Jordan to Jerusalem via King Hussein Bridge
I wasn’t sure how our entry for Jerusalem through border controls would turn out. As it was our first time – I was prepared to expect the worse – refused entry, and turned back. If that happened at Ben Gurion Airport, it would mean an expensive detour for my trip to Jordan, and other countries. To minimise this, I thought I’d fly from London Gatwick to Queen Alia airport near Amman, Jordan.
The only unusual thing about our flight was that as we were flying over Israeli airspace, instead of asking to fasten seat belts on descent, we had to settle in 35 minutes before we approached Israeli airspace. That is a strict rule that airlines follow to avoid sanctions. As usual, there is always someone that doesn’t follow the rule – and a flight attendant quickly made an announcement specifically for him.
Visa on Arrival cost 20 JD (Jordanian Dinar), and the immigration only accept JD. I unfortunately ended up queuing for an ATM behind all the people that were already aware of this.
Instead of staying in Amman, I had calculated that the hotels in Madaba are cheaper and closer to the airport, as is the taxi ride from Airport to Madaba and Madaba to King Hussein Bridge. At the same time I would be avoiding Amman until I’m ready for it!
I made sure I always mentioned I wanted to go to King Hussein-Allenby Bridge so no one gets confused and takes me to Sheikh Hussein Crossing instead. I noticed that all other entry points into Israel are “crossings” whereas this is just a “bridge” which might be to do with Jordan-Israel history.
As it was Friday and likely to be crowded, I didn’t want to be too late and wasn’t really interested in breakfast. I had to put something in to get me through the wait I’m likely to experience as someone with Pakistani ancestry (and probably implied as a Muslim). So I left at 7:30am to arrive at 8:10am. The ride was scenic through the beautifully rugged hills and the views of the Dead Sea. I was excited as I was entering the unknown, and not sure what kind of grilling we’ll encounter, and if we’ll get the Friday prayers (Jumma) in Al Aqsa that we aimed and hoped for.
As we now had Jordanian visa from the airport, we just needed stamps to indicate that we are going to visit the King Hussein Allenby Bridge which we got from the Jordanian entry point into the bridge. The official luckily asked us to write our names on a piece of paper which he stamped – we had completely forgotten and it could’ve caused issues to the destinations beyong Jordan we had coming up.
For a Muslim, I don’t believe that the three main Mosques in Makkah, Madina, and Jerusalem (Al-Quds) should require special approval from the government whose passport you hold. It should be a right to go to these mosques no matter what any government thinks – including countries not having diplomatic relationship with people that control the entry – which is why regardless of of the Pakistani passport having “Not Valid for Israel” on top of every page, it should be ignored.
We waited for the bus to fill up which was quick as it was Friday morning and got our passports back with paper stamps on the bus.
The bus went through no man’s land and onto the Israeli Terminal of the bridge. There was a delay for other buses ahead to unload the passengers and crowd to reduce slightly before our bus moved. I saw Israeli officials in the uniform for the first time. I had left Jordan!
The first queue was the longest standing wait (there was a fan that sprayed cold water vapor to keep people cool). Some people don’t queue well. People with no luggage just walked ahead of people, while others with luggage crossed below the barriers to skip a huge chunk of the queue. I was extremely angry and was about to ask and complain about queue jumpers, but my husband stopped me as he didn’t want to attract attention. Many others started queue jumping until an Israeli official lady started shouting at everyone to maintain order – It seems people listen sometimes when shouted at.
We showed our passports and got baggage tags before letting them go through security (we’re now separated from our luggage and would get it back at the very end – keep valuables like laptop as it may get damaged due to rough handling and stacking) and we were next to go through our own security.
The shorter queue was the first initial check of our documentation. A few quick questions – What are you here for? Where are you from? Where are you originally from? Pakistan? Do you have your Pakistani passport? Can I take photo from my mobile of the front cover? I suppose it’s rare for dual British-Pakistani passport holder to cross the border which my husband had.
