Those are the lyrics to one of my favorite Ani DiFranco songs/poems, “my i.q.,” and those words echoed in my head as I crossed the checkpoint from Jordan into Palestine yesterday. It occurred to me while the soldier was making me pull down my pants to check for weapons with her magnetic wand and her hands. She asked me, “do you have a weapon?” Of course, I said no, because I didn’t. But, as I watched her search my body I looked down to notice that I was fingering a pen in my hand and thought to myself, well, yes, in fact, I do have a weapon. It’s my pen. Indeed, as I wrote down notes for this blog on a piece of paper as they looked carefully at each piece of underwear very carefully, each drop of shampoo, each q-tip, one of the soldiers told me to stop writing and came glance over my shoulder at my scribbles. They wanted to take my paper and see what I was writing, but I refused to let them see. Fortunately, they didn’t push the issue.
My morning spent with the soldiers at the border was a bit of a new experience for my yesterday in that I had to travel 1 hour north of Amman, and thus 1 hour north of Al Quds (Jerusalem), to cross. First I went to the Malak Hussein bridge, the one I normally travel across. But the Jordanians wouldn’t let me cross. I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that I haven’t left Jordan in a while and so I lost my window of opportunity; the last two times I crossed I had either come from the U.S. or Syria so they allowed me to pass. So they sent me on my way in a taxi to Sheikh Hussein bridge in the north. This is a border crossing that is primarily used for Israelis and internationals, as I understand it. Mostly Jordanians and Palestinians use the Malak Hussein border crossing. (Though I learned an important lesson yesterday: the Jordanian soldiers told me that Malak Hussein is a bridge not a border. This in keeping with the fact that Jordan still considers the West Bank part of its territory, a fact that is also represented on the 20 Dinar bill which has an image of Al Aqsa mosque on it.
Yesterday traveling outside of Amman for the first time since the bombings was interesting. Although there are a few sporadic checkpoints around the country, before you were just waved through; you didn’t need to stop or show any ID. Now they actually stop and look at passports. This happened a few times as I drove quite a bit around the country. Also, before you can even get to the bridge, there is an enormous line of cars and taxis, which are all individually checked–the car, the luggage, the passports–before you can go to the bridge/border area. The second border I went through was quite different than the one closer to my house. First of all, it is far newer and cleaner on both sides of the border. Second, it is indeed a border as it takes you into Israel just north of the West Bank as opposed to the occupied crossing you experience if you cross at Malak Hussein. When you first enter Sheikh Hussein you drive over an opening in the ground, which looks a little bit like the openings under your vehicle if you go to Jiffy Lube to service your car. This enables the soldiers to see whether or not the bus has any explosives in it. At the other bridge they use the mirrors on sticks, which they use to search underneath. The inside is also cleaner and more organized. There are actual lines–Jordanians and non-Jordanians–where you get your passport stamped. I had already paid my 5 JDs to cross at the southern bridge and they didn’t make me pay a second time, al hamdulilah, like the Israelis did to Sahar the last time she crossed and had to go from one bridge to the other. And their exit visa fees are at least 4 times the price of the Jordanian exit fee. On the Israeli side the first image you are greeted with is a photograph of King Hussein, President Clinton, and Prime Minister Rabin shaking hands on the White House lawn, a handshake that precipitated the very border crossings between the two neighbors.
In line on the Israeli side I met a father and his 17 year old daughter. They live in Canada, but they were traveling here for a few days. This is her first trip to Palestine and she is Palestinian. She was adorable and so excited to see Lydd, where her family comes from in 48 Palestine. They were also having quite a bit of trouble crossing the border, as the female soldier had a difficult time dealing with the fact that the father was born in Palestine, actually in 1948 a few months before an Nakba (the catastrophe). They were not taken to be strip searched or their luggage examined under a microscope, but they were made to wait for hours (even after I was done with everything, this American Jew was allowed to leave before they were). I felt a little bit like the comedian Ahmed Ahmed who’s brilliant stand-up routine, “I Believe I Can’t Fly” talks about the ways in which he is targeted through racial profiling by the American security system in the U.S. Of course, I’m not targeted by the way I look, and I still wear a star of David when I cross the border just in case it helps (though at this point, I don’t think it does), but rather with me it’s more precise. I’m in their computer. They crew of soldiers examining me were far more congenial than those who work at the Allenby bridge. I actually was able to engage them in a conversation about the work they do and what implications it has. And, in fact, they told me they don’t like doing this work because they know it humiliates the people they have to check. It was interesting to hear them speak critically of their work and it made the six-hour process far easier to endure.
In any case, I’m here now for the week doing some research and trying to get my hands on Sanabel’s passport and visa, which the American Consulate has had since I left last month. They did grant her a visa, but on it they said she is a boy so she gave it back to them so they could fix it. Now they are making her submit another I-20 (for a third time). Insha’allah I’ll get her passport taken care of this week as we are leaving soon for Amrika.