ALLENBY BRIDGE (Jul. 10)
This bridge over the Jordan River, named for the British general who conquered Palestine from the Turks in World War I, has become one of Israel’s busiest points of entry.
The normal traffic of pedestrians, cars and trucks has been swollen by hundreds of Arabs on their way to spend vacations with relatives on the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. Permission to do so was granted recently by Israeli authorities. Col. Shlomo Gazit, advisor on occupied territories to the Defense Minister, told Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent Amos Ben Vered today that the number of vacationers to date has been 1,367 of whom 327 are students from colleges in Jordan and other Arab countries. Students from Egypt and Syria are admitted, though permits are not granted to others from those countries for security reasons, Col. Gazit said.
Of the non-students entering the West Bank under the vacation program, 786 have been from Jordan and 254 from other countries. Among the latter are many West Bank Arabs who work in the oil refineries of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Some of them, however, are afraid to have the Israeli entry stamp in Hebrew, French and Arabic affixed to their passports. They are worried that their passports will not be honored when they return to their countries of residence, Col. Gazit said.
But the passports must be stamped because “Israel cannot boycott herself,” he added. He explained that the difficulties could probably be overcome by obtaining new passports. He noted that the Arab countries do not honor any passport including an American one, if it bears proof that its owner has visited Israel.
(New York Times correspondent Terence Smith reported from Jericho today that the vacation plan “has been frustrated by a general Arab reluctance to accept Israeli stamps in their passports.” According to Mr. Smith, “of the 12,000 people authorized by the Israeli Government to cross the West Bank during the first month of the operation, only 1,000 have made use of their permits…They have refused to accept the Israeli stamp, not out of patriotism but because of fear that they will not be permitted to return to the country where they lived and worked after their month’s holiday in Israel.” Nevertheless, Mr. Smith noted, “on any given day more travellers are likely to enter there (Allenby Bridge) than at Lydda, the international airport, or at the port of Haifa. An average of 1,700 people plus 200 truckloads of commercial goods, mostly agricultural products, cross the bridge every day,” Mr. Smith reported.)
According to Col. Gazit, nearly 40,000 persons have requested entry to Jerusalem or the West Bank to spend the summer vacation with their families. About 14,000 permits have been issued so far. They reach the applicants by roundabout ways. The International Red Cross has refused to supervise traffic over the Allenby Bridge since two of its officials were wounded in an outbreak of shooting there several months ago. But both Israeli and Jordanian troops have pulled back some distance from the bridge on their respective sides of the river and the approaches are filled only with civilian traffic, Mr. Ben Vered reported.
Although the weather is hot — the Allenby Bridge is over 1,000 feet below sea level in the humid Jordanian Valley north of the Dead Sea — many of the Arab vacationers wear dark suits and ties. Many come in their own cars and traffic jams are common as the private autos vie with 10-ton trucks for passage across the narrow bridge.
Vacationers going to Jerusalem may later visit other parts of Israel without special permission. Those visiting relatives on the West Bank need permits to go to Tel Aviv or Haifa, but they are granted freely. Col. Gazit said. The vacationers are permitted to spend as long as three months in Israeli-held territories. Very few applications have been rejected for security reasons, he said.