More Jordan links
Israel does not in principle require a visa from citizens of European countries, from American citizens or from Australians or New Zealanders etc. Entry into Israel from that point of view is very simple.
The trip is also quite simple : buses and service taxis leave Amman regularly for several destinations in Israel. The only complication comes if you are determined to avoid an Israeli entry/exit stamp, in which case you must use the King Hussein Bridge crossing (see below). Otherwise there is no great difficulty.
Trust International Transport run daily buses from Amman to Nazareth - departures are at 8.30am from their International office near the Safeway supermarket off 7th Circle in Amman, phone 06.581.3427. The Trust office in Nazareth's phone number is 04.646.5550. The trip takes about six hours and the fare is JD30. The Haifa service has been axed. (There used to be flights from Amman to Haifa, which have also been axed). This bus continues to Tel Aviv except on Saturdays, and the one-way fare here is 35JD. These prices are correct in May 2009.
Coming back from Israel, things get complicated. Trust do not have an office in Israel and I was told that the "best thing to do" was to call the driver - presumably he speaks English! His name is Abu Nehad, and he has an Israeli mobile phone, whose number is 05.055.38762 and he will tell you where and when to find the bus! I was assured that "he always drives this bus!" If you have any difficulty in calling the number, I should check with the office in Amman! I am sorry, but this is the best that I could come up with!
In Nazareth the bus to Amman leaves at 8:30 AM daily. It leaves from a shop with a sign saying "Nazareth Transport and Tourism", on the same side of the road as your bus came from Tel Aviv. If you come by bus from Tel Aviv, don't let the Tel Aviv bus driver convince you that you need to go a few kilometres further to the Nazarene Bus Company's headquarters, because that is NOT where the bus leaves from. The bus from Nazareth to Amman takes about 4.5 hours. You reach the border after only 45 minutes and then you wait for a couple of hours. The Jordanians do issue visas on arrival here, so you don't need one in advance. You will have to pay 66.5 shekels departure tax (in 2007), and then a 10 dinar visa fee for Jordan. There are currency exchanges on both sides of the border, so you don't actually need to have shekels or dinars on you to pay these fees, but some hard currency. The bus finishes in Amman at the Hillside Hotel, in the north of the city. (Thanks to Glenn from Toronto of Virtual Tourist who supplied these up to date details!)
However, there is no bus running between Amman and Jerusalem. From Amman, you get a shared-taxi from one of the taxi offices near to the Abdali station or take a Jett bus to the King Hussein Bridge, go through the Jordan controls, get a bus across the bridge, pass through the Israeli controls, then get a shared-taxi to the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem (if they're running). There's no other way to do it. Note that coming back from Jerusalem, the Jett bus doesn't seem to pick people up, you have to rely on service taxis from the Bridge to Amman.
The crow's flight distance Amman to Jerusalem is actually only 44 miles or a little over 70kms.
The easiest crossing point into Israel from Jordan is the southern one between Aqaba and Eilat at the Arava Crossing. There is seldom any delay here, nearly always one can go straight through (for a full description of this crossing see "Out of Egypt or Travel between Egypt and Jordan"). Of course, the drawback is that Eilat is a long way from Jerusalem where most people visiting Israel want to go. No public transport goes to either side of the border, very often taxis are waiting or can be summoned. I DON'T advise trying to walk it, it's a fair distance from either town on foot, say 10-15 minutes in a taxi.
The 444 bus will take you to Jerusalem from Eilat in about 5 hours with a short stop at the Dead Sea. This bus is operated by EGGED (tel nr 03.694.8888) and departs at 7h, 11h, 14h15 and 17h15 and 00h30, (exceptions : on Fridays buses stop early but leave at 7h, 10h and 13h00 and Saturdays when there are only two buses at 16h30 and 21h00). I am told that the fare is 65 shekels. The number of the Eilat bus station if anybody needs it is 08.636.5120. The buses might be more frequent during the summer. The Egged website in English is at http://www.egged.co.il/Eng/ if you want to check this information. It is marked at present at being under construction, but it looks pretty good and informative.
There are also rather more buses to Tel Aviv than Jerusalem from Eilat (fare also 65 shekels) so if you just miss a bus for Jerusalem you have the option of going to Tel Aviv and on from there to Jerusalem by sherut (fare 19.5 shekels).
