Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. - Helen Keller
Yes, you read that title correctly. I was detained. Detained and interrogated, actually, at the King Hussein Allenby border crossing. The luck I have when traveling is pathetic.
I can’t really say I was all that surprised, but I also didn’t expect it. Usually this doesn’t happen to Americans; it’s a luxury that I’m honestly quite thankful for after this experience.
The thing was that this detainment had nothing to do with my passport and had everything to do with Middle East politics. As you will read in my story below, I understood exactly why I was targeted, so this isn’t likely to happen to everyone. Jerusalem is a fantastic city, so don’t let the possibility of detainment stop you from visiting. In fact, I highly recommend that you go! This article is only meant to be informative and share my own experience.
Now, as a disclaimer, I’m most certainly not going to go deeply into politics because I don’t want my blog to be a source of controversy. But, if you somehow don’t know what’s going on with the whole Israel/Palestine dispute, I recommend you do a Google search and form your own opinion on it.
Just keep the opinions out of the comments section! 😉
Planning for Eid Vacation
Let’s go back a bit to how I even ended up at the King Hussein Allenby border. If you’re a regular of my blog, you know that I studied abroad in Jordan during university for a couple months. I was studying Arabic along with a few other students from my university. Because our group ranged from beginners (like me) to more advanced students, we all weren’t in the same classes, meaning we made friends with others outside of our group.
If you read my article on the day trip I took to the Dead Sea, you know I became friends with one of my roommates. I named her “Lucy” to protect her identity, so we’ll give her the same name here. Lucy and I were actually placed in the same class while at Qasid Arabic Institute. That’s where we met another friend of ours – I’ll call her “Danny.”
Lucy and I also learned that another woman in our class was rooming with two ladies that went to our university’s “rival school,” so we met up with them and bonded with them as well. They were there for research as opposed to learning Arabic. In fact, one was Arab and fluent, and the other was highly advanced (we’ll call her Naomi). The great thing about meeting all these awesome people was that when Eid vacation came up, we had a group to travel with.
In case you don’t know, Eid Al-Fitr is an Islamic holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, the holy month where Muslims like myself fast for 29-30 days.
So basically, ya girl was hungry and looking for a vacation where I could eat lots of good food. Originally, I had planned to stay within Jordan, but Lucy had suggested we all take a trip to Jerusalem. After looking over my budget for a couple weeks (which still didn’t stop me from running out of money) I decided I would join Lucy on the trip. At this point, Danny and Naomi joined in as well.
Heading To King Hussein Allenby Bridge
With just Danny, Naomi, Lucy and myself in the group, we ordered an official taxi to take us to the closest border crossing, which is the King Hussein Allenby Bridge. Lucy found the service, and I honestly can’t remember the name of it, but it was fantastic. Our driver was a kind, older gentleman that spoke a reasonable amount of English and gave us his “insider tips” on how to successfully cross into Israel.
He warned us that we could be held up at the border, but he doubted it because all of us were Americans. The red flags were that Naomi and myself were Muslims, and that Naomi’s passport reflected that she had previously traveled in Saudi Arabia. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, if you don’t know the politics of the area, these red flags won’t make much sense.
The four of us were a little worried since we were only able to go on this trip because we had agreed to split an Airbnb to afford the costs. However, we were hopeful that we could get by on our American citizenship alone because of the strong ties between America and Israel.
But, just in case, we all followed his advice and temporarily disabled our social media, removed the apps from our phones, and turned our cell phones off. This is the reason I have no images of the crossing itself.
After about an hour’s drive from Amman, we made it to the King Hussein Allenby Bridge border cross. If you’re wondering why I keep referring to it by that name is because the bridge has two names; it just depends on what side you’re crossing from. Into Israel it’s the Allenby Bridge and into Jordan it’s the King Hussein Bridge.
We manage to get through several check-ins, wait in a ridiculously long line for what seemed like forever, and then rode a giant bus for what felt like a total of a minute before getting off. We’re in Israel!
Then came more check-ins, bag checks, pat downs, and the like. We reached one final check in – the one where they would take our passport and issue our tourist visa. Our group had thought we already made it through and wouldn’t receive any problems because they had already slapped some little stickers on the back of our passports earlier. They all matched each other, so we figured it meant we would all get stopped or all get through.
Turns out that sticker had nothing to do with it.
We waited in line to reach the counter to receive our visas. They separated us into two lines (out of the many lines there) but since there were four of us, we were paired up with one other person. We all felt pretty sure nothing was going to happen at this point and were excited about starting our vacation.
Lucy was the first of the four of us to go up to the counter. She was asked a few questions, they took her passport, looked through it, and then printed a visa and handed everything to her. She was through! Glancing over at us, Lucy smiled and walked past the counter to enter.
Next was Naomi. She was in the other line, so I watched her. She headed up to the counter, handed her passport, and started answering questions. After a couple minutes went by, I expected her to head through just as Lucy did. She didn’t. By the time I reached the counter, which was several minutes later, Naomi was still at the counter (politely) arguing with the clerk.
