Now most people might not have noticed this but for me this was a 38 year old precedent. I have been watching Israeli signs ever since the occupation began whether it is highway signs, street signs, documents, papers what have you, and you will never see anything but Hebrew on top irrespective of the location. Official signs, government signs, Army signs, street signs, no matter what it is, if there is more than one language Hebrew is also on top.



Inside the terminal was a huge mutli color sign almost all in Arabic that had the Arabic word Amal (Hope) in purple next to a purple flower of sorts with the words written on the roots and the leaves. The base of the root says amn (security) on top of that is istrqrar (tranquility) and the leaves of the security based flower are prosperity, education, health. The sign and the placement of the Arabic on top, was not a fluke. Someone with a little PR had been thinking about all this and was trying hard to sugar coat this ugly terminal with nice signs. I remembered that a few days ago the Israelis had taken a few diplomats on tour in this new terminal. The EU representative is said to have boycotted this visit but the Americans (whose monies paid for this and many others) attended. A few days earlier I had given an interview to the NY Times about this and it was exactly what I had talked about, the idea of putting nice wall paper inside a prison cell.



I actually got through very quickly, the soldier behind the glass window waved me through without trouble. Amazed at what I thought was what appeared to be politically correct signs, I look up and there is a sign computer printed in huge letters in Arabic on white paper with the politically incorrect word for Jerusalem Yursahalim. I suddenly remembered the passport control woman using the word quds and I reflected that even in the Arabic language Israeli media- they actually use the double term yurshalim al quds. So I was wondering whether there was a disconnect here. Whether those preparing the officials signs had one idea whereas whoever had to prepare that hand made sign for Jerusalem just (naively or otherwise) was not briefed on this political correctness. Of course as I walked out of the terminal and noted the huge wall brutally attaching East Jerusalem to Israel the thought of Palestinian sovereignty over any parts of al Quds seemed so far fetched and hard to fathom.




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