Meet the private contractors manning Israel’s checkpoints

Israel/Palestine
on 37 Comments

An Israeli investigation has revealed a 23-year old Palestinian woman and her 16-year old brother were killed last week at an army checkpoint in Jerusalem by civilian security contractors, not soldiers.

The siblings who were killed, Mariam Abu Ismail and Ibrahim Taha, were en route to Jerusalem on April 27th, having received their first permit to enter Israel from the West Bank. Abu Isamil was supposed to have medical treatment in Jerusalem. Unfamiliar with the procedures of Qalandia checkpoint, the main military artery into Israel, the two wandered into a vehicle lane where pedestrian traffic is prohibited.

According to a police inquiry, Abu Ismail and Taha were told to leave the vehicle pathway. Abu Ismail then thew a knife at officers. A soldier discharged warning shots, but a private contractor fired rounds into the two Palestinians killing them. Witnesses said they heard seven shots.

Contractors are allowed to use force, but unlike soldiers who are monitored by army investigators, there is no automatic internal review mechanism for security companies. The Israeli Ministry of Defense has said it will conduct a probe at a later date. 

The shooter, whose identity was not disclosed, is likely employed by the $180 million Israeli security conglomerate Modi’in Ezrachi. 

Modi’in Ezrachi has personnel working in eight checkpoints in the West Bank including Qalandia, according to a report published in January by the Israeli human rights group Who Profits. The security company provides civilian security to government agencies, settlements—including 11 illegal outposts—and at the Western Wall plaza. Job listings from the group target veterans or persons with marksman skills, although “no experience necessary.”

The company’s website says its workers guarding checkpoints “balance between security needs and the needs of those residing in the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” continuing, “and does so with great success.”

In 2010 a Modi’in Ezrachi guard killed a Palestinian from East Jerusalem. The contractor was never criminally charged. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel then filed a petition in the high court to remove private contractors, citing their lack of transparency and accountability. 

“The private guards’ norms of conduct are vague and unknown to the local population,” said the group. “It is unclear who is in charge of receiving complaints against them and what measures can be taken, and although the law requires security guards to wear name tags to guarantee accountability, this requirement is overlooked.”

The case was lost, and failed to gain traction within Israeli society on the use of private security.

Screen shot of Modi'in Ezrachi.

Screen shot of Modi’in Ezrachi.

Privatized checkpoints first appeared in 2006, after the Israel’s parliament voted for contractors to control or support 35 of the 96 checkpoints in the West Bank. The decision to add private-sector operatives was made in the context of a general build-up of checkpoints following the second Intifada as a means to streamline and manage the increased forces.

Who Profits found budget constraints prevented a full exchange of forces. Companies are awarded more than $200 million per year to provide civilian security forces. 

Today contractors are posted at 12 checkpoints in the West Bank in conjunction with the Israeli military, and inside dozens of settlements. Who Profits reported they amount to 135,000 private guards, of whom 50,000 carry fire arms.

Initially Israel hoped the civilian guards would smooth uneasy encounters.

“The idea is to make the checkpoints civilian,” Ministry of Defense spokesperson Shlomo Dror told the Financial Times during the first phase of the rollout.

“The Palestinians will meet civilians not soldiers. Nobody likes security checks. But what we are trying to do is to make it easier on the one side and, on the other side, not to skip security needs.”

Yet private contractors brought with them stricter regulations. They had written out guidelines for searches while at the time the military did not, wrote Who Profits.

When stationed at checkpoints contractors are hired on as inspectors, tasked with interfacing more closely with Palestinians than the Israeli military or border police. The civilian agents do not wear identifying badges and often dress in uniforms that do not include a company insignia.

Despite a wide swap out of soldiers for forces for-hire, many Palestinians are unaware private security contractors work at Qalandia checkpoint.

“Most of the people who go through the checkpoints cannot distinguish between these two groups,” Who Profits said. Although there is a popular line of questioning raised by private contractors and not the military: food.

Who Profits noted contractors are unbending on the prohibition.  “The regulations are very strict and they deal with every small detail such as the amount of food a Palestinian working in Israel is allowed to bring with him. The arbitrary allotment prohibits, for example, bringing in big bottles of water and oil or cooked meals.”

