Jun 04 2004

Summer blues on the Jordan crossing points

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

As a regular traveler across the Jordan River crossings, I feel bound to inform the rest of the world which rarely makes this dreadful journey of what happens to thousands of Palestinians who have no choice except to make this short but difficult trip.

The King Hussein Bridge, which constitutes the shortest distance between Amman and Jerusalem, is quickly becoming the all-day difficult affair it used to be in the 1970s and 80s.

Until the Oslo agreement was signed, crossing the bridge was such an ordeal it became part of the Palestinian lore, with travelers dreading the day they had to cross the bridge. In the late summer, as most visitors to Palestine would be returning, the lines of cars in Jericho would stretch for miles, often making travelers sleep overnight in their cars just to get out. The bigger problem has always been the return trip. Travelers intending to enter the Israeli-controlled area would normally leave early in the morning and not expect to get into their West Bank home till late at night. All travelers would have every piece of their clothes checked, their shoes taken away and returned later and would spend hour after hour waiting in the buses or in the passport control and security search halls. Young men or people who were seen as suspicious would be called into a special room where every document in their possession would be reviewed and long questioning by an Israeli security agent would take place.

All this changed when the Palestinian National Authority was established. As part of the Oslo accords, Palestinian police were permanently established at the bridge, security was done through a security belt and except for security cases, and Israeli security officials were asked to stay inconspicuous. The bridge was open 24 hours a day, spreading out the volume of passengers and giving them the possibility of traveling in the cooler evening hours. A Palestinian flag was raised and a permanent office for the Palestinian police was created at the bridge, allowing the PNA official present to defend the people and plead their case if the travel situation became unbearable.

Once the current Intifada broke out, most of these improvements were cancelled on a gradual basis. First, the Palestinian police was removed from the bridge and the hours kept on getting reduced, leaving the bridge open between 8:00am and 3:00pm. The first few years of the Intifada, the volume of passengers was light and therefore congestion was not a problem. Slowly, however, the jams increased, the Israeli soldiers and security officials and their delays started making the crossing the old misery it was before the Oslo agreement was signed.

Without the Palestinian police at the bridge and with the breakdown of the negotiations, no one was left to plead the case of travelers. A special business quickly developed on the side. Israeli and Jordanian businessmen decided that they could profit from this problem by creating a special VIP service. At first, they charged JD10 per passenger crossing the three-kilometer strip; in time, the price went higher and higher. At difficult times, the price reached over $100 per person. Passengers using this special service were bankers and government officials who didn’t have to pay for the money from their pockets. And as long as the politicians didn’t have to wait in line with the public, the issue was ignored.

This week, I made the Amman-Jerusalem trip. I left Amman at 8:00am and was not in Jerusalem until 4:30. In the taxi traveling with me after finishing all the arrangements was a Jerusalem woman who had decided to use the VIP service. She paid $70 for the shuttle between the bridges. She told me that she had left Amman at 1:00pm.

In the publicized Sharon plan which deals extensively with the future of the situation in Gaza and the borders, a clause mentions the situation of the Jordan River crossing, stating that the hours and conditions of the Jordan River crossing would not change. Why should it, when so many “VIPs” are spared the pain and suffering of the men, women, children and the elderly who have to endure long hours in the scorching sun in order to make the trip home?

As the summer approaches, Palestinians and Israelis, as well as Jordanians and Egyptians, are likely to be involved in many political discussions and negotiations, whether directly or indirectly. When these talks get heated up, the negotiators must take a minute to remember the tens of thousands of Palestinians who will be waiting patiently in buses and in halls as the Israelis single-handedly and slowly administer the bridge crossing. The situation of the crossing points from Jordan and Egypt, as well as within the Palestinian areas, deserve some attention.

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One Response to “Summer blues on the Jordan crossing points”

  1. […] the bridge connecting the West Bank with Jordan has been a source of hardships, humiliations and extremely long and unnecessary delays, not to mention cumbersome and exaggerated body and baggage searches. This nightmare has to […]

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