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Of borders and other divisions

Opinion: The Arab world needs to stop banning books and movies about Jews.

HDS Greenway ran into trouble 30 years ago when he tried to cross the Allenby Bridge because an immigration official suspected he had an Israeli stamp in his passport. In this photo, then-deputy leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Ali Mustafa, crosses the bridge, which links Israel and Jordan, Sept. 30, 1999. (Ali Jarekji/Reuters)

Thirty years ago I was crossing the Jordon River from Israel to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordon to interview King Hussein, the father of the present monarch.

I passed over the Allenby Bridge from Israeli control, displaying blue and white Israeli flags, to the Jordanian side, where most pretended that Israel didn’t exist.

In those days you could not have an Israeli stamp in your passport if you wished to enter Jordan, and foreign correspondents stationed in Israel routinely had two passports: one for Israel only and another for the rest of the world. I put my Israeli-only passport, with its Israeli resident visa and entry-exit stamps in my pocket, and took out my rest of the world passport to show the Jordanian authorities.

As it happened my last posting had been Southeast Asia, and I still had a Laotian visa in my passport. “Ah Hah!” said the Jordanian immigration official. “An Israeli stamp!” I was ordered to return to the entity from which I had come.

I tried to explain that the stamp in question was from Laos, a tiny country unknown to the official, and that the writing was Sanskrit, not Hebrew.

He was having none of it. He knew Hebrew when he saw it, and that was clearly a Hebrew stamp in my passport, he said. I explained that I had an interview with the king that afternoon, and would he call the palace, but no.

In frustration, I pulled out my Israel-only passport and showed him what Hebrew writing really looked like. His face expressed horror as he urged me to put it away, as if he had seen the devil himself. He quickly waved me through.

Today, of course, there are diplomatic relations between Jordan and Israel and such nonsense no longer plagues the Allenby crossing. But in other Arab countries such strictures remain. 

I was reminded of all this when William Marling, a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, in Lebanon, “The Diary of Anne Frank” is banned — a special irony given that Beirut has been named as UNESCO’s 2009 “World Book Capital City.” Beirut celebrated “World Book and Copyright Day” in “conformity with the principles of freedom of expression and freedom to publish,” according to Marling.