Welcome home...

Ash and I have very close birthdays (mine was the 16th and his is next week) and this year it worked out for a number of reasons to spend a weekend in Amman celebrating alone together. We stayed at a small hotel called the Hisham that feels way more expensive than it is. We ate some of the most amazing sushi I've ever had. Ash hasn't yet warmed to the idea of sushi, but this meal pushed him a whole lot closer. I also had a great homemade (not frozen, like any found in the West Bank) hamburger with cheddar cheese and turkey bacon. Our last night there, we stayed in; gathered a wide variety of cheeses, crackers, breads, yogurt, and chocolate and topped the meal off with a bottle of bubbly. As you can imagine, it was relaxing, romantic, perfect.

But of course, anything that goes up must come down and anyone who leaves home must return.
For those of you who don't know, Israel does not recognize family unification for Palestinians. As Israel controls all of Palestine's borders and decides who can come, who can go, and who can stay, not granting residency to foreign spouses is yet another power play and seemingly yet another tool of ethnic cleansing. When Palestinians marry non-Palestinians, the non-Palestinians have a very difficult time staying with their Palestinian spouses unless they move out of Palestine together. For a few years, Israel has been issuing year-long B2 no re-entry not-permitted-to-work tourist visas to us. However, if you leave the visa is cancelled (can only get one per year) and there is no guarentee that you will be allowed to reenter the country. Needless to say, this discourages people like me from travelling very much and is one of the reasons why we are thinking it will be better to live in the states (they win...heh...).

So our amazing birthday evening was followed by a very long, crazy day. I woke up with a pit in my stomach. I couldn't tell if it was a slight hangover, the cheese, or nerves. It was probably a combination of all three.

Upon arriving at the bridge, nervous already about being denied entry simply given my marital position, I was questioned about who I was there with, where I was going, and how long I had lived in "Israel". After a brief questioning, the plain-clothes security officer let us go. Ash waited as I went to the window for foreign passport holders. The young girl behind the plexiglass seemed to recognize my name when I handed her my passport and continued the questions:
"What's your father's name?"
"What's your grandfather-on-your-father's-side's name?"
"Where does your husband live?"
"What's his ID number?"
"Are you staying only in Ramallah?"
"How long are you staying for?"
"What do you do there?"
Etc., ad nauseum...


She noisily stamps two things. My passport? "Go sit over there and someone will come talk to you soon." Pointing...


I go to sit down, expecting to settle in for the next two hours or longer when, after about two minutes, the same nerdy-looking security guy appears. "Sarah?" he says, "Both of you! Give me all your bags and come with me". He takes us to the room we were in before, throws our bags on the ground in the corner, and sits us down together. A different security guy appears: black hair, black shirt, black pants, almond skin, and cocky black sunglasses resting on his head. He is not in a good mood. He stands over us, looking, and talking on his radio. We try to make light of the situation and end up smiling and laughing a bit. He stands Ash up and makes him sit accross the room. Like kindergarten.

Soon a woman emerges from a secret door. She sees me and immediately starts arguing with Mr. Black. She doesn't want to do this. They only do this to Palestinians. She is embarassed, ashamed. She takes me behind the curtain and does a (clothed) body search. She takes my shoes and leaves me alone behind the curtain. My nervousness increases. She returns with my shoes and instructs me to sit back down. Ash is back. Next they do the same to him.

A third security guy, with a blue fleece jacket, khakis, bald head, and cocky sunglasses appears. I realize that my passport and now Ash's ID are still gone. Mr. Blue has us pick up our bags and follow him. We are taken to the last room of the big hall, where people collect their bags and leave. Instead of being set free, we are told to leave all our bags on a stainless steel table. Ash is sat in a corralled area with about thirty chairs. I am taken to an area with three lone chairs, facing him, about five meters away.

After we sit there staring at eachother from a distance, nervous and confused, for about an hour, Ash gets up. I am too far away to hear the conversation, but am later told that Ash tried to speak to him in Arabic and was ignored. In English he says, "What's going on?" "You are detained." He then asks to at least sit by me and Mr. Blue gives in and allows it.

The whole area seems to have a constant traffic of 18-year-old kids in white polo shirts and black pants. They go on breaks to eat sandwhiches, they joke and laugh, they seem bored and oblivious.

At some point Ash has a conversation with an Arab-looking kid whose job is to make a final check of people's passports and confirm that their luggage has made it through to this room. He asks Ash (in Arabic) why we are sitting there. Ash tells him (in Arabic) the tall bald guy in blue told us to. He says that's impossible. When Mr. Blue reappears, the guy shouts across the room to inquire about us. Mr. Blue mouths something and then the Arab-looking guy understands.

Mr. Blue leaves and is replaced by Mr. Green: green striped polo shirt, khakis, gelled brown hair, and cocky sunglasses. Why do Israeli security men all wear sunglasses perched on their heads? It's November and they are inside all day! But I digress...at some point yet another security guy pokes his head in from the Passport Control room and calls a name: "Ashraf?". Ash gets up and quickly walks toward him, as he is turning to leave, and reclaim his ID. Mr. Green shouts and follows him. He escorts Ash back and tells him that if he wants to move for any reason, he needs to ask. Mr. Green is our gatekeeper. A minute later Ash's ID arrives and he is "free to go". I am still detained, though, and he insists on staying with me.

More time passes.

I ask Mr. Green if I can go to the bathroom. This seems to remind him that I'm human and when I return I hear him saying my name into his radio. Soon he comes to tell us that we can take our bags and go back to the Passport Control room and wait there.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, a young blonde girl (the same one, coincidentally who was working the bridge on Thursday night when I left) calls my name. I go to her window and she says, innocently, obliviously, "Where have you been? I've been calling your name for at least an hour!" I start to explain that I was detained with the security guys for a long time, but her eyes glaze over and she turns from me.

As I open my passport, I see a and a 3-month visa to Israel stamped inside and also a paper with the same stamp. This is when I realize what the first girl in the first window had stamped...more than three hours ago.

I curse the Israeli army, government, machine, and briefly contemplate issuing a complaint. Then I realize there seems to be no infrustructure for this. Also, I am very much aware that I am able to be here by permission of the Israeli system. I feel that by letting them think I am non-threatening and unaware of their control they are more likely to let me keep coming back. For me, right now, selfishly, that is what really matters. I hate that I have to make that choice, but as long as there is occupation and Israel has ultimate control over these borders, this land, these people...I must.