A dispute is rumbling between Israel and the US Consulate in Jerusalem after a US diplomatic car allegedly tried running over a Defense Ministry security guard recently at an IDF checkpoint in the West Bank. The car had been stopped after the occupants refused to present identification papers.
Israel is also furious that one of the consulate cars was found to have transported a Palestinian without permits between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The identification of American diplomats from the consulate at IDF checkpoints has been a major sticking point for several years.
In January 2008, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria filed complaints with the Foreign Ministry after both US Security Coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton and then-consul-general Jacob Walles refused to roll down their windows or open their car doors and show identification papers at a checkpoint.
However, Israel's ire reached a new level after an incident on November 13 in which a five-car convoy of consulate vehicles with diplomatic plates arrived at the Gilboa crossing.
According to a detailed official Israel Police description of the incident obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, the drivers refused to identify themselves or open a window or door. The drivers, according to the report, purposely blocked the crossing, tried running over one of the Israeli security guards stationed there and made indecent gestures at female guards.
The entire incident was documented by cameras at the crossing.
Following the incident, the head of the police's Security Department, Lt.-Cmdr. Meir Ben-Yishai, convened a meeting on November 18 at police headquarters in Jerusalem with the regional security officer at the consulate, Tim Laas. Also present were officials from the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, and the regional security officer at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Dan Power.
According to a protocol of the meeting, obtained by the Post, Ben-Yishai said he assumed the drivers of the consulate vehicles had received permission to act the way they had. He said that in the future, if a diplomatic car did not stop and identify its passengers "immediately," it would not be allowed to pass the checkpoint.
Ben-Yishai described additional violations by consulate workers, and referred to at least one case in which a female Palestinian without appropriate documentation was found in a diplomatic car. Defense officials told the Post that there had been other similar cases in the past.
"We view this as an attempt to illegally transfer someone," Ben-Yishai said, according to the official police protocol.
Ben-Yishai also said the drivers of the cars, from east Jerusalem, hid their Israeli identity cards and put stickers over their names on their consulate-issued identity cards, since, as they claimed, "they are in a diplomatic vehicle and cannot be touched."
He added that police had filed a complaint with the Foreign Ministry and were conducting their own investigation to identify the driver who had tried running over the Israeli security guard.
While Power apologized for the incident and tried
smoothing things over, Laas angered Ben-Yishai, according to the protocol, when he said it was unacceptable for "simple guards" to inspect senior diplomats.
Laas said the communication needed to be between the guard and the driver, since "we can't know who the guard is."
This was understood by those present as
indicating his lack of trust in Israeli guards.
"This situation is being misused, and as proof in the latest incident, they refused to identify themselves and even tried smuggling a Palestinian without permission," Ben-Yishai said, according to the protocol. "The security guards at the crossings are licensed and are authorized by me, and that is how they should be treated. They are not 'simple guardsâ€š' as Tim Laas called them."
Laas claimed that the Palestinian woman who had been in the car served as a translator for Dayton and the consul and that she had been returning with the team to Israel. He said it was possible that there had been a mishap with her papers.
Concluding the meeting, Ben-Yishai set new procedures under which consulate cars would need to undergo complete inspections if only a driver were present. If diplomats are inside the vehicle, they must open the door and present their identification papers.
A spokesperson from the consulate said that consulate policy was not to comment on internal meetings with Israeli officials.
"In regards to the checkpoints, we enter and exit from the West Bank many times a day through checkpoints controlled by the government of Israel without incident, and consulate officials and drivers always carefully follow the procedures that have been established and agreed to by US and Israeli governments for entering and exiting the West Bank," the spokesperson said. "Any problems that have occurred with checkpoints have been a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication, and we are in regular contact with the government of Israel regarding those procedures to avoid miscommunications in the future."
In response to the claim that the consulate cars had illegally transported Palestinians, the spokesperson said, "Any allegations that we are illegally transferring people are completely untrue, and as stated earlier, it is in our best interest that we follow the rules so that people who participate in US-funded programs can participate, and it would not be in our best interest to illegally transfer people."