Without Borders, If Only

I always found it funny to watch movies where the protagonist decides on the spur of the moment to grab a taxi and rush to the airport, passport in hand and jump on the next plane out. To think that one could just pull out a passport, a credit card and a desired destination and –” poof –” be there in a matter of hours, is as foreign a concept as anything to us Palestinians. Traveling for us Palestinians, is quite frankly, a nightmare.

I have said this before, mostly because my own experience with traveling has always been full of trials and tribulations to say the least. This time, however, exceeded all my expectations of the predicted nightmare.

It all began when I decided to take a trip to the United States with my two children. Of course, this decision was taken months in advance knowing all about the preparations that would have to be made. After booking the tickets out of Amman, Jordan, I sat to contemplate how our travel arrangements would come to pass. My two children carry Jerusalem ID cards and US passports. I have a Palestinian passport (and West Bank ID) plus US citizenship. This meant that traveling across the Allenby Bridge to Jordan would be problematic since Palestinians and Jerusalemites or foreigners cross from different points. I cannot travel from Ben Gurion, like my children, because Palestinian passport holders are banned from using the airport. Hence, I decided the Israeli border control officers and the Jordanians would both understand that this was virtually the only way I could leave the country with my children. Clearly, I had no idea.

Even as I planned to cross over the bridge with the kids, I was certain I would run into problems, especially with the Jordanians. I knew this because I had tried this before and had gotten across the bridge after much cajoling and convincing. But I had successfully crossed with the kids who were treated more or less like US citizens.

This time around, the problems were almost instant the moment we disembarked at the Jordanian side of the crossing. The officer at the door looked conspicuously at the four passports I held out to him with confusion. After he made us wait on the side and called his “superior” we were abruptly told that the kids were not allowed in. They could not cross with their American passports along with their Jerusalem IDs and I could not travel out of Ben Gurion Airport or from the northern bridge for foreigners because I carry a Palestinian passport.

The short of it is that I had to take two very disappointed children back to Jerusalem after a day of crossing the bridge because the Jordanians would not budge. The plans of flying to America, going to Toys ‘R Us and hanging out with their fun Aunti Emmal came crashing down in one horrible instant when we were shuttled back on the bus across the border.

After much coordination, lots of extra costs and soothing on my part to reassure my kids that we would indeed make it to America despite of the difficulties, we finally concocted a fool proof plan to get them out of the country. With my sister flying them out of Ben Gurion (she only has a US passport) and is therefore eligible to travel via Tel Aviv, my kids flew to Amman where I met them in the airport after crossing the bridge (again) that morning. From there it was smooth sailing and a very warm welcome in Washington DC by US border control officers who “welcomed us home.”

This is not a whining session, let me assure you. Rather, this is testimony to the ridiculous and extremely frustrating conditions Palestinians are forced to endure, even when traveling. In this case, mother and children cannot leave together, “brotherly” nations are not always sensitive to the intricacies of our situation and Israel is clearly comfortable in its obvious discriminations against the Palestinians –” it is a given that Palestinians and Jerusalemites cannot travel together from the same crossing into Jordan or from the airport in Tel Aviv. Israel makes no apologies.

But as I told the Jordanian officer who would not let me cross, this is not personal. It has nothing to do with me as a person or with my children who, by any law should be able to travel with their mother. It is not personal. It is about a people who have been oppressed, dissected, separated and discriminated against for so long, those around them take it for granted that we understand the discriminations against us. The thing is, even if we are aware of them, we don’t accept them. In Gaza, Palestinians cannot even make it to the West Bank much less out of the country. Others in the Diaspora cannot return to Palestine to visit their homeland and still others have been banned from leaving the borders altogether.

No, what happened to us at the border is not personal. It is however, part and parcel of being Palestinian and this is what makes it all the worse. There are thousands of stories similar to my own if not ten times more horrifying and I know traveling is the least of our problems. If only the discrimination stopped at border crossings we could probably work around it. But as we all know, this is about the destiny of an entire people and that is not something anyone can “work around.”