I splurged on myself this month. I spent $10,000 to make my life easier. This money was not spent on buying a new car or a more comfortable bed. In fact, this money was spent without receiving any tangible commodity or service. I doled out this money to make my travel from Amman to Jerusalem and back easier and faster. And I didn't bribe anyone. In fact, this week it took me only two hours (possibly a record not accomplished in 44 years) to make it from Ramallah to Amman because of this expensive act.
This extraordinary sum of money was spent on getting my Jerusalem-licensed 2004 VW Golf a second registration, customs and insurance in Jordan (customs and registration alone was JD6,900, nearly $10,000). And with the same car licensed, insured and customs paid in both countries, plus a permission from the Jordanian ministry of interior, I am able to travel by car across the King Hussein in my own car. Of course upon leaving Jordan I change the plates and immediately my car becomes legal in Israeli areas, and the same on the way back: once I leave Israeli-controlled areas, I replace the license plates with the Jordanian plates and voila my car is Jordanian with registration, customs and all the car details registered with the Jordanian Motor Vehicle like any other Jordanian car.
Over a million Palestinians cross the same bridge every year, having to change at least three or four modes of transportation. One getting them to the Jericho istiraha and then the Shahin bus, mass-transporting passengers to the Israeli-controlled terminal, Abdo buses take over after passport control and get the passenger to the Jordanian side and finally a shared taxi gets the passenger to his final Jordanian destiny.
Israel refuses to allow Palestinians from the West Bank to use their own vehicles while allowing Palestinians from Jerusalem whose yellow license plates are Israeli to use their own vehicles. Jordan welcomes cars with Palestinian license plates but its own agreement with Israel (based on the request of Israelis who are afraid of being singled out) stipulated that cars with Israeli license plates are not allowed in. In the northern Israel-Jordan crossing, Israeli cars get a temporary Jordanian license plate for JD50 each time.
So if you are an east Jerusalem Palestinian (like me) and have the ability to fork out thousands of Jordanian Dinars to get your Israeli licensed car also licensed and customs paid in Jordan (nearly 100% of value) and provided the Ministry of Interior (ie the mukhabarat) also approves this process, you can travel in and out of Jordan with Jordanian plates on your car and enter and leave Israel using Israeli license plates.
Having suffered hours and hours of waiting in buses and in terminals expecting the buses to arrive, the ability to travel by my own car was a true pleasure. I figured that the number of hours of waiting I am saving by this process will more than equal the high cost that it took me to pay the high custom fee in two countries. I am also saving money on the various modes of transportation which I no longer have to use. I am also saving gas money. I fill my car on the Jordanian side where gas is half the price per gallon as it is in Israel and the Palestinian areas and usually can return to Jordan before my full tank of gas has been used.
I am told that my case is only repeated by a handful of frequent travelers from Jerusalem who have gone through the process of registering the same car in two countries. The process should not be like this. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates the right to travel freely and rejects granting special privileges to certain people while denying it to others.
For a while Palestinians were able to travel by plane from Lod Airport and even use the Haifa port to travel by ship. In the past few years the only point of exit and entry for Palestinians has been the Allenby Bridge. Some of the policies and procedures that apply today by both the Israelis and the Jordanians are the same since 1967.
Forty four years of forced military occupation has had its toll on the population and has brought about misery and hardship in addition to total denial of entry to millions. The leadership of the countries of the region as well as international leaders should pay attention to the entire process of travel across this singularly only point of exit and return for Palestinians.
I should not have to pay $10,000 to use my car to travel and hundreds of thousands should not be denied the right to use their own means of transportation.