I chose the King Hussein Bridge/Allenby* crossing to enter the West Bank for several reasons. Please keep in mind that the state of Israel controls all access to the West Bank; one must go through Israeli security and passport control to enter the Palestinian Authority. The King Hussein Bridge is the only border crossing that Palestinians can get in and out of the West Bank. It has a notorious reputation for being difficult, harsh, time consuming, and heavily traveled. I thought it was important to enter with Palestinians and experience their daily life. It was also closer to Amman and my destination on the other side; it seemed like the logical choice but a bit risky. Let me tell you, not only did I get the full experience but a costly one, on all accounts.
On the Jordanian side, Passport Control was a cluster of mass confusion and chaos, which is to be expected. I befriended a Palestinian American who makes this trip twice a year because his wife is Palestinian. This is the only entry point for her to go through to see her family in the West Bank. He showed me the ropes, but even with his help, it was quite frustrating. And then we hit the first Israeli checkpoint.
For some reason, they made us wait. The Israelis took other buses and cars behind us. We waited for over an hour just to go through the checkpoint. Now, what makes this unusual is that they had already separated us; Palestinians are put on one bus and all other nationalities on another. Segregation starts on the Jordanian side. The Palestinians then get off and go through metal detectors at the first Israeli checkpoint, and the bus is checked for bombs. The foreigner buses usually go straight through. But not on this day. We were told to get off the bus and present our passports. The IDF didn’t believe that Palestinians were not present. As it turns out, we were all foreign passport holders. From the border of Jordan to the border of Israel is then less than a mile; it took over an hour and a half to pass through.
Upon arriving, your luggage is taken away, put through security, and will be waiting for you once you pass through passport control, in theory. You present your passport at several different windows and go through security yourself. At this point, you are finally at passport control and here is where the fun begins. I got an agent that seemed less than thrilled with me in general; that begs the question of who wouldn’t be thrilled to see me? At this point, my passport was taken away and I was told to wait in the holding area. Remember how our government states to never relinquish your passport? Apparently, it doesn’t apply here.
Now, here’s where what felt like the game begins. You wait. You observe. You become increasingly uncomfortable. I wasn’t called in for my interrogation until 4 hours later. I observed quite a lot in four hours. Most people being held with me where not Palestinian; they were all foreigners. Most of the foreigners were Arab Americans. Every single person I came in contact with in the holding area was astounded that I was an American, a very white American and I was being detained. I befriended a few Norwegian NGO workers who waited almost as long as I did. It’s amazing how bonds are formed while being held captive. One of them told me with glee that I must be a famous activist and that’s why I was being held so long. I disappointed him greatly when I denied it.
I watched Palestinians being treated as cattle. Herded in, screamed at, and herded out. I watched Palestinian men as they were humiliated by Israeli women. They were talked down to, yelled at, and as men, were helpless to protect their wives and children. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) walked around the holding area in plain clothes and watched our every move and listened to our conversations. There was even a sign stating we were being monitored by surveillance equipment for security reasons. I watched a systematic oppression and segregation unfold right before my very eyes. It was very clear to me that they were in control and not only did they want you to know it, they wanted you terrified of their dominance.
At the four-hour mark, I was taken into a room where a pretty blonde, blue-eyed, twenty-something Israeli woman sat behind a desk. She started off telling me she knew I was lying and that if I cooperated this would go well for me. All while drinking her Diet Coke. Now, while she was asking me the most personal questions, at the next cubicle another Israeli woman screamed at an older Palestinian man and demanded he tell her why he was visiting a man named Mahmoud.
During my hour interrogation, I was called a liar, asked how much money was in my banking account, had my personal life picked over, my medications questioned, and was told more than once that I was a security threat to the state of Israel. I had to completely empty out my bag where every single item was inspected, my iPhone and iPad confiscated. I was forced to enter the passcodes for both and sat there as they went through my messages, Facebook, apps, and email. They even went through my settings. I was questioned as to what I was hiding since I erased just about everything on both my devices. I told them, “Nothing. I did erase everything because I do not want complete strangers looking through my private property.”
By the end of it, I was told that I had not cooperated and therefore I had zero chance of entering into Israel. I said, “OK, may I have my passport back?” I was told they had to finish their investigation. Three hours later, I was taken to another area to wait it out alone for the last hour. At some point after the interrogation, I stopped praying for myself and started to pray into the situation. I prayed for the pretty blonde, who an hour earlier nailed me to the wall. Her job is to break people down and play psychological games with them, all day long. While that might give her a feeling of power, what do you think it does to her femininity or her soul to be so hard and calculating? I prayed for both Israelis and Palestinians I encountered that day because this is no way to live. No one thrives and no one remains unscathed. What I witnessed is a system that dehumanizes people (which I experienced) to such an extent that those who are a part of that system are dehumanized themselves. It felt hopeless. It felt fearful. I saw no winners.
At 7pm a baggage handler took me to get my suitcases and escorted me to the bus. At this point I asked if I was being sent back to Jordan. He said yes. So, they didn’t even have the decency to tell me to my face. It was at this point I started to cry and boy, did I weep. I was determined all day not to let them break me. But, the reality is they did break me; that’s their job.
They held us on the bus for over an hour before they released us to go back to Jordan. The bus driver and I smoked hookah as we waited. Why wouldn’t I after that kind of a day? I love how Arabs can make anything into a party; it’s hard to break their spirits. In the end, five others were denied entry along with me. A Jordanian American woman whose husband is Palestinian; they were told their marriage certificate from Jordan was not valid. She sat on the bus crying, unsure of where she would go in Amman that night. She told me she was pregnant and scared. All I could do was hold her hand as we sat on the bus and make sure she had a place to stay for the night. Another couple was a Palestinian man and his Swiss wife; they too were told their marriage certificate would not be recognized by the State of Israel. A Jordanian American man who they accused of being Palestinian and refused him entry. He was not. And a New Yorker who had Palestinian background but let me tell you, he was all New York and mad as hell they didn’t let him in.
These are the everyday people refused entry into Israel. As hardcore as I would like to believe I am, I am no security threat to the State of Israel. We all know that, they knew that. Actually, I wanted to offer peace, as stupid and naïve as that is; I wanted to love on Palestinians and serve them. How could that be bad for Israel? How could Palestinians treated with dignity, tenderness, and love be a security threat for Israel? How could I not extend the very same to the Israelis?
To be honest, I still feel dehumanized, violated, and heartbroken from the events of October 16th. The only experiences I have had with Israelis are the 2006 war in Lebanon, which I was evacuated from and traumatized by, and now the King Hussein Bridge. Both left me broken-hearted and in pain. Here is where the rubber meets the road for me. If I claim to love Jesus and follow Him at all, then at the heart of who I am, at my very core, I must be a peacemaker. That’s what Christians offer this hurting world, not more hate, not more vengeance but “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”** Those are my distinguishing marks as a Christian. Which means I must deal with my own pain to be able to offer gentleness and peace to a world desperate for it.
This is the only way forward for me. It’s the only way for us.
“Think back on your own lives. Gentleness shines out in memory. It forms the scaffold upon which we rebuild our fire-bombed selves and communities.
…gentleness forms the under-song of survival — the hidden face of evolution, wars, famine — and the partner of resilience. It is the loving touch that reminds us we are not alone, and there is hope. There is healing.
Gentleness exists between people. And it dwells within each of us.
It is me saying to myself: I’m so in awe of you, I must treat you as if I truly understood what noble means. It is me saying to others: I get it. We’re wounded and taking a thousand risks simply by showing up. And I see that. I honor you.” ***