Yedioth Ahronoth photographer Atta Awisat underwent a degrading security check on Tuesday by security officers at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.
Awisat arrived at the site with a press card issued by the Government Press Office in order to photograph a meeting between President Shimon Peres and first graders starting the school year Wednesday. After passing the security check, two security guards escorted Awisat into a side room, and, in a highly unusual move, asked him to strip down and place his two hands against the wall before proceeding to perform a full-body search on him.
"I was powerless. I tried to hide my private parts. I felt like a prisoner in Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq," said Awisat, who has been photographing events at the President's Residence for some 20 years now.
"I am known to them and all the government institutions. The ministers know me. I take pictures at the Knesset, at the Prime Minister's Office," said Awisat. "I photograph the ministers in their offices and in their homes. I receive high esteem for my photographs and for my credibility and objectivity, and have encountered these humiliations unjustifiably."
Awisat added that he understands the need to perform security checks, but that there is a long way to go between this and demanding that someone drop his pants.
"Though it lasted only three minutes, it felt like three hours to me. I couldn't believe it was happening," he said.
After Yedioth Ahronoth contacted the management at the President's Residence, Awisat was called into President Peres' office where the latter apologized personally for the incident.
The President's Residence expressed its regret over the occurrence. The director-general of the complex ordered a thorough investigation of the security guards so that such a blunder will not be repeated in the future.
However, the President's Residence emphasized that the security and screening setup on the site "are subject to clear protocols from the Shin Bet, and only this body instructs and oversees the activities of the security at the residence."
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