Machsom Watch: Roadblock operating 'dungeon'
Palestinian, Israeli activists slam security guards operating checkpoint near Jenin, claim man who fainted there last week held in 'tiny dungeon' deprived of air for over an hour. Defense Ministry: Surveillance cameras show man was there for less than three minutes
For several months now the Reihan checkpoint in the northern West Bank has been operated by a private security firm. Palestinians in the area and activists from Machsom Watch have alleged that
the company detains those requiring a more extensive security check in a 'tiny dungeon' without proper ventilation or facilities.
"The dungeon is seven feet on seven feet and even with the hot weather these past few weeks, it doesn't have a fan or a window or a chair," said Ghassan Qabha, municipal chairman of the nearby Palestinian village of Barta'a.
"Sometimes they cram four or five people there at the same time. There were also times when they crammed 20 people into that dungeon together. The wait can be a matter of minutes, but it can also be more than an hour."
Qabha said that a local Palestinian crossing the checkpoint last week fainted in the small room after being detained for an hour. Several others were also being held in the room at the same time.
"It all started when the security guard asked the man, Abdullah, why he was holding a bag of milk. Abdullah told him it was none of his business and the guard took him to the 'detainment room' until the milk was screened. It took almost an hour and Abdullah simply lost consciousness due to the lack of oxygen.
"The guards called an ambulance from Jenin but I was there and I told them: It's your fault he fainted, you care for him. And indeed, in the end the IDF took him to a hospital in Hadera," he said.
According to Qabha this is not an isolated incident and he often hears of numerous similar cases. "We do not have a problem with the security company or with the security check, but the right equipment and conditions must be available. Don't throw people into deadly places like this dungeon," he said.
The Barta'a municipality has complained to the District Coordination and Liaison office about the conditions at Reihan, but no changes have been made.
Machsom Watch said Palestinians, including women, are forced into small unventilated rooms without water while the security guards work slowly from air-conditioned rooms. "The security company's behavior seriously impairs Palestinian movement," they said.
Defense Ministry denies accusationsThe Defense Ministry said in response that the security company hired to operate the crossing provides a high quality level of service, with the checkpoint manager conducting regular meetings with the Barta'a municipal chairman to discuss any problems.
"Last week, during the meeting with the municipal chairman, the manager was alerted to the examination room following the collapse of one of the men crossing the checkpoint. A military doctor treated him at the scene and due to the delay in the arrival of a Palestinian ambulance, the checkpoint manager asked for special permission to take the man to a hospital inside Israel. The authorization was given by the DCO and the man was quickly transported to Hadera.
"In inquiry into the incident, which was documented by surveillance cameras, the man is seen arriving, being going through a security check and then a more extensive security check as he exhibited suspicious behavior.
As for the 'dungeon,' the ministry said: "The room in question is ventilated and those being checked there are in it for two-to-three minutes. We will continue to provide adequate service to those crossing and continue to make improvements, as we have done thus far with the cooperation of the municipal chairman."