Exit policy – I wasn’t going to lie this time!
I decided that when crossing Allenby Bridge into Jordan for my flight back to the UK, if the Israeli border police asked me any questions, my reply was going to be, ‘I have been teaching English in Ramallah, is this a problem’? These last three months had again made me examine my fears and, and combined with Snowden’s whistle-blowing on the National Security Agency in the US, convinced me tha t- to be truly human, to dispense with spying, surveillance and fear of the ‘other’ – we have to be open, transparent and honest.
The 40 minute drive to the Bridge from Ramallah was so pleasant. The driver was a man I know who is from Aboud, a village close to Nabi Saleh, He took me by the back roads, pointing out villages I had never seen as we descended into the sandscape of the Jordan Valley. To get to the actual border crossing one has to change from the Palestinian taxi into an Israeli taxi and pay another £10 for a 10 minute ride. This Israeli driver was distinctly different…was it because I shook hands with the Palestinian driver? ‘Did I have a visa’? ‘Where had I been’? he repeatedly interrogated.
We passed through a checkpoint where I was asked if I had any weapons – this is a ‘usual’ question and, luckily, we quickly weren’t delayed getting to the terminal. After I had paid my exit tax, I turned around and was approached by a giantess of a woman, with clipboard, who asked me if I was a tourist. I just looked blankly at her and she repeated her question. Still getting no answer from me she explained that, as I had just come from Israel and she came from Ministry of Tourism, she would just like to ask me some questions. Protesting that I was in a hurry, I rushed off to the next booth for an exit visa stamp. Here the official explained that my visa had expired by one day but that was not a problem .. (I have become orientated to being on Palestinian time but, even so, being 24 hours late is stretching that somewhat).
And so I passed into Jordan, thinking “was that giantess really from the Shin Bet security organisation, doing a soft approach, or was it just my paranoid reaction”? I realised that I had just passed up my opportunity of being honest and transparent …I should have said, ‘No I haven’t come from Israel but the West Bank, there’s lots of tourism there in spite of being occupied’ ! The best intentions of mice and men, I have to count this as a trial run!
Prison PalestineMany Palestinians feel trapped as they don’t have the freedom to travel freely in their own state – to Gaza or Jerusalem – let alone the ‘outside’ as they frequently describe it. Some who have been in prison say they felt freer there than living in the West Bank.
Here are two examples of border hassle for West Bank Palestinians who I know, minor compared to outright rejection of a visa application, but illustrating how the occupation can harass and intimidate. Ziad, Director of Al Bireh Municipality where I had been volunteering, went to Jordan for two days, and on his return he was questioned for 4 hours at the Allenby crossing by Shin Bet because he had made a speech in Ramallah about Hugo Chavez. Ramallah/al Bireh had decided to name a street after Chavez and Ziad was inaugurating this. Apart from the harassment, how did they know what he had been doing? It doesn’t take too much analysis to work that out ….The second example is that of the two teachers who give me Arabic lessons. They decided to go to Sheik al Sharm resort area in Egypt for a week’s holiday. Not being able to go through Gaza (where they were born), they were forced to travel to Amman, Jordan, and then fly to Egypt. It would be so much easier for them to go across the Rafah border directly into Egypt, if only they could. But as Palestinians this is forbidden to them.
As a UK citizen, I am a privileged person, with rights and freedom to travel to countries the Britain once colonised or controlled. And I just hope that we can do something to help Palestinians get their freedom, their human rights, and the right to travel.