“No, I traveled there for school,” she told the clerk. Although she was keeping a calm temperament, I could tell she was stressed by the clerk’s questioning.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I heard. The clerk in front of me was asking for my passport. I handed it over as I began to fill with worry.
Here’s how part of the conversation went…
“Why are you traveling in Jordan?’
“I’m studying there through my university.”
“What are you studying?”
“Why are you studying Arabic?”
“Because I’m minoring in Middle East Studies.”
“So you don’t speak Arabic?”
“No, not well.”
The conversation continued on like that. I received the same questions over and over, with the clerk insisting that I was Arab (I’m not) and that I must speak fluent Arabic (I can’t). He also asked me about my last name, my religious views, my parents’ names, and where I planned to travel in Israel and for how long. Remembering what our driver had recommended, I told him I only intended on visiting Jerusalem. I did tell him the truth when it came to the duration of our trip, but I didn’t go into details at all.
Suddenly, I saw Naomi being handed a small paper and told to enter a waiting area. She gave me the most annoyed look ever and rolled her eyes as she walked to the waiting room. Meanwhile, on the other side of me, Danny had made it to the counter and received her visa. I looked at her with eyes full of worry as she turned the corner. In return, she looked at me with a fierce expression. It was as though she was saying, “Don’t worry, I’m here for you two.”
“Ma’am.” I looked back at my clerk. He handed me a slip of paper. “Please go to the waiting area.”
I sighed, took the paper, and looked for Naomi.
The 6+ Hour Wait
Eventually, Danny and Lucy joined back up with Naomi and I in the waiting room. We were all fairly hungry, so we were frequenting the overpriced snack shop quite a bit. About an hour or two in, Naomi was called in for questioning.
Lucy, Danny and I then overheard a group of young guys speaking English in the waiting area we were in. We struck up a conversation with them and it turns out that they were also students from Qasid! There were 10 of them there waiting for their passports. Many of them were American citizens as well, but some were Turkish or Pakistani.
Having them to speak with made the entire process a bit easier. We spoke about classes, what we planned to do in Jerusalem, and the ridiculousness of being detained. Around that time, Naomi joined back up with us and explained what had happened to her. A few of the guys had gone through the same thing earlier. This group of guys had been waiting for over 12 hours without their passports.
We were all shocked and hoping we wouldn’t have to go through the same thing. Then we spoke to a French family who, unlike many of us, weren’t Muslim but had their 18-year-old son being held alone in an interrogation room for several hours. Needless to say, we all felt pretty hopeless about getting out of there anytime soon.
Shortly after, I heard my name being called. It was my turn for interrogation. At this point, I was cranky from hunger, I was sleepy from early classes that day, and I was so not in the mood for any more of this.
I had quite an attitude with the soldier that interviewed me. I tried being nice to her in the beginning because I wanted to show her that we could have different views, different religions, different nationalities, different everything, and still get along. But, alas, food-deprivation got the best of me after her several accusations made against me on my character and intelligence.
The interview ended quickly thanks to my moodiness, although I really don’t recommend doing that. I returned to my group of friends and we sat out the next several hours of waiting.
We Finally Made It
Finally, at around 12:45AM, several hours after having our passports taken from us, Naomi and I received the “OK” to enter Israel and leave the King Hussein Allenby border crossing. Passports and visas in hand, we wished our friends good luck (9 out of 10 had received their visas, so they were still waiting when we left. They totaled around 16-18 hours of wait time, I believe.) We walked past the counter, waving our visas in the air like we were hot stuff, and boarded the very last bus to the city center.
In case you’re wondering, our friends joined us about 10 minutes later on the same bus and we all met up a couple times to explore Jerusalem together.
We were at King Hussein Allenby Bridge for somewhere around 6-8 hours. It was intense, but the experience was definitely interesting. I met a lot of people – Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, French, Turkish, Pakistani – all waiting to get through. Each person had their own unique story and unique situation.
Overall, the main reasons for detainment were of Arab nationality, Palestinian nationality, or identifying as Muslim. I wrote this post, not to fear-monger or speak badly of the people there, but to inform people who identify as Arab or Muslim what they may go through. Another main reason was where people had traveled. For example, one of Naomi’s main problems was that she had been to several other MENA countries. If the same goes for you, it is possible that you could be detained for some period of time.
Go later in the day so that you’re not waiting for several hours. The border closes at 1AM, which is why they let us through at 12:45AM. If you go early in the morning, you may wind up like our friends who waited over 16 hours.
Another piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to get detained. Whether it’s the King Hussein Allenby border or some other border, detainment is always a possibility for any number of reasons. Don’t let the possibility of failure or the fear of the unknown prevent you from following your dreams and traveling. In this case, I recommend going with at least another person because it can be an overwhelming experience alone; but don’t give up on visiting Jerusalem out of fear.
I enjoyed every moment that I was there. I learned so much, ate some AMAZING food, I drank the best juice ever, and I made some unforgettable memories. If possible, I will gladly do it again!
What unlucky border experiences have you had? If you’ve visited Jerusalem, what was your experience there? Leave your stories in the comments! As always, subscribe to my blog and unlock my free resources!