On Thursday my bosom friend (BF) and I headed to Jordan.
We hadn’t obtained visas in advance, which ruled out the Malik Hussein/Allenby Bridge border crossing. We would have to go to Aqaba or Sheikh Hussein, leaving from Israel rather than the West Bank. This post on travelling from Sheikh Hussein to Nablus was very useful in preparing. It’s all technically legal, but there’s no assurance passage will be permitted by Israel.
We left Nablus at around noon and took a shared taxi from the mujamma’a al-gharbiy to Jericho (30₪), feeling conscious that we would shortly make a journey our West Bank compatriots could not, and would (so was the plan!) use the Israeli transport which serves illegal settlements to do so. However, as Palestinians cannot easily leave, there is no Palestinian public transport option. Our servees driver even checked our passports (British), and was willing to help us make good our exit. We waited for the servees to fill then whizzed through the magnificent landscape.
Settler towns are immediately recognisable, red roofs in regular rows surrounded by lush verdure, and there were many on this route. It is strange and unsettling (ha ha) in this desert climate to see trees and lawns, especially when we have to ration our water so carefully. We got out at the junction with route 90 (an Israeli road through the Palestinian Territories) just over an hour after leaving class in Nablus. Rows of incongruous date palms, cultivated by Israelis, were baking in the midday sun.
Waiting for a ‘settler bus’ (the Egged company) and feeling a lil guilty and apprehensive, we were soon joined by a hitchhiker with a south east Asian backpack. She stood in the road and played a recorder. We had 45 minutes to wait so BF sat down in an approximation of shade at the bus stop and started munching a chicken sandwich whilst Israeli-driven Scania trucks and little white cars zoomed by.
A few bites in to the sandwich, the Israeli hitchhiker waved me over. She’d found a lift for all three of us, unrequested! I called to my chicken-munching friend and her hijabi face emerged from behind the obscurance of the bus stop, what could be termed a kaneen.. A man with kippah and payot sat mute and awkward in the front seat whilst we thanked him in English.
In contrast, our pretty companion seemed excited and spoke Arabic with us. We discovered that she is a settler, that she is studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at university in Jerusalem, that her name means almonds (at which point I produced an almond bar for her) and that her parents are living in the Golan. ‘It’s hard’, she said, ‘hearing the noises [of war] every night and being unable to help the people’.
We were booted out of the car by our (presumably petrified, certainly reserved) driver at the military checkpoint out of the West Bank and a couple of fearful armed guards, matching my description of them from my second year Arabic oral of layssuu khafiyf ad-damm, beckoned us to approach. SLOWLY!! STOP! Come! and they began to question us and check our luggage for security clearance. ‘That’s rather a lot of baggage for just one week, don’t you think?’, one baffled us with.
And then we had safely made it out of the West Bank! Picture courtesy of one of those ubiquitous gun-totin’ young fellers you get all over Israel, who was also waiting for the 961 bus from the checkpoint to Beat She’an (7₪).
Whither, a 50₪ taxi to the Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein crossing (the driver demanded, to our mystified dogless persons, that we not bring ‘the dog’ in his car), and there we were, across in half an hour, only four hours after leaving class.
Exit of Israel (106₪, and 5₪ for the bus) was much easier than exit of the West Bank and entry on the Jordanian side (10 dinar) was even easier. Two officials asked the routine but important question of the address of where I would be staying in Amman. I didn’t know! and started fumbling with my phone to hunt out any contacts with Jordanian numbers.
‘Look at the phone! Look!’ entreated one of the guards.
‘No, my phone! Look, I’m learning Turkish on my phone.’
‘Do you want the details of where I am staying in Jordan?’
(the uniforms briefly conferred in Arabic)
‘You are a very beautiful girl’ – and I was waved on, my form missing several data points.
A happy driver took us for the scenic hour and a half journey to Amman and further 40 minutes to where we wanted to go in Amman, talking almost non-stop in Arabic. His main points, as I recall, were that other drivers were donkeys, pedestrians were crazy, his children were devils, and all the Iraqi refugees who’d fled to Syria from Operation Iraqi Freedom were now dead. We had paid the taxi office the 29 dinar fare in advance and he demanded a tip for which I fished out 15₪.
So there we were – about 500₪ each and six and a half hours later in all, at our friends’ flat in Amman! Where I promptly reclined, indisposed by heatstroke.
Very happily I can say I successfully returned the same route solo, although taking the Egged bus from Beat She’an all the way to Jerusalem then getting a bus to Qalandia and a servees to Nablus for fear of not finding a space in a shared taxi on Route 90. I was kept for an hour or so at security, who wanted to check I wasn’t bringing weapons for Islamic terrorists, and they advised me to use the Allenby/Malik Hussein crossing if I attempted to return to the West Bank from Jordan again. But, unlike many expats who live and work in the West Bank,
I have a new 3 month visa! It’s green and touristic and all mine. Success!!