As with any airport around the world, there is someone in the background who is observing body language and speech pattern other than the person you’re talking to. We were fast-tracked through the body screening for the first detailed interview.
I was split up from my husband. He was asked about his current, and future travel plans, trip details, brief life history etc. Most of the time my husband felt that the security guy asked the question, and then just focused on the “vibes”, body language, and speech levels rather than the actual words – just waiting for him to finish talking. And sometimes the security official even paused for a minute kneeling against the pedestal flipping the pen thinking of what he might’ve felt about my husband. I guess my husband was reading him as well.
My husband was then seated in a separate area and I was taken in for interviewing. I got asked all the same questions with the addition of how and where did we meet and when we got married. At time he asked me to repeat my answer as he was reading my body language the first time, and listening to what I was saying the second time. Then came the question of where my husband worked. As he’s changed his jobs a few times, I said his second-last company. I could read the expression of the interviewer – he was taken aback, raised his eyebrows and gave vibes as if something was wrong – I realized it, and tried hard and suddenly it came to me and gave the correct answer.
The key advise I would give is to give short answers, truthfully. If sometimes answers doesn’t match or they sense something wrong, you could be refused entry. If it’s apparent that you’re a Muslim, it’s very obvious that you’ll visit Al-Aqsa mosque. If you try to hide or deny that – it’s pointless and is just going to make the process hard and longer. My husband had left his job to travel – so effectively unemployed – so questions around how will he find a job in the current economy, how will you afford this long trip, etc… also came up.
After this we queued for the visas – as we were foreigners, we were given tourist information forms to fill and wait. The wait might have also extended due to wanting a paper visa rather than stamps, hence it turned even longer and my husband was called for another interview after some time. This time he said it was less about body language, but more about answering questions. Aside from the questions in the first interview, he was asked some detail about his siblings – what they do, where they are, including family’s phone numbers. With mobile phones all numbers are stored, and in our case short local UK numbers that forward automatically to the calling destination – so he recalled the only phone number he remembered before he bought s smart phone a few years ago. He gave his brothers phone number in Pakistan.
Then the wait for the Ministry of Interior to issue visa started, a few people were called for yet another longer and more detailed interview – luckily, we weren’t. But we had to wait for hours for the visa to come through and were losing hope near the end.
While waiting, there was a girl (probably from Eastern Europe) that took a photo and with flash which wasn’t smart thing to do. She was spotted and a security official wearing plain clothes came and took her to the waiting area for a special interview after going through her phone. This interview from what I’ve heard involves calling the number you might’ve given in the previous interview, checking your email, googling your name, as well as other probing processes.
There were a few other people in the waiting area including a family from South Africa where the son had been rejected twice in the past, but was eventually issued a visa this time around as he was travelling with parents. The father took quick photos with his mobile (without flash) in this area of a lot of people – I politely refused, but he still went ahead and took it anyway which was extremely rude.
The husband’s brother was never called (I’m not sure if Israel-Pakistan calls can be made directly or not).
Nearly 5.5 hours after arrival, we got the visa!
It felt great as I was going to fulfil my dream of visiting Jerusalem and Masjid Al-Aqsa. We had missed our Jumma (Friday prayers) due to the wait though which might’ve been for a reason – which you’ll find out in my next blog post.
It was quick after this as the halls were mostly empty and the terminal was shutting down. I picked up our bags covered with dust and shoe marks. and entered a 5 lines crowding for 1 X-ray luggage scanner. Then it was paying for the minibus ride to Jerusalem – they take JD – but you’ll lose a small amount in commission, and there is no ATM to withdraw Shekels.
If you have any questions about planning for your visit, please leave a comment below.
Here is the breakdown of costs:
Jordanian Visa: 20 JD per person
Taxi Airport to Madaba: 14 JD per Taxi
Madaba to King Hussein Bridge: 17 JD per Taxi
Bus King Hussein(Allenby) Jordan to Israeli Terminal : 5JD per person and 1.5 JD per luggage
King Hussein(Allenby) to Jerusalem : 42 Shekels per person, 5 Shekels per luggage