We’re in Palestine!! This is so amazing!!! We’re chilling in Ramallah in George and Mariam’s apartment. Cousin Stephen is here with us as well – he came in from Beirut this morning to conduct research for books he’s writing – one on Arab photography and the other on Islamophobia*. Meanwhile, George and Mariam will be meeting with their editor who’s going to help them finish up their latest film for Al Jazeera.
Getting here was definitely an adventure. What should be a 1 1/2 hour drive, becomes a 6+ hour ordeal thanks to what feel like dozens of checkpoints.
I’ll begin at the beginning. After we got Stephen from the airport, we drove to the Jordanian border with Israel. Checkpoint #1, Jordanian military guys checked our passports. They actually know George and Mariam because they cross the border so much for work. They were friendly, and basically just let us drive right through.
Drive for 15 minutes or so and…Jordanian checkpoint #2! Everyone out of the car, all the bags through a scanner, inside to get visas. Not too long of a wait, but it’s over 100 degrees outside, so it feels a bit longer. Everyone piles back in the car.
Drive for a few minutes and now Israeli checkpoint #1! Pull into a parking spot while Israeli military people ask LOTS of questions. That takes about 30-45 minutes.
Drive for about 2 minutes and now Israeli checkpoint #2! This time out of the car for more questions. Who is your father? Who is your grandfather? (Lucky for me my father and paternal grandfather have Irish last names, so I was asked fewer questions than I would have if I’d had to give the Lebanese surnames of Saddic and Azar from Mom’s side) Next up was a list of every Arab country, and a string of questioning centered around whether or not I’ve been to any of these countries and why I was there? And then she asked all the questions again. I have no idea why. I just answered dutifully. But she didn’t stamp my passport. So I can still travel to Lebanon – score! This whole process took about 30-45 minutes per person. There were 4 of us.
Next up….you guessed it – Israeli checkpoint #3! Now you take everything out of the car again, scan it and wait in a small room with your bags while they search your car and hold your passports. That took about an hour. Very hot, sticky and smelly. The car was cleared, yay! Now we wait in line to get insurance or a permit or something, so that we could legally drive the car in Israel.
And finally, we’re out! We made it through!!
Crossing into Israel, you’d have no idea there was a water shortage in the region – sprinklers are watering large fields, massive orchards of palm trees (which, admittedly don’t need much water). It really was beautiful. Then you drive into the Palestinian territories, and the water shortage is quite apparent. Parched earth abounds. But that’s another story for another time.
What’s ridiculous is passing by signs that read Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, etc. !!! These are cities I always read about in history books, and now I’m actually here!!
We drove past the apartheid wall and into Ramallah around 7pm. This city is amazing. Gritty and pulsing with energy, it’s a far cry from calm, clean-cut Amman. I love it! We were all starving so we went out for dinner at this fun place in the city center. The place was full and bustling, red table cloths, Fairuz playing on the stereo, and a dinner of grilled chicken with sumac, hummus and pita bread for dinner. HEAVEN!
After dinner, it was back to the apartment for bed. What a day, huh?? I’m going to sleep in Palestine!
*Stephen has since published his book Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims if you want to check it out.