The owner of the guesthouse I stayed at in Amman advised me that I factor in an extra hour or two when planning my trip across the border to the West Bank. Not for potential traffic, but for any unexpectedness when dealing with customs and security in this highly contentious part of the world.
When I arrived at the Jordanian border station, I was quickly processed and ushered into the waiting room. After a few minutes of deciding whether to buy a cup of cheap instant coffee and observing the limited selection of the duty-free shop, I along with the other onward travelers was instructed outside to the buses. There were two coach buses, one for Palestinians and another for non-Palestinians.
I was the only one in my bus.
I figured I’d do my bus driver a solid and join the packed Palestinian bus. Save him some time and the Kingdom of Jordan some gas. But no, I was not allowed. “Safety reasons,” the driver said. “Please sit back down.”
Crossing the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge is a short trip, a few minutes down a straight road and a slight turn left towards the end. But the sight of towers armed with locked-in machine guns and barbed wire fences that lined the two countries slowed down my sense of time. The desert sun above cast a shadow on the Israeli soldiers, giving them an intimidating character that was appropriate for the setting. It felt like my trip to the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.
I had been waiting in the security line on West Bank side for 20 minutes when a young, not more than 20 years old Israeli guard motioned me to come towards her. I took a nervous gulp and stepped forward.
“Where are you from?” she asked in accented English.
“America. New York City.” I answered.
“Alright. You can wait on this line,” she said. She motioned me to another line, a shorter line.