Sunday, June 13, 2010

Crossing the Border into Israel

     During the dig Dr. Mare gave the volunteer workers one long weekend off, so J and I took advantage of it to make a quick trip to Israel. While we were in Amman the weekend before, we had gotten our visas (at the consulate over by the multi-storied mall complex), as we would not be entering from the US, and so were set to go the following weekend. I cannot begin to say how excited I was to make this journey, though I was a little scared as well. We were going to cross the Jordanian/Israeli border at the Allenby Bridge (though why we did not cross further north at Beit She'an, or the Peace Bridge, is beyond me), and there was trouble brewing in Israel, as there so often is. I had heard stories about how the Israelis often pulled individuals aside and questioned them as to where exactly they were going in Israel and what they planned on doing, and why. I had heard of people getting stuck at the border for days while their passports and luggage were both taken from them. I also knew that we were not allowed to take any pictures at the border. I felt unbelievably queezy about leaving Jordan, where I had begun to feel somewhat safe and comfortable. But still, bible studies had taught me to think of Israel as the promised land, the land of milk and honey, the land God had promised the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 34:1-6) when he chose Moses to lead them out of Egypt, though God never allowed Moses to go in because of his arrogance and disobedience. Fortunately, God did allow Moses to see it from Mt. Nebo in Jordan, where years later I also would catch a glimpse of the panoramic view of the Promised Land.  But now here I was, fearful that I, too, might not be allowed in! What is your destination? Jerusalem. Where will you be staying? At the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR), in the Old City. For how long? Three days. For what reason are you visiting Israel? We're tourists. What were you doing in Jordan? We're on an archaeology dig. We got some time off. Do you want your passport stamped? No, thank you; we will be returning to Jordan. Had we had them stamped, we would not have been allowed to reenter Jordan, nor would we have ever been allowed into Syria (who still refuses to recognize Israel as a nation, and while we weren't certain our travels would ever lead us there, we were hopeful, and one never knows anyway what the future holds in store), and so, instead, we opted to have a single piece of paper stamped and slipped in between the pages of our passports. This, I felt regret over, as mine eventually got lost, and to this day, after many trips to Israel, I still have no actual "proof" that I have ever been there except for pictures I have taken and souvenirs I have purchased. (I have never entered from there, but have always crossed over into Israel from Jordan, and have always left by way of Jordan or Eilat, Egypt.)
    Surprisingly (at least to some), was that the Israeli and Palestinian flags were both flying high at the border crossing, which indicated that some headway was being made in regards to their peace treaties, though much remained unsettled (as it still does today!). Peace talks had begun in 1991 in Oslo, and in 1993 Israel and the PLO had announced their agreement to negotiate Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and the Jericho area, as well as the Gaza Strip, though still by 1994 Israel had yet to fully pull out of all of these territories. Because of all the changes and unrest (there were still plenty of uprisings and terrorist attacks), crossing at the Allenby Bridge into Palestinian territory was a little more "adventurous." Of course we had to leave our Jordanian transportation, cross the border on a shuttle bus, and then make new arrangements to continue on the Israeli trek of our journey. All of our luggage, as well as our persons, had to be inspected by armed customs officers, and then, of course, both transit and bank fees had to be paid. (This is the hardest, most expensive, and scariest country I have ever entered or exited.) Thankfully, a sherut (shared) taxi was sitting there waiting for visitors who hadn't made prior transportation arrangements, though the driver would not make the trip with only the two of us, so we had to wait until there were at least three more people needing a taxi. Before we departed we all had to be clear on and agree to the fare, then wait as the luggage was loaded up, after which we each climbed in, and off we went, a couple of hours later. Finally, we were on our way to Jerusalem, where unbeknownst to me, troops were preparing to storm Gaza. But at that point, I was just glad to be away from where I was!