|Posted on December 9, 2011 at 6:05 PM|
Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof. Gibran
Once I arrived in Amman, after the stress of getting there, it was nice to able to enjoy a couple of relaxing days with my hosts. The nearby grandchildren came over and put up the Christmas tree and the next day I went to a shopping mall. Amman is a very modern city and seemed very spread out; not like in the West Bank were the cities are very compact and congested. Due to the constraints put on the Palestinians by Israel, there is not room to spread out. It was very funny to see Washington apples at the fruit stand. There is so much to see in Jordan, but unfortunately I did not have enough time this trip to do any exploring. I hope I will be able to visit again.
After a couple of days it was time to head back to the border. With help from my host’s daughter I was able to catch the bus to Nazareth which I had originally planned to take on my journey to Amman. Everything was fairly uneventful to begin. However, that changed as soon as we arrived to the Israeli border. When I walked into the arrivals area I had to give my passport to a young female soldier. She smiled at me, but when she looked through my passport her smile disappeared. She seriously looked like she had seen a ghost. She became very agitated and waved over another security officer who also didn’t seem to like what she saw in the passport (I still don’t know what it was). They whispered excitedly between themselves then the second person identified herself as a supervisor and began asking me questions: where had I been, who did I see, where was I going, why? I was then instructed to take my things to the scanner and walk through the security area. I thought that I had “made it” – silly me.
When I went to retrieve my bags from the scanner I was asked to identify everything and I noticed that one bag (the one from my shopping trip) was set aside. The security officers took all my things to another area and I was escorted to a different place and told to “wait”. After 15 or 20 minutes another officer came over. There were two other guards as well trying to look “casual” but it was pretty obvious they were there to intimidate me. Without thinking about what I was doing I stood up and remained on my feet throughout the “interview”. I was a bit taller than her, so it helped me to feel a little more "in control".
The female officer introduced herself as the security supervisor and began questioning me. She went through all the questions I had just been asked and many more; who did I stay with in Jordan, how did I know them, how long have I known them, how long did I stay, what did I do, why had I been in Israel, where would I stay, how am I funding my travels (“I have a very generous husband” ), why come to Israel (“why not, it is cold where I live” ), but it is cold in Israel now (“have you ever been through a Michigan winter? And I don’t like Florida” ), have you published anything that I can read (“oh no, nothing” ), are you learning Arabic (“yes” – at this point I knew they had searched my bags), why are you learning Arabic (“why not?” ), I don’t know, I live around Arabs and I don’t learn Arabic (“hmm, maybe you should” ), why not Hebrew (“more people speak Arabic than Hebrew” ), did you take anything to Jordan for anyone (“no” ), did they send anything back with you (“just a bag of fruit, you can have some if you are hungry” ), what are the names of the people you know in Israel, do they have children, what about pets, and on and on…… At one point I had to explain the nature of relationships that begin on the internet. Finally she seemed to decide I was not a threat and told me to gather my belongings and proceed to the passport window.
But, they were not done with me yet. The woman behind the window took my passport and then had that same look on her face as the first person I met, she frantically waived over her supervisor, more whispering, and the same questions again. At some point, I pointed over to the person that had interrogated me before and suggested they talk to her. This time they also wanted to know if I had a return flight booked, could they see a ticket, why that date…
Eventually they decided to allow my re-entry, but I was warned it would only be for two months and that I had to go to the Ministry of Interior to extend the visa or I would be denied entry the next time, and it was done – my passport was stamped for entry and handed back to me (later when I looked, it had been stamped for three months and not two). I will need two more months after that. I had been questioned, from beginning to end, for about an hour and a half. “Luckily”, security was still inspecting the bus. At one point I did restrain myself from saying “you know, in the States we like it when people come to spend money there, but I am getting the distinct feeling you don’t want me here.” However, I do have to keep in mind that if I were Palestinian, it would have been much worse. So, in the end, I guess I am glad that it was not an easy experience. Now I am giving myself a couple of weeks over Christmas to not think about visas and then I will have to decide how to proceed next.
Once the bus was released, we were on our way. I arrived in time to catch the bus to Jerusalem without waiting. In Jerusalem it was too late to get the bus back to the West Bank so I called a taxi driver I know to find someone that could drive me to Beit Sahour (You need an Palestinian driver to cross to "the other side"). It is expensive, but cheaper than staying in a hotel. Kamal picked me up and after driving a while and talking about what I had been doing; he invited me to have knafe (my favorite treat) with him in Bethlehem. I guess I can say I had a date with my taxi driver (he did try to hold my hand several times… ). Not a bad way to end a very stressful day!