Although Dan Buses don't go to the south, their English website is at http://www.dan.co.il/english/default.asp
Coming from Tel Aviv, bus #333 departs from the fourth floor of the Central Bus Station three times a week. From Nazareth they leave from the offices of Nazarin Tours on Paul VI Street in Lower Nazareth. These buses take the Jordan River Crossing route, will drop off in Irbid at the office of the Trust International Transport Company near Sports City, and terminate at the Trust office in Amman next to the Royal Jordanian building off 7th Circle.
You also have the The Nazarene Bus company phone 04-6010458 who run buses on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. They leave from the Tel Aviv North Train Station at 0700, travel via Nazareth and leave from there at 0830. They use the Sheikh Hussein bridge and reach Amman at 1.30pm (1330 hours). This bus picks up first in Haifa, from outside the train station near the large granary in the downtown area. You have to make a reservation ahead of time. It leaves from Haifa at 7 am, then from Nazareth at 8:30 am and arrives in Amman at 13:30 on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. A bus leaves Amman for Nazareth and Haifa at 14:00 on those same days. (My deepest thanks to "hasof" for this information!)
If you need to obtain a visa for Jordan at the border, then the Sheikh Hussein/Jordan River Crossing is the one that you must use, since no visas are available at the King Hussein Bridge. No public transport goes anywhere near this crossing on either side of the frontier, you are pretty well dependent on the long distance buses. Anyone would think that "they" are just trying to make things more difficult for us! You can also, of course, go south to Eilat and cross to Aqaba from there. If you're not worried about your time in Israel being known (no problem about this in Jordan) you can also get a Jordanian visa at the Consulate in Tel Aviv.
If you have previously crossed from Jordan to Israel BY THE KING HUSSEIN BRIDGE, then you will not be stamped out of Jordan and will not need a new visa to re-enter. But this only applies if you both leave and return by this border crossing; for any other crossings, the normal rules apply. Note that you cannot use an ASEZA visa issued free in Aqaba to return to Jordan by this point - see the page on visas.
BUT PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NO LONGER A SURE THING! IT APPEARS THAT MORE AND MORE THE ISRAELI OFFICIALS STAMP PASSPORTS ANYWAY, EVEN WHEN ASKED NOT TO DO SO. SO PLEASE BE WARNED. I UNDERSTAND THAT MORE THAN 10% OF PASSPORTS ARE STAMPED.
If you are still trying to avoid any passport evidence that you have been to Israel, then as explained below you must return by the King Hussein Bridge by taking a sherut (minibus/service taxi) from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.
Many people happily ask the Israelis to stamp a sheet of paper when arriving at all border points. The Israelis just as happily do so. But remember that all border points have a name which is included in the stamp. An entrance or an exit stamp into Jordan or Egypt is just as much a giveaway as the Israeli stamp itself as far as onward travel to Syria is concerned. So the "stamp on a sheet of paper" is of no value at all unless you can avoid stamps from the neighbouring countries as well.
Normally the borders between Israel and Jordan are closed for Yom Kippur and for the Eid al Fitr which ends the Ramadan month. They can also be closed for the Islamic New Year. In these cases, one can usually enter the country which has shut down, you just can't get out again until the next day.
However at the moment we have the possibility of borders being shut for security reasons, mostly by the Israelis, but also occasionally by the Jordanians. In these cases no advance notice at all is given and nobody can get past in either direction. This is another reason why I warn you to be wary of visiting Israel if the situation is tense. More especially if you have a flight shortly, you don't want to be caught in the country with no means of getting out again for an uncertain period. A good hotel that knows you are heading to the King Hussein Bridge will usually check for you that the border is open at least at that particular moment.
