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Reflections on the Jordan River 1974 

 - by Seth Derish, USA -

I peered across the rusting cantilevered bridge to the other side. The fabled Jordan River flowed below, so revered, yet not much more water than a creek in my hometown during a rainy year. The Israeli solder peered at me through binoculars from a green hut on the other side. Were they pointing guns in my direction? The Jordanian colonel quietly said, “You can go now” and kind of shoved me out of his hut after we had played Shesh Besh for the whole afternoon. The Blue Bird bus that I arrived on was long gone to Jerusalem, leaving me behind to fend for myself. I hoisted on my backpack, glanced down at my Yosemite Sam T-shirt where he had two guns ablazin, and grabbed my olive green surplus Israeli army coat, which patches said “Zahal” or army in Hebrew, and “Cohen” for the name of the soldier I would never meet.

I was the only foreigner on the bus when it left Amman that morning, the rest being Palestinians either visiting relatives or doing business and returning to the West Bank. When it arrived at the King Hussein Bridge border crossing, the sole soldier on duty, peered into the bus, looked at me and just pointed in my direction. The driver told me to get off and the bus lumbered across, leaving me in the dust.

How I ended up in this predicament, standing between two allegedly warring nations on a border that didn’t exist, is another story. It all started in early 1974 and involves something called “busking” and a bottle of “Rocky” Let me explain- Busking is an English term for playing music for money and is quite popular in public transit stops in Europe. Rocky is the slang name for “Arak” or “Ouzo”, a licorice tasting milky colored hard liquor that is quickly drunk in shot glasses by men being, well, men.

Well, I was on a bus from the North heading towards Jerusalem to yet another epic “high politics” dinner with the legendary Mr. A, someone offered me a drink off an Arak bottle and after several drinks I found myself on the rooftop of a decrepit apartment building in Athens, Greece camping with a bunch of hippies. When I called Swissair to try and return to Tel Aviv, I was told that I didn’t have enough money for a one way ticket, so I decided to “hitchhike” back to Israel.

I had little money – I was kidnapped by Gypsies in Greece who I thought were hippies, was arrested in Yugoslavia for entering the country illegally (the Gypsies basically told me to get lost in the middle of the night when I wouldn’t marry one of their daughters), sold my jeans in Istanbul, was arrested with some Germans selling a Mercedes Benz in Damascus, and taught the Jordanian Minister of the Interior English so he would give me an “exit pass” to the West Bank.

I wore the Israeli coat through Syria and Jordan and not once did anybody notice the Hebrew name tags. When I finally crossed the river back to the Israeli side, I was whisked into a small room and asked several times what I was doing on the Jordanian side. The soldiers didn't believe me, called the police chief of Kiryat Shemona where I worked in construction and I was released, with just $3 left. The rest is history...

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