‘Traveling through hell’ at the Allenby-King Hussein border crossing

Bianca Carrera

Mondoweiss  /  March 24, 2023

Jordan has pledged to improve conditions at “the Bridge” following accusations it profits from Israeli restrictions on Palestinians, but analysts say such half-measures won’t matter while occupation remains.

During the last few weeks, following the heated events in the West Bank as a result of violent Israeli raids in Nablus, Jenin, and Huwwara, Israeli forces have besieged the city of Jericho in February and March of this year. This city is the only pathway connecting West Bank Palestinians with the outside world, as it is where the “Karameh crossing” linking the West Bank with Jordan’s King Hussein Bridge is located. 

This siege has thus prevented many Palestinians from traveling abroad and has reminded the world of how restricted and difficult mobility is for West Bank Palestinians, whose only way in and out of the country relies on “the Bridge.”

The border crossing requires travelers to pass through three different “sides” to make it to Jordan — the Palestinian side in Jericho, the Israeli side at the Allenby Bridge, and the Jordanian side at the King Hussein Bridge.

Without an airport of their own (Gaza’s having been destroyed by Israeli forces in 2002), and with long and complicated requirements for them to use Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, West Bank Palestinians find themselves with the only option of using Jordan’s Queen Alia Airport every time they want to travel abroad — and that is neither a short nor an easy journey. 

Something as simple and now mundane in our minds as taking a flight takes Palestinians not only an unpredictably long amount of time but also requires sizable sums of money and a great deal of mental wherewithal.  

Sarah, a Palestinian from the city of Hebron who requested her name to be changed for fear of reprisals, tells Mondoweiss that “traveling through Jordan can be one of the most traumatic and energy-draining experiences you will ever go through.” 

She agreed to narrate what the process of traveling abroad looks like when you are a Palestinian. 

‘You enter hell’

Sarah tells us that the journey usually starts early in the morning. Because she lives in Hebron, she will probably leave her house at 5 a.m. to head to Jericho, which will take her around 2 hours, and cost approximately 50 shekels ($13.86). Once she arrives at Jericho’s crossing, she will have to pay her journey’s first taxes,155 shekels ($42.27), as well as the bus ticket to travel through the crossing, 34 shekels ($9.27).

At this point, Sarah will have had to stand in long lines and go through security checks where “they treat us as if we were trash bags.” 

“If there is a kid crying or there are people who are not committed to the line, [Israeli staff] tend to show us that we are not civilized in a very scary way,” she says. “They yell at us in Hebrew and Arabic. It is a very humiliating experience.”

However, Sarah and other Palestinians who have gone through the crossing claim that the Palestinian and Israeli sides aren’t the worst part of the experience. “You leave the Israeli side, where you are already treated like an animal, and then you enter hell,” Sarah tells us, referring to the Jordanian side.

Imad, a Palestinian from the city of Nablus, agrees. He tells Mondoweiss that Jordanian facilities are the worst: no air conditioning, no cleaning services, and a tiny space that is supposed to fit all the Palestinians traveling at once. “It is so chaotic that you often lose your luggage.” 

But the nightmare is not over after crossing through the Jordanian side, Sarah maintains. “If I am lucky, my flight will be in the afternoon or the night of,” she says. “And if I am unlucky, my flight will be at dawn or the following morning, which means I will have to spend the night in Jordan. The cheapest hotel you can find in Amman in a safe area won’t be less than $50.” 

The entire journey from the West Bank to the airport in Amman, which by car can be traversed in the space of two hours, becomes an extended day-long affair, taking anywhere from 5 to 13 hours, depending on when you choose to travel. Before even factoring in the price of the plane ticket, the total cost of just reaching the airport will typically come up to $150 per person.

Restricting Palestinian mobility is vital to Jordan’s economy

Imad tells us about his indignation at how the Jordanian authorities take advantage of Palestinians. While he expects Israeli occupiers to make their oppression of Palestinians a profitable affair, he registers his disappointment at the behavior of Jordan, who he believes “only wants Palestinians for their money, and does not even put an effort into making travel through the bridge any easier.” 

About 70% of the 300,000 Palestinians from the West Bank use Jordanian airlines as their gateway to the rest of the world. That percentage becomes considerably higher when factoring in the many Palestinians who use other airlines and the Palestinians who use Jordan’s land crossings, such as during the Umra and Hajj seasons.

This makes Palestinians an indispensable pillar of the Jordanian flying industry and the many other sectors in the Jordanian economy that enjoy the business of Palestinians passing through the country, including transportation, hotels, restaurants, among others. 

