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.


  1. It's great that you let the world know, in detail, what it means to be under occupation where a bridge becomes a wall, a cheking point, where people are stopped: The road ends there. It is up to Mr. Black or Mr. Blue to let u pass or go back. If everyone wrote his story at the bridge, volumes & volumes would be written about occupation oppressive practises.. Thank u for writing your own..

  2. Sarah, for what it's worth...
    The daughter of my BIL's new spouse went through a similar story when she visited America.
    She's an Israeli and her father is of Iraqi origin. On her way out of the US, she was detained for hours, interrogated in a very unfriendly manner, strip searched, and finally told by American security guys that she would be wise not to come back to America. They couldn't care one bit about her father having been an IDF officer himself - he was born in Iraq and that's call they cared about. They didn't give her any official papers about it either - but she won't be coming back.

    Hey, on my last trip to America, we were going through Heathrow and this border control officer was, IMO, quite rude to a couple of guys from Cyprus. She was blatantly waving her authority around telling them they have to be nice to her, or else she's sending them back home.

    My point is, this isn't just about Israel and the Palestinians. Granted, it has to be so much more frustrating when the security people are part of an occupying force and you feel that this is your own country they are stopping you from entering. I can totally relate to that. At the same time, border control is often a tedious process and border control people are not always pleasant. For many people trying to get from point A to point B, they seem to be totally abusive. The fact that more often than not they won't even tell you why you're disallowed is even more aggravating. Have you any idea how difficult it is for an average young Israeli male to get a VISA to tour the US?

    The Palestinians often try to make it look as if Israel is the only country in the world limiting the "freedom of movement". It really is not the case.

    Could they improve things at those passages? you bet they could and they SHOULD - but border control points, whether between Israel and Jordan or Palestine and Jordan will always be about... well, control!

  3. Anne,

    Thanks for your comment. You raise some very good points. I would respond by first saying: I agree. All border crossings are points of control, often humiliation, and dehumanization. However, as you glossed over, Israel is one of a short list of countries that is doing this to the native people who are under its military occupation.

    Israelis or Iraqis or Cypriots trying to go to the US is one thing. Palestinians and their wives coming home to Palestine is a completely other thing. Yes, I object to all forms of making borders difficult. But this is especially true in the case of Israel controling the ONLY Palestinian border. Also, it's about the entire system, right? I wouldn't worry about being denied entry and probably wouldn't even care if they wanted to delay or interrogate me for hours if they would issue me an ID and make me presence here less contingent on their moods.

    I don't think that is too much to ask and actually any country in the world will eventually grant residency or citizenship to foreign spouses of its citizens. Palestinians are not allowed to.

  4. I totally agree that there should be a fair system for spouses to get a local citizenship just like it exists elsewhere. Mind you, not that it's easy elsewhere. My brother has been married to an English woman for 9 years now, they live in England and have 3 daughters. He's got a couple of years left before they consider him for citizenship. He had to take this long exam this year, about British history, the monarchy and all that, just so he can stay a resident. I guess marriages and families are not an automatic ticket to citizenship elsewhere too.

    I can very much see your point about the Palestinians being denied rights by another nation. I did mention it in my first comment. It sucks, no doubt. That said, we should keep in mind that the Israelis also have their own fears and some amount of extra caution is justified, considering there have been numerous terror-related smuggling and incidents in the past.

    Does the suspicion justify the current level of "caution"? I am not an expert but my gut feeling is no. I tend to agree with you that at the very least we have a problem with insensitive individuals and insensitive policies. Possibly, some of the policies are more sinister than just being insensitive.

  5. Wow Sarah, sorry to hear your crossing went so rough. But you got a normal everywhere visa? Maybe mine went easier because they were giving me the PA Only stamp. The extension was a normal everywhere visa, by the way. But for whatever reason, i didn't get the corresponding stamp from the pa this year...
    Anne, I know I don't know you. I'm another American married to a Palestinian citizen. You said your brother lives in Britain? It sounded from your post like he's got legal residency there. I assume that means he isn't forced to leave every year, not knowing whether he'll be allowed to return to his home, his family and all his possessions. I suppose he's also allowed to work while he resides legally in Britain?
    I can't speak for Sarah, but I personally don't want Palestinian CITIZENSHIP. I just want to be legally permitted to reside here. Not as a tourist, not for one year and then I have to leave, not without the right to work and earn myself a living. I think we deserve permanent legal residency as a spousal privilege, but at the very least we ought to have easily renewable 5-year residency permits or something.
    Sarah mentioned how this policy encourages Palestinians who marry foreigners to leave Palestine. The ironic part is, it's much more difficult for an American's Palestinian spouse to get a visa to leave Palestine and move to America when the American spouse hasn't got legal residency in Palestine.

  6. Janna raises a really great point in her final paragraph. I want to expand on it because it is probably something that many people are unaware of.

    The US State Department has a policy that in order for a foreign spouse to apply for an immigration visa (the precursor to a Green Card) at the embassy/consulate in their country, the American spouse MUST have residency in the foreign country. As Israel refuses to grant any sort of "residency" permits to American (and other foreign) spouses of Palestinians this puts us all in a very difficult position.

    1. As the case is now, we cannot apply for immigration visas at the counsulate, so:
    a. We must apply for them in the US and the case will get transferred back and forth between Jerusalem and the US. This makes the process take a very long time. We know a third American/Palestinian couple who have been in the midst of this for about 15 months now. He (Palestinian) hasn't even met most of her family because he is not allowed to go to the US, yet.
    b. We apply for tourist visas to take our Palestinian spouses to the US for short-term visits and maybe apply for a Green Card (perhaps illegally, as this is unclear) once we get there. Then we run the risk of their tourist visa not being renewed while the in-country Green Card process is going on. Also, they are not allowed to leave the US voluntarily while the process is pending, or they will need to start over again.

    2. IF the Israelis would grant some sort of residency permits for spouses of Palestinians, we'd be able to apply at the counsulate and recieve immigration visas in as little as three months. This is what happens in many countries all over the world.

  7. It's sometime you're not on twitter and yr blog. Hope things are OK with you.. :)

  8. how powerful- and what an ordeal to go through. I can't even imagine. I am new to your blog and following- I absolutely love it little lady. I am excited to read more and to make you a daily read <3

    I do hope you'll come visit two birds on a wire