IF ANYONE doubts that the unilaterally declared Palestinian hudna is genuine, a simple visit to the Jordan River border crossing will be enough to erase any doubt. Records are being broken of the number of individuals trying to cross into Palestine this summer. Bridge officials, taxi drivers and regular travelers insist that the number of people crossing the King Hussein Bridge (also called Allenby Bridge by the Israelis and Karameh Crossing Point by the Palestinians) is higher than they have seen for years. Certainly it is a higher figure than those crossing the bridge since the eruption of Al Aqsa Intifada.
The number of people crossing into Palestine (as well as those visiting Jordan and other Middle Eastern cities) is a reflection of the confidence most travelers have that the Hudna will not be violated, at least not this summer, and that a short period of tranquility is upon us.
My sister, who normally lives in Brooklyn, says that this summer many of her fellow Arab American friends have decided to travel to the Middle East. In addition to their confidence in the Hudna, she cited the end of the war in Iraq as yet another reason for the sudden surge in travel. It is as if people had been refraining from traveling for a few years and, all of a sudden, they feel that the time is ripe for a nice summer vacation.
Unfortunately, however, once families begin their journeys, they are immediately confronted with a major obstacle, namely the conditions at the Jordan River crossing point. All three countries involved (Israel, Jordan and Palestine) bear a direct responsibility for the inhuman and unacceptable conditions that still exist on either side of the Jordan. Long delays, bureaucratic policies, understaffing and antiquated regulations, and lack of a consistent and effective supervision have resulted in the suffering of hundreds of vacationing families. Hundreds of families are spending days on end on either side of the bridge (on both sides of the Rafah crossing as well) waiting for a chance to cross to the other side. Political leaders might give a variety of excuses for the suffering and delays. None of them hold water, and the situation could be much better if everybody involved cared.
Every time I cross Jordan, I try to figure out what it is that allows such suffering to continue without any serious correction. For one thing, decision makers, diplomats, journalists and politicians either fly or travel with special VIP treatment so they have little knowledge of the situation at the borders. When I am in a suspicious mood I tend to think that this is a multinational conspiracy being indefinitely perpetuated in order to keep the less scrupulous bridge officials happy as they dole out space in the line and priority seating to the highest briber or to those with high level connections that can be counted to return the favor.
For the public, apathy is a problem, as most people raise their hands in surrender, feeling that crossing points have to do with sovereignty issues and therefore there is little that any individual or group of individuals can do about it.
In the same way that a woman’s birth pains are forgotten once she holds her newborn, most people forget about their suffering once they have made it safely on the other side.
The fact that Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians talk about important issues such as settlements and prisoners, roadmap and final solution, might make some find excuses for their leaders’ not giving time and effort to mundane issues such as the condition at the bridges.
The three parties that control and regulate movement on these crossings must meet and find practical solutions. Solutions can be as simple as extending the hours during which the crossing points are open (which Israel can do quickly, as it does when pilgrims return). Jordan can remove the quota of buses that can enter Jordan every day (23 buses and the obnoxious and unexplainable policy of requiring travelers to Jordan to find a relative to post bond to guarantee that they will not stay long in Jordan). The Palestinian National Authority must do away with
the Jericho resting place which has become anything but a resting place for the Palestinians. The absence of clear regulations and governmental supervision means that unbelievable taxi fees, favoritism and wasta are the rule rather than the exception.
If politicians and leaders have no time for or interest in working on these issues, then the public must better organize itself. I think a Palestinian-Jordanian committee that can include international figures should be formed, with the sole goal of working at improving the traveling conditions across the Jordan River and the Egyptian border. Such a group must travel, take stock of the situation, regularly interview travelers, prepare recommendations, meet with the media and lobby officials on either side in order to ensure that the simple act of crossing a border is no longer the long and bumpy ordeal it has become.
If genuinely concerned about doing something about this issue, please drop a line at email@example.com and suggest what you think needs to be done and what you would be willing to do in this regard