US Consulate sued by former employee

United States Consulate

Alleged terror ties are at the heart of a lawsuit the US Consulate in Jerusalem is fighting; it is being sued for NIS 250,000 by a former employee who the consulate discovered had ties with Hamas. The plaintiff is Azam Qiq, who worked at the diplomatic mission until 2006 as a mechanic. His father was Hassan Qiq, the former head of Hamas in Jerusalem, who died in 2006. Azam Qiq was hired by the consulate in 2003 and underwent a background check by its security teams. According to court documents obtained by The Jerusalem Post, during his hiring interview, Qiq said he had never been arrested or interrogated by the Israeli police. For the next three years, Qiq worked in the consulate motor pool and was a good employee. He even received two awards from then counsel-general Jacob Walles for his exemplary service. That changed in February 2006, when his father, Hassan, passed away. According to the consulate's response to the lawsuit, filed with the Jerusalem Labor Court, senior Hamas officials attended Hassan's funeral, which was lined with Hamas flags. Six months later, the consulate learned of Qiq's father's identity. Attached to the consulate's response to the lawsuit was a flyer Hamas put out after Hassan's death. "Believers of God and the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas consider as a grand master, teacher and educator Prof. Hassan Suleiman Qiq, member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and a member of the founding of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas," the flyer read. Hassan Qiq was known by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and was part of the focus of an investigation that brought down Hamas's Jerusalem branch and ended in 2007. A month later, Azam Qiq was arrested in the middle of the night by the Shin Bet and was accused of hiding a suitcase with documents pertaining to Hamas finances in his house. His brother Ziad, who was an adviser to the Hamas minister in charge of Jerusalem, was also arrested at the time. According to the court documents, Azam Qiq confessed to having stored the suitcase in his home. The consulate also later discovered that he had been arrested twice previously - once for throwing stones in 1988 and another time for joining an illegal organization in 1989, for which he served a month in administrative detention. Qiq was fired by the consulate in September 2006. In 2007, he filed a lawsuit against the consulate and the US government for unlawful dismissal and demanded close to NIS 250,000 in compensation. He claimed that his dismissal was not done in accordance with law, and that he did not receive severance pay. The consulate, in its response, claimed that it had no choice but to fire Qiq. "We cannot exaggerate in emphasizing the sensitivity of having access to the consulate's motor pool, which doesn't just service consulate workers but also serves VIPs who come frequently to Jerusalem on official US government business," read the response filed with the court. Asked about the Qiq case, a consulate representative said, "We cannot comment on internal personnel issues." Qiq also refused to answer questions about the case. In related news, tension between the defense establishment and the consulate remains high, following an incident in November during which a US convoy blocked a West Bank crossing and one driver allegedly tried to run over an Israeli guard. According to a detailed, official Israel Police description of the incident, obtained exclusively by the Post, which reported on it two weeks ago, the drivers refused to identify themselves or to 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. 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, the Foreign Ministry and the regional security officer at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Dan Power. According to new information obtained by the Post, at the meeting, Laas asked Ben-Yishai how could he be certain when opening the door to a consulate car at a checkpoint that the guard was not a settler or mentally unstable and would not give the passengers in the vehicle the "Rabin treatment," in an apparent reference to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Participants at the meeting were reportedly shocked by the comment, which today, two months later, continues to resonate in police corridors. In response, the consulate representative said, "We cannot comment on meetings with foreign government officials. The US Consulate General in Jerusalem values its professional and collegial relationship with Israeli authorities. Our staff meet on a regular basis to discuss crossing procedures, to adjust to the changing needs on the ground, and to ensure effective communication." The representative also denied police assertions that the consulate driver tried to run over a checkpoint guard and that the drivers made indecent gestures at female guards.