A second private Israeli company, Sheleg Lavan, operates in a further seven checkpoints in the West Bank.

Aside from inspectors, security contractors support checkpoints with high-tech systems of identifications. In addition to presenting their identification cards, at Qalandia Palestinians workers with permits to enter Israel must undergo fingerprinting and facial recognition tests. The software is sold to Israel’s Ministry of Defense by the American company Hewitt-Packard. Who Profits said the technology was developed with a subsidy from the U.S. government, a line-item in the Wye River Memorandum, or the 1998 round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Another contractor, G4S Israel, sells machines for full body scans conducted at checkpoints. The company is an Israeli-owned subsidiary of the British-Danish group known for operating private prisons, Group4Securior(G4S).

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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37 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    May 5, 2016, 12:20 pm

    why won’t the military release the footage of the executions?

    • a blah chick
      May 5, 2016, 7:26 pm

      Annie, good CGI takes time. No doubt they are checking with the Ministry of Defense on what the Hamas dudes are wearing now.

    • just
      May 5, 2016, 8:17 pm

      Good question, Annie.

      I would also like to see the footage of when “Abu Ismail then thew a knife at officers”.

    • Talkback
      May 6, 2016, 9:00 am

      Why does a dog lick its … ehm… never mind.

  2. eljay
    May 5, 2016, 12:30 pm

    … “The idea is to make the checkpoints civilian,” Ministry of Defense spokesperson Shlomo Dror told the Financial Times …

    The idea should be to end the occupation and colonization of territory outside of Israel’s / Partition borders. No occupation, no need for checkpoints.

    … “The Palestinians will meet civilians not soldiers. Nobody likes security checks. But what we are trying to do is to make it easier on the one side and, on the other side, not to skip security needs.” …

    You can make it easier on the Palestinians by getting the f*ck out of not-Israel. Security happens at your / Partition border, not in someone else’s territory.

    • Talkback
      May 6, 2016, 9:02 am

      Israel is a civilized country. The next project is to make killing Palestinians more humane.

  3. John O
    May 5, 2016, 12:31 pm

    “Another contractor, G4S Israel, sells machines for full body scans conducted at checkpoints. The company is an Israeli-owned subsidiary of the British-Danish group known for operating private prisons, Group4Securior(G4S).”

    In England the Ministry of Justice has today taken over running a prison from G4S following serious complaints. G4S, so incompetent that the British Army had to take over security from them at the 2012 Olympics.

    “Today contractors are posted at 12 checkpoints in the West Bank in conjunction with the Israeli military, and inside dozens of settlements. Who Profits reported they amount to 135,000 private guards, of whom 50,000 carry fire arms. ”

    That’s more personnel than the entire British Army!

    • Citizen
      May 6, 2016, 5:38 am

      Yes, the regular British army has 82,000 personnel as of last March.

    • Citizen
      May 6, 2016, 5:54 am

      Israel has a 633 personnel army, the world’s 5th largest.

    • pabelmont
      May 6, 2016, 8:04 am

      Isn’t capitalism (or is it neoliberalism thee days) really sumpin? Why on earth does any government (which can, as Israel does, conscript soldiers) pay good money to hire civilians to do military work? Answer: to make money for private enterprise at unnecessary government expense. USA has been doing it for years (hiring soldiers — recall Blackwater) and even analysts to work at CIA, NSA. Of course, training, supervision, and selection of such non-government personnel is not as good as the army (or CIA or NSA) would do, but you cannot have everything, and private profits must be continued (at all costs).

      • YoniFalic
        May 6, 2016, 8:17 am

        The USA uses contractors because there is neither compulsory draft and nor compulsory military service.

        Israel has both compulsory draft and also compulsory military service for the invader population. Therefore, one would think there is no need for contractors, but compulsory military service creates a small but increasing class of people like me that hate and despise everything about Israel and about Zionism, that are very vocal, and that may eventually have the effect of undermining the existence of the State of Israel.

