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Al-Karama crossing: A “symbol and witness of humiliation and suffering”

Hundreds of Palestinians have been stranded at the crossing for several days in scorching conditions.

Jerusalem24Noelle Mafarjeh, Nadeen AlShaer, and Ehab Tahboub – Over the past two weeks, Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Jordan have been stranded at the Jordan River due to restricted Israeli crossing hours and higher than usual levels of traffic.

Travelers have been suffering from the extreme heat and traffic; and with nowhere to go, hundreds have been sleeping in makeshift camps at the borders waiting for their turn to get through.

Al-Karama border crossing (colloquially known to Palestinians as Al-Jissir, the bridge) is the only border crossing available to West Bank Palestinians.

More than 55,000 citizens and visitors have been transported through the Al-Karama crossing over the past week, according to the Palestinian Police Public Relations and Information Department. The number of departures during the week was 28,595, while the number of incoming passengers was 26,687.

Jordanian Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya said Tuesday the logistical problems come from the Israeli side, as the crossing from the Israeli side is only open between 8am and 11pm, whereas the departure of travelers from the Jordanian King Hussein Bridge begins early, systematically resulting in overcrowding.

“The logistical problem is related to the very low capacity of the Israeli side to receive passengers, which prevents all passengers from crossing the bridge,” Al-Faraya said during an inspection of the King Hussein Bridge on Tuesday to assess the daily workflow, facilities, and services provided to passengers traveling to and from Jordan.

The average number of daily passengers lately has reached approximately 12,000 departures and arrivals combined, as opposed to an average of about 6,000. According to the Interior Ministry, the Israeli side receives about 4,000 passengers a day, leaving about 7,000 stranded at the bridge.

The Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the PLO Hussein Al-Sheikh released a tweet holding Israel accountable for the situation at the bridge and the conditions travelers are facing.

The tumultuous history and successive demolitions of the bridge

The bridge is controlled mainly by Jordan and Israel, who also nominally coordinate the movement of Palestinians with the PA.

The crossing carries three official names: the Allenby Bridge (named after the British governor Edmund Allenby) on the Israeli side; Al-Karama (the Dignity) on the Palestinian side; and King Hussein Bridge in Jordan.

In 1885 the Ottoman government of the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem built a bridge at this site.

In 1918 British general Edmund Allenby built a bridge over the remnants of its Ottoman predecessor. This newer construction was destroyed a first time in the 1927 Jericho earthquake, when it fell apart and collapsed into the river.

It was destroyed again during the “Night of the Bridges” operation by Palmach (the elite force of the Jewish militia Haganah, a Zionist terrorist organization that also oversaw the July 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in which 91 people were killed) on 16 June 1946. The next destruction occurred during the 1967 Six-Day War, after which it was replaced in 1968 with a temporary truss-type bridge.

In 1994, subsequent to the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, a new, modern, paved crossing was constructed adjacent to the older wooden one with the aid of the Japanese Government.

After the 1967 war, all Palestinian lands came under the control of the Israeli occupation, which considered all West Bank areas “closed” areas from which Palestinians were not permitted to leave, except after obtaining a special permit.

The Al-Karama crossing became the main or only exit for Palestinians in the West Bank wishing to travel to the outside world.

The opening of the Al-Karama crossing came about six months after the June 1967 occupation of the West Bank, in the form of Military Order No. 175.

30 NOVEMBER 1967 ORDER CONCERNING PORTS (ALLENBY BRIDGE)

“It is permissible for the interior ministry and the Israeli police to establish a station whereby permit checks and body searches can be carried out on those wanting to travel to or from the East Bank of Jordan. The police may use any of the powers granted to them under military order 52 to search, seize etc.”

Later, Order No. 466 was issued, which added the “Damieh” crossing to the Allenby Bridge, as a commercial crossing only, through which goods are exported towards Jordan – while imports are not permitted for security reasons.

A bus crosses the Allenby Bridge which connects Jericho in the West Bank to Jordan in 1992. [Source: Flash90]

“Humiliation and suffering”

As the only border crossing to leave the West Bank, many Palestinians have no choice but to face the difficult conditions at the bridge in order to travel, including the high tax of NIS 158 Israel imposes on travelers leaving through Al-Karama (travelers, including tourists, who leave through Israel’s other border crossings with Jordan, are exempt from the departure tax), as well as a collection of other fees imposed by the PA, Israel, and Jordan.

When Israel closes the bridge due to Jewish holidays or imposes other restrictions, a majority of West Bank Palestinians have no other options for travel.

In an op-ed published today by Reform, the Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development, Lawyer Ziad Abu Ziyad wrote, “I do not know who is the person who suggested naming the King Hussein Bridge the “Karama” (Dignity) Bridge, because this bridge has become a symbol and witness to the humiliation and suffering that our people are subjected to when passing through it.”

PA spokesperson Ibrahim Melhem said on Wednesday that a meeting was expected between Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and his Jordanian counterpart Bishar Al-Khasawneh in order to “find a quick solution to the Karama crossing crisis and alleviate the suffering of Palestinian travelers.”  Melhem noted that a date for the meeting had not yet been set.

US President Biden announced during his visit that Israel had agreed to enable access to the bridge 24 hours a day, seven days a week by 30 September 2022. However further details have yet to be announced.

Photos of Palestinians stranded and stuck have filled social media over the past few days.

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