Private contractor disallows personal food to Palestinian workers

Posted: June 29, 2009 by Jonathan Boyko in IDF, Israel, Own Articles, Palestinians, Press and Media, West Bank

Logo of Modi'in Ezrachi - Civilian Intelligence

IT SEEMS THAT Israeli Defense Ministry learned nothing from United States’ endeavor in Iraq – at least not on the issue of private contractors. In Iraq, private security contractors, such as Blackwater Security, were widely criticized for alleged use of excessive, sometimes lethal, force. While Israeli private contractors are far from professionalism, training and aggression of such organizations, Defense establishment ought to keep a keen eye on those forces, who usually never answer questions directly, instead referring queries to Ministry of Defense.

Case in point: according to radical Left-wing organization, Machsom (“Checkpoint”) Watch, one such contractor, manning a checkpoint near Palestinian city of Tul Karm, disallows entry of certain amounts of foods for personal use. According to a report of extreme Left-wing activist Amira Hass, writing for Haaretz, the contractor, named Modi’in Ezrachi (“Civilian Intelligence”) bars Palestinian workers from carrying foods above certain limit:

The company stops Palestinian workers from passing through the checkpoint with the following items: Large bottles of frozen water, large bottles of soft drinks, home-cooked food, coffee, tea and the spice zaatar. The security company also dictates the quantity of items allowed: Five pitas, one container of hummus and canned tuna, one small bottle or can of beverage, one or two slices of cheese, a few spoonfuls of sugar, and 5 to 10 olives. Workers are also not allowed to carry cooking utensils and work tools.

While Hass and Machsom Watch’s standards of objectivity lie much lower than that of any respectable watchdog, such news are nonetheless disturbing. Such behavior is an utter absurdity – Palestinian workers usually take on hard labor jobs – mostly construction – leaving the men (and sometimes women) in dire need for nutrition. It is also true, that while Israeli standards of living are higher than those of Palestinian Autonomy, prices in Israeli shops and supermarkets are incomparably higher than those in aforementioned Tul Karm, Jenin or Ramallah. Therefore it is an utterly disgusting practice in denying people enough food to go through the day.

Moreover, as Hass points out, in another checkpoint, near Palestinian city of Qalqilya – this one manned by IDF troops – such restrictions are unheard of.

What reflects the denial of Defense authorities best, is the response given to queries regarding the practice:

"There are no limits on food quantities. They may take through food necessary for personal consumption during a day’s work. When a worker arrives with a large quantity of goods intended for sale rather than for personal use, he is asked to pass through the goods crossing instead, where the goods are handled appropriately and with the appropriate customs checks. This crossing is intended for pedestrians and not for goods."

In order to sell food, one would have to carry crates of goods with him, would he not? Are the guards at Sha’ar Efraim (“Ephraim’s Gate”) checkpoint blind, unable to distinguish between an additional loaf of bread and a crate of goods?

While accounts relayed to press by two activists (the Watch and Hass) should be scrutinized (during my service with the IDF, I discovered that Machsom Watch’s media releases are usually biased, neglecting to mention situation on the ground), their accounts should not be rejected outright. The Defense Ministry should abolish such practice – or face enormous tides of criticism.

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