        Hence there is a push to use contractors at confrontation points. Of course, because of reserve duty, there is less distinction between an IDF soldier and an Israeli private contractor than there is between a US soldier and a US private contractor.

      • John O
        May 6, 2016, 8:55 am

        “Why on earth does any government (which can, as Israel does, conscript soldiers) pay good money to hire civilians to do military work?”

        A good question, and I suspect the answer is that, even with conscription, Israel simply doesn’t have sufficient numbers to provide armed guards for the ever-expanding settlements. Manning a checkpoint is hardly productive labour, so it becomes an ever-increasing drain on the country’s economy. Add to this the increasing difficulty of selling products from illegal settlements to the outside world, and the collapse of Israel as currently (non-)constituted becomes pretty much inevitable.

      • Shmuel
        May 6, 2016, 9:10 am

        Pabelmont,

        The neoliberal fetish for outsourcing is definitely a part of it, but there’s more to “outsourcing violations” (as Neve Gordon calls it) than economics: less accountability/transparency, deniability, etc. In the case of the checkpoints Israel wants nothing more than to downplay the military occupation of the WB, trying to pass off the checkpoints as “border crossings” just like between any two countries, with “terminals” and civilian guards.

        See Neve Gordon, “Outsourcing Violations: The Israeli Case”: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=562022

        And for those who read Hebrew, Eilat Maoz, “הפרטת המחסומים והכיבוש המאוחר”:
        http://www.tarabut.info/he/articles/article/privatization-occupation/

      • Mooser
        May 6, 2016, 10:34 am

        “A good question, and I suspect the answer is that…”

        They think outsourcing to a private firm will provide legal immunity for the GOI? Another degree of separation from responsibility?

  4. Mooser
    May 5, 2016, 6:21 pm

    Thank you , Allison.

  5. talknic
    May 5, 2016, 8:31 pm

    Armed civilians in Occupied Territories are belligerents, AKA valid military targets

    • Talkback
      May 6, 2016, 9:03 am

      No, they are not. Only if they take part in hostilities.

      • Mooser
        May 6, 2016, 10:37 am

        ” Only if they take part in hostilities.”

        Hostility is ongoing. Isn’t the entire settlement program a hostility?

      • talknic
        May 6, 2016, 12:15 pm

        Armed civilians in Occupied Territories serving the Occupying Power ARE taking part in hostilities

      • Talkback
        May 7, 2016, 8:07 am

        @ Mooser
        Hostilities means attacking each other, etc.

        @ talknic
        Some of them are sometimes. But simply carrying a weapon doesn’t mean that you are taking part in hostilities. If they actually do take part in hostitlities they are not longer “civilians”, but legitimate targets.

        Do you otherweise want to argue that someone is allowed to shoot someone for simply carrying a weapon?

      • talknic
        May 7, 2016, 8:59 am

        @ Talkback

        “… simply carrying a weapon doesn’t mean that you are taking part in hostilities”

        Carrying a weapon is a threat to use it. Otherwise there’s no point in carrying a weapon

        “Do you otherweise want to argue that someone is allowed to shoot someone for simply carrying a weapon?”

        Wake up. It happens all the time

      • talknic
        May 7, 2016, 10:58 am

        @ Talkback

        We are talking about the situation in Occupied Territories. Occupation is a military operation.

        Civilians of the Occupying Power are prohibited from entering Occupied Territory. If they’re armed and in Occupied Territory they’re military targets

      • Jon66
        May 7, 2016, 11:37 am

        Talknic,

        “Civilians of the Occupying Power are prohibited from entering Occupied Territory. – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/05/contractors-israels-checkpoints/#comment-166080
        That is not correct. Can you cite a prohibition of civilians entering occupied territory? There are myriad legitimate reasons for civilians to be in occupied territory. In fact, under the obligation of the occupying power to maintain order, law, and health it would be irresponsible for the occupying power not to have civilians enter the territory.

        If carrying a gun makes you a target, does carrying a knife also?

      • Mooser
        May 7, 2016, 11:45 am

        “We are talking about the situation in Occupied Territories. Occupation is a military operation.
        Civilians of the Occupying Power are prohibited from entering Occupied Territory. If they’re armed and in Occupied Territory they’re military targets”

        “talkback” will simply refuse to recognize that. We’ve been through this before.

