Leaving it all behind
As with Syria, when leaving Israel or the Palestinian Territories (whose borders are controlled by Israel), a departure tax is levied. I begrudgingly handed-over the equivalent of $10 every time I crossed Syria’s border into a neighbouring country, but here, I accepted it with even more bitterness. The tax is exorbitant and I was handing it over to the country whose occupation I had been opposing for the past month.
The fee for leaving at the King Hussein crossing is 169 shekels, the equivalent of nearly fifty U.S. dollars. At other Israeli borders it is just over half of that. The King Hussein crossing is the only border the West Bank shares with the outside world, and is therefore the only means of leaving the country for its Palestinian citizens. The discrimination goes to the edges of the country.
Besides, I wasn’t really ready to leave the West Bank when I did. I wanted to stay to fight the uprooting of olive trees for the construction of the West Bank barrier in Beit Jala. Things were heating up in Jerusalem and I wanted to witness events unfolding.
But at the same time, I had to consider my original objectives for this trip, part of which included crossing Sudan, and elections were planned there for early April. To be sure to be able to cross the country, I wanted to to secure my visa & arrive before then, in case there was any trouble and the country “closed down”, à la Iran. And a part of me, if possible, wanted to witness the elections themselves.
So I boarded the mini-bus to the border. I had prepared myself to be interrogated when leaving; my face had been photographed by Israeli soldiers at several demonstrations, and if the strength of the Israeli intelligence force is to be believed, my own photographs documenting the unrest there would lead to several awkward questions. We had been briefed on the interrogation we could receive.
With my jaw clenched, I was slightly phased when the only question I was asked was “do you have any weapons?”.
In the taxi I shared with an elderly Arab lady and an Italian nun, I breathed a sigh of relief as we negotiated the winding roads of the Jordanian hills back to Amman. I had not been detained at the border, and nothing had been confiscated. But I did feel that I was deserting those who I had met over the past few weeks, and the cause for which they were fighting.
And regarding the route: it would have been much easier to go straight from Jerusalem to the Egyptian border at Eilat. But with my trip taking me through Sudan, evidence of having traveled in “Occupied Palestine” (as the stipulations state) would bar my entry. And so I retraced my steps back to the Jordanian capital, then taking a bus to Aqaba, from where the ferry to Egypt departs.