The importance of Palestinians for Jordan’s economy was made clearer than ever during what has become known as the Ramon Airport crisis last year. Situated in the Middle of Eilat’s desert, Israel’s Ramon Airport was only made available to Palestinians last year for travel to a limited number of destinations — primarily Turkey. While the Israeli motivation to let Palestinians use Ramon was to save on a bad investment, the reportedly lifeless and expensive airport nevertheless represented huge savings for West Bank Palestinians.

The Palestinian platform ‘Iqtisad El-Balad’ estimated the amount Palestinians would save by using Ramon Airport compared to Queen Alia. The result was $124.93 per person only in one direction; that number could easily double when factoring in the return journey. 

While some Palestinians are willing to pay that price in order to avoid further dealing with their occupiers — also influenced by a campaign launched by Jordanian activists claiming that using the airport would constitute treason to their people and to Jordan — people like Imad who struggle financially argue that they would be willing to go to Ramon if it allows them to travel more often and without having to go through the chaos at the King Hussein Bridge.

Estimates have predicted that opening the Ramon Airport for Palestinian use could decrease the number of Palestinian visitors to Jordan by 55% to 65% — which, if true, would be devastating for the Jordanian economy. 

Jordan’s negative response to Ramon’s announcement is hardly surprising. It might leave one to wonder to what extent Jordan may benefit from Palestine’s occupation and the limitations imposed on Palestinian movement.

Asked to comment, Vice President of Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and ex-foreign minister of Jordan, Marwan Muasher, contradicted such speculations to Mondoweiss, claiming that Jordan genuinely wants Palestinians to have their own state. 

Isolating Palestinians from the world and each other

According to Oraib Rantawi, President of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies and member of Al-Shabaka, the major issue in the current bridge paradigm is Israel. “The Israelis do not want easy movement for Palestinians.”

For Rantawi, isolating West Bank cities from each other and making international travel dependent on Israeli supervision is an essential part of Israel’s strategy to control Palestinians: “cutting them into pieces, isolating them from the world, and reminding them who is in charge,” Rantawi clarifies.

Making it so difficult and costly for Palestinians to move around is also a strategy that, according to Sarah, decreases the number of West Bank Palestinians who travel abroad.  Although she personally says that these obstacles to Palestinian movement will not prevent her from exerting her right to travel, she confesses knowing many people who would rather just stay in Palestine to avoid the ordeal. 

“Just the thought of crossing…[makes people] say ‘we are not traveling, we are not crossing the bridge’”. 

The same applies to Palestinians in the diaspora who want to visit their country and family. Omar, a Palestinian whose family was exiled to Spain, says that although he could theoretically travel through Ben Guiron, he prefers going through the arduous journey of crossing through King Hussein’s Bridge, to avoid being submitted to harrowing and degrading interrogations. He admits, however, that this decreases the times he goes and visits his home: “If I could just travel and go through a normal [border] control as in any other country, I would go much more often.” 

Nonetheless, he remains convinced that “although they make it difficult for us to visit so that we forget about our people and our land, they are not going to stop us. We will continue going back”.

Half-measures ineffectual as long as occupation remains

Echoing the same sentiment of supposed brotherhood conveyed by Jordan’s former Foreign Affairs Minister, Jordan announced that it would finally dedicate at least 150 million Jordanian Dinars to improve the Jordanian side of the crossing to make life for Palestinians easier. The Government announced in December 2022 that it had its first tender for the preparation of the studies and design of the project. As of the time of writing, no further action has been announced.

Although Rantawi admits that Jordan has much to improve to make things easier on their side, he once again argues that Israel and its imposition of restrictions on the bridge’s opening times is the major impediment.

International actors such as the United States have publicly voiced objections concerning the current status of Palestinian mobility. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told Jewish Insider in January that improving conditions at the crossing would be one of its priorities. “It’s about decency, it’s about respect, it’s about doing something that makes people’s lives marginally a little bit better,” he told the journal.

In spite of these pledges, Rantawi does not think that Americans are putting enough pressure on Israel to change things. 

“Israel operates as a state above the law thanks to its protective umbrella,” he says. Rantawi believes such measures only serve to slap a band-aid on the main issue at stake: occupation.

When asked whether Palestinians could dream of a day when they would be able to travel from one city to another or from their state to another, he answers: “Unless we have an end to the Israeli occupation, this is not going to happen. To travel freely, you have to live freely. But you are under occupation, which means we are not free.”

Bianca Carrera is a freelance writer and analyst specializing in the Middle East and North Africa at Sciences Po Paris