The Arava Crossing is open from Sunday to Thursday from 7am (6.30am?*) until 10.30pm (10pm?*). (*The uncertainly about the exact times is because one time was given to me by the officials and another one by the people actually WORKING at the border. This is the sort of thing that makes travel in the Middle East so very interesting!) On Fridays and Saturdays it is open from 8am to 8pm. Be careful about Jewish religious holidays when it might be closed all day, better to find out beforehand. The official times are given at http://www.iaa.gov.il/Rashat/en-US/Rashot
This is the principal point of land access to Israel and is nearly always crowded. It is also here that the security controls are the most stringent: you can confidently expect to be held up for several hours. It is nevertheless very popular with "travellers" since it is the only way that you can pass into Israel by land without having your passport stamped by the Jordan border officials. Thus if you are careful to ensure that Israeli officials stamp a sheet of paper to be inserted into your passport, you can escape the "Israeli stamp stigma" which will bar you from entrance into Syria and Lebanon among other countries.
Be a bit careful that you re-enter Jordan, also via the King Hussein Bridge, within the lifetime of your Jordanian visa. Evidently you cannot get a new one in Israel (it would be a complete giveaway!) and visas are not issued at the King Hussein Bridge for the same reasons as above.
The Jordanians (officially) presume that you are travelling in the Palestinian territories, and provided that you return to Jordan within the one month validity of your original entry into Jordan, will not stamp a new entry into Jordan. Obviously, for this to work, you must also return by the King Hussein Bridge. In theory, this allows you to pass without problem into Syria from Jordan. You must still be very careful that you have no evidence whatsoever of any visit to Israel on you. A sad story was told on the Thorn Tree a while ago of somebody who successfully avoided all traps and arrived in Damascus. He presented his Youth Hostel card at the hostel there, having completely failed to notice that this card had been stamped by the hostel where he had stayed in Jerusalem! The hostel called the police and he was immediately escorted to the Jordanian border and blacklisted for any further visit to Syria. This last is done automatically for anybody even seriously suspected of having infringed the embargo which is rigorously enforced by the countries of the Arab League.
So bear in mind that any visit to Israel does carry risks as far as continuing your journey through Syria and Lebanon goes. Also while 999 times out of a thousand the "stamp on a sheet of paper" is done with no hesitation, just sometimes your passport is stamped anyway for any number of reasons, running from a slip by the border control to your having been obnoxious to them! This is the moment to keep a low profile, to smile hard and to draw on every scrap of charm that you possess. Also be sure to ask them in person and not leave your passport with any third person like a driver who may forget to ask. If you should get a stamp anyway, then you have no get out at all.
But the King Hussein Bridge route has been used by thousands of people to avoid the infamous stamp, and provided you are careful to have no souvenirs or other giveaways on you (shekels in the pocket, annotated guide book, ticket stubs used as bookmarks, etc) you will probably be clear to enter Syria.
Incidentally, countries which I know apply the embargo are the following : Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. There is some doubt about the UAE, I have heard conflicting reports and to be honest I am not sure about Yemen (if anybody knows, please call me!) You don't need to worry about Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco or Algeria.
What to do if it goes wrong?
There isn't all that much you can do to save the situation if you are already in the Middle East when you get an unexpected stamp! If you are heading towards Istanbul, you will almost certainly have to continue your journey by air.
People have tried most expedients at one time or another and most of them have been found out.
Syrian officials are not open to baksheesh over this question. Israel was disliked at any time and now can be said to be hated everywhere you go in the Middle East - what a legacy the present politicians are leaving for their people!
You can certainly report your passport lost and ask for a new one from your embassy - NOT the one in Tel Aviv, let me point out! But any Syrian Embassy is going to ask a lot of hard questions about a new passport issued in the Middle East and seldom if ever grants a visa to somebody carrying one. The same goes for a secondary passport : they will want to see your main one. Most secondary passports are easily identifiable by the length of validity and often by a stamp "Secondary Passport". In fact Germany is the only country I have ever heard of that issues an secondary passport that is indistinguishable from the main one, for the express purpose of travel in the ME.
You might manage something if you use a secondary passport for travel to Israel and then leave Israel by air to (for instance) Cairo or Amman. In the second instance be careful that you arrive at Queen Alia International Airport and not at Marka Airport where only local flights land. But note that you MUST leave both Egypt and Jordan using the same passports that you used to arrive : you cannot arrive on a main passport, leave for Israel on a secondary one, come back still on the secondary one and use the main one to continue onwards. A pity, this would have been a nice idea otherwise...
In fact the best solution for all of us would be for peace to break out. Let's keep hoping!