Crossing the Border: An Adventure on the Way to Israel
Recently, I traveled from Jordan to Israel. Many friends had advised one of two traditional methods of crossing the border between the two countries: either crossing at Eilat or flying from Amman to Tel Aviv.
I wasn’t going to be near Eilat, and the idea of spending even more time in an airport on my vacation was unappealing, so I decided to try the Allenby Bridge crossing, which connects Jordan with the West Bank. Once over the border, I would take a sherut (shuttle) to Jerusalem and then another on to Tel Aviv.
My private driver (do not take a for-hire cab from Amman – it’s a sure way to be ripped off) dropped me on the Jordanian side of the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge crossing. There is virtually no signage directing me where to go, and I felt a slight sense of panic as the driver departed but somehow, I made my way to passport control, where the fun began.
Negotiating the barely controlled chaos of this process was part of the adventure. I placed my luggage on an outdoor security conveyor belt, walked into a somewhat empty building, and presented my passport to a man behind a window. Immediately, another man arrived and asked me if I was a VIP. Within moments, it became clear I was in the VIP section – and that for a payment of $150, anyone could be a VIP.
I declined and asked to be directed to the area for the hoi polloi. I then walked across the courtyard and entered a door marked “Arrivals.” (There is no sign that says “Departures.”) Immediately, I was stunned by the chaos. With no signs advising which line to stand in, I randomly stood behind two male Spanish backpackers who, although they probably got there 30 seconds before I did, looked as though they might know what was going on.
The place was packed with bus drivers handling piles of passports belonging to their tour passengers. A tight gaggle of rather angry Korean women arrived. An American woman was telling anyone who would listen, “I want to go to Israel!” “Honey,” I think, “Sit down. We’re all going to Israel. Where else are we going?! Taiwan?” Flies are everywhere.
Finally, the Spaniards and I figured out there are three lines: one to buy the exit visa, one to get the exit visa stamped, and another to get our passports stamped, after which they’re retained to be returned later.
Around us, the angry Korean gaggle was completely flummoxed; the Jordanian border control agents were bemused, laid-back, and insanely hot. I considered the idea that coming back in my next life as a bemused, laid-back, and insanely hot Jordanian border control agent could have some real advantages.
Soon the Spaniards, the Korean gaggle, the American woman, and I are called from the waiting room and onto the transport bus, where our passports were returned. The bus trundled its way over the Allenby Bridge and eased into its bay at the Israeli border control station.
I noticed the change immediately upon disembarking from the bus. Everything was in Hebrew. The border control agents were women. A security guard was wearing a kippah. Passport control was efficient and housed in a large, air-conditioned building. There were hardly any flies.
I retrieved my luggage and sat outside on a bench for a few minutes to have a moment because every time I enter Israel, I have a moment. Once on the sherut to Jerusalem, I recalled the Korean gaggle, hoping it wasn’t still so angry because, after all, we were in Israel.