Three months after news broke that a driver and security guard for the French Consulate in Jerusalem were facing charges of weapons smuggling from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, foreign diplomats, entering Gaza, are complaining that the searches conducted by Israeli border guards at the Erez Crossing are “invasive and humiliating.”
After the smuggling incident, during which the Shin Bet discovered that French national Romain Franck, a driver for the French Consulate in east Jerusalem, smuggled 70 handguns and two rifles to arms dealers in the West Bank in exchange for payment, security procedures on the Israeli side of the crossing were tightened.
Franck had taken advantage of the fact that his vehicle enjoyed a measure of diplomatic immunity and was not thoroughly searched.
As a result of the incident, diplomatic vehicles passing through the crossing undergo a thorough search and those crossing are subject to various limitations, such as the ban on transporting liquids, laptops and electronic tablet devices without special permits, similar to international airports.
Some 1,000 people cross the Erez Crossing daily, most of them sick or injured Palestinians seeking medical treatment in Israel. Around 20% are foreign diplomats working for embassies and consulates as well as NGOs such as UNRWA and Red Crescent personnel.
Diplomats claim that Israeli security agencies have unfairly decided to take a too broad approach as a response to the French Consulate incident, even as their home country grants immunity to Israeli officials in similar situations.
Among the diplomats frequenting the crossing are western diplomats from countries with strong ties to Israel.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed that complaints were received but affirmed that the measures implemented by the Shin Bet at the crossing are in line with international agreements.
Measures include sniffer dogs and inspection of the exterior and bottom of the vehicles, while taking care not to enter them, as per diplomatic protocol.
The primary complaints, according to Foreign Ministry officials, are concerned with the long delays and time wasting owing to the stricter inspections. The two sides are engaging in a dialogue in a bid to end the disagreement.
The Shin Bet issued a statement justifying the stricter measures that have been imposed since the smuggling incident.
"The Gaza Strip is under the control of the Hamas terrorist organization, and there are serious terror threats against the State of Israel and its citizens emanating from there," the statement read,
"In view of the high level of danger at the Erez crossing, all those passing through the Erez Crossing are required to undergo a stringent security check.
"A few months ago a foreign consulate worker was arrested and prosecuted after he exploited his immunity and transported, using his diplomatic vehicle, a large number of weapons from the Gaza Strip to Israel. This incident confirmed that diplomatic personnel, who frequently pass through the Erez Crossing, may also be exploited by hostile elements for terrorist purposes," the statement continued.
"It should be noted that the Shin Bet is the body that guides the screening of a person and his dignity at the Erez Crossing. Therefore, insofar as there are complaints of improper treatment by security officials at the crossing, the request should be directed to the Border Crossings Authority," it concluded.
The Defense Ministry, which is responsible for the Crossings Authority, chose not to comment on the matter.