Dec 11 2002

The Bridge policy needs to be revisited

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Jordan,Travel Blues

What began as a Jordanian temporary procedure aimed at averting the possibility of mass Palestinian, is turning into an uncontrollable policy that is souring Jordanian-Palestinian relations. For nearly a year now Jordan has imposed tight measures on the crossing of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Jordan. The King Hussein Bridge on the river Jordan is for most Palestinian the only available passage point out of Palestine.

Like any sovereign country, Jordan has the full right to declare and execute whatever policy it sees fitting for its national security and interests. But the special relations between those living on either bank of the Jordan require that whatever policy is implemented is transparent and void of bureaucracy, red tape, delays and human suffering.

When first implemented, the declared policy of Jordan was that Palestinians who had medical needs, educational goals or were traveling via Jordan are to be exempted from the new procedures. All others had to obtain a special permit issued based on a financial pledge that Jordanian relatives of the person intending to visit signs at the ministry of interior in Amman. A special committee of security officers set up offices at the very first Jordanian entry point on the bridge. Travelers would wait for hours as these police officers, with little resources, were entrusted with deciding who enters and who is rejected. Much was left to the private interpretations of the officers, the convincing abilities of the travelers and most of all to those travelers who had ‘wasta.’

Despite the fact that there is no tangible sign that there is any discernable Palestinian emigration and despite the decrease in the possibility of war with Iraq, the procedures at the King Hussein bridge has been gradually getting more and more difficult to the common Palestinian.

It is true that in their desperation to travel, for business, pleasure or for simple family meetings, some Palestinians might have used strange and unusual tricks in order to circumvent these regulations and to obtain the approval of these security officials at the bridge.

The Palestinian population and the unknown security officials seem to have gotten into a game of cat and mouse, with Palestinians finding loop hole after loop hole in this temporary and ill planned policy as the Jordanians respond by adding yet more complications and restrictions. And while for the most part Palestinians with money or connections seem to have no problem crossing the bridge, the average Palestinian who has legitimate reasons to come to Jordan or travel via Jordan is the one suffering the most.

A serious revisit to the entire procedure at the bridge is badly needed.

Such a revisit must take into account the need for serious Palestinian-Jordanian cooperation. If the aim is to limit or avert the possibility of mass emigration, then surely the Palestinian leadership is as much interested in it as the Jordanians are. And since almost all Palestinians coming to Jordan (except East Jerusalemites) must exit from Jericho, which is under full Palestinian Authority control, then any limitation to travel can start before Palestinians venture all the way into Jordanian territory.

A revisit to this policy would also require a much more transparent policy. The Palestinian public must be well informed of the procedures for which they need to follow in order to obtain the necessary permission to enter Jordan. Procedures need to be announced using Jordanian and Palestinian media. This would save so much trouble and pain for Palestinians who suffer so much to get to the Jericho crossing and after a long wait on the Jordanian side of the bridge they are returned because they are missing this or that paper or because the papers that were acceptable last week are no longer acceptable.

A much simpler procedure to solve this problem would be to give the Jordanian diplomatic mission to Palestine the right to issue a visa like permit. Throughout the world, diplomatic missions carry out such activities. They are much more qualified to check the authenticity of a Palestinian document than a Jordanian security officer. This would make it much easier for Palestinians who can easily come to the Gaza or Ramallah missions and make their applications, sign the documents and pledges and wait while their application is processed. Once ready they can travel without harassment or long delays. Furthermore it is very difficult and embarrassing for Palestinians to ask their relatives to put up the bond for them and to suffer the procedures and delays.

Such suggestions might be opposed on many fronts because it might put a distance between Palestinians and Jordanians. But making the distance official and formal is much better than make it sour. Upon crossing into Jordan most Palestinians on the bus that I often travel would breath the fresh air of freedom once seeing the first Jordanian policeman. For the past year, seeing that first Jordanian policeman has been nothing less than fear and terror that they will be turned back.

Of course, the more appropriate policy would be simply to rescind the procedures of the past year and return to the open bridge policy that worked successfully for over 30 years.

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