A passport full of stamps from all the countries you have entered and exited is one of the greatest souvenirs a traveller can possess. Shawna actually received a Liechtenstein stamp back in July when she went for a solo bike ride across the Austrian border. When she came back and bragged about her stamp, I actually got on my bike and cycled the same bloody route solely for the stamp which she had, but I didn’t. Sadly, the border patrol guard was done for the day, or at least on lunch break. To this day Shawna’s passport is just that much more valuable than mine. It’s true…the more stamps the merrier.
With one exception – and that, is Israel.
As it stands Israel is not the most popular of countries amongst it’s neighbours in the Middle East. In fact there are a handful of countries which hold such a grudge against the Israeli nation that if they open up your passport and see proof (in the form of a stamp) that you have visited, they will turn you away at the border. It’s that simple. No Iran. No Syria. No Lebanon. No Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen. We have heard that you may also have trouble entering a few other Islamic countries such as Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan.
It seems rather unfair to the world of backpackers, that obtaining a stamp in one particular country (YES!!), can prevent you from entering several others (NO!). And although the chances that we are visiting any of those above countries is extremely slim, we generally like to be welcomed wherever we go. With open arms if possible. So, our mission was to get from Jordan to Israel and back without any evidence that we were there.
The process, in theory, isn’t actually that difficult. The fine Israelis at the border crossing are well aware of this dilemma that many travellers are faced with, and so a form does exist, a single sheet of passport-sized paper, which can be stamped and inserted (but not stapled) into your passport. But the problem is, the border employees are under no obligation to do this for you.
We have heard of people having their passport stamped so quickly, they never had a chance to ask for the sheet of paper. We’ve been told that there are situations where they will stamp this insert and then staple it into your passport. The Syrian government (and presumably any of the others) have seen many a passport punched mysteriously with staple holes, and yes…even this is enough for them to turn you away at the border.
It took us about 45 minutes by taxi to get from Amman to the Jordanian side of the border at the King Hussein Bridge crossing. From there we we paid our exit taxes and were bussed to the Israel border. We were told to make sure we asked for ‘no stamp’ in every lineup we were in. Lineup number one was controlled by a stern-looking women with no room for compromise. I talk to the ladies; Shawna talks to the men…that’s our unofficial rule in these pressure situations. Fortunately, the first lady had no influence on whether we were to be stamped or not, and so my pathetic over-cheerful actions were for naught.
Next up though, the real test….Shawna saw a good-looking, pony-tailed Israeli behind the desk and immediately darted for that line….she sensed weakness.
“Hi there” she says, wearing her brightest beaming smile. “We have a HUGE favour to ask you”
The pony tail smiled….
“We are going to visit my sister in Lebanon next week, and so we were hoping that you wouldn’t stamp our passports.”
Holy smokes, when did Carly move to Lebanon, I thought…I need to listen more.
Pony tail inquires, “how long will you be staying in Israel?”
“Where are you going?”
“You are not going to the West bank, or any Palestinian-controlled areas in Israel?”
We had been coached on this one ahead of time.
“Nope.” (fingers crossed)
And just like that we are in Israel, and one short but overpriced taxi ride away from finding our hostel in Jerusalem. We had been warned in advance that the ‘no stamp’ was no more than a roll of the dice. And in reality we didn’t think the worst case scenario of receiving a stamp would alter our travel plans anyways. But for us, this became a challenge, an us versus them competition. And we felt we had triumphed. We were pumped!
Looks like we will be able to visit Carly in Lebanon after all.