      • Mooser
        May 7, 2016, 12:00 pm

        “Hostilities means attacking each other, etc.”

        Oh please. Colonizing outside of Israel is hostile. Stop the BS.

        Unless, of course, you think that Jews have some prior claim on the land. Do you, “talkback”? A “Torah land-deed” maybe?

      • MHughes976
        May 7, 2016, 2:58 pm

        Someone carrying a weapon and part of an organised group, ready to act lethally on the orders of leaders or in spontaneous defence of the organisation and its aims, is surely either a combatant or a member of a criminal gang. The imperative to spare noncombatants is based on the idea that you should not draw your sword against anyone who you cannot reasonably fear will, on some plan of their own or in immediate response or retaliation, draw a sword against you: what else? If someone is part of an organisation bristling with swords he is in arms and stands between you and your objectives. He is part of what you must expect to face in combat.
        That’s not the whole story, of course – your objectives have to be justified in many ways. I think a genuine occupation,,with the clear intention of restoring local sovereignty soon, is a legitimate firm of government which there is no right to resist. Conquest is different.

      • Mooser
        May 7, 2016, 5:26 pm

        ” I think a genuine occupation,,with the clear intention of restoring local sovereignty soon, is a legitimate firm of government which there is no right to resist. “

        And who, or what, are the Palestinians supposed to surrender to, and on what terms, so a legal occupation (with the intent of restoring local sovereignty…) can take place?

      • Mooser
        May 7, 2016, 5:30 pm

        “If carrying a gun makes you a target, does carrying a knife also?”

        You never know, the girl might throw the knife, and stick it right through your throat from 200 yards away!

        Why don’t you tell us about the Torah land-deed? You believe in that too, don’t you?

        “Armed civilians in Occupied Territories serving the Occupying Power ARE taking part in hostilities” “talknic”

        (“talknic”, no matter how many times you go over it, they just refuse to believe those settlers could be doing anything wrong. They think the Israelis, or whatever they are, have every right to steal the land in Palestine. I think it’s got something to do with the Torah or the Talmud. They just go their to pray, cause the GPS co-ordinates a Biblically correct.)

      • MHughes976
        May 8, 2016, 12:58 pm

        Well Mooser, I can’t think of any way to transmute the attempted conquest of Palestine that is going on now into a genuine and legitimate occupation except perhaps an Israeli statement, made credibly and in good faith, that they will hand over to a government elected – matters to be organised immediately – by the people now living under their military control, that they fully acknowledge that the place is not theirs and that no attempts will be made to limit sovereignty after their withdrawal. I don’t expect this to happen and even if it did happen it would not make the Israeli regime in 48 Palestine legitimate. Occupation is an unduly lenient word for what is going on.

      • talknic
        May 8, 2016, 11:11 pm

        Jon66

        // Talknic,

        “Civilians of the Occupying Power are prohibited from entering Occupied Territory //

        “That is not correct. Can you cite a prohibition of civilians entering occupied territory? “

        Under Israeli emergency Law of 1948 still current, citizens and residents of Israel are prohibited from entering the territory of a hostile entity. The Occupied Territories are hostile to the Occupying Power, Israel.

        “There are myriad legitimate reasons for civilians to be in occupied territory. “

        Name one.

        “If carrying a gun makes you a target, does carrying a knife also?”

        Ever tried harvesting broccoli with a gun?

      • Talkback
        May 11, 2016, 3:48 pm

        Talknic: “Carrying a weapon is a threat to use it. Otherwise there’s no point in carrying a weapon”

        One can also carry a gun for self defence.

        Talknick: “Wake up. It happens all the time”

        My question is, if it is allowed, not if it happens.

        Talknic: “If they’re armed and in Occupied Territory they’re military targets”

        Says who? Certainly not the IRC.

        mooser: ““talkback” will simply refuse to recognize that.”

        I do recognize that Talknic makes this claim and has no source to back it up.

        mooser: “Oh please. Colonizing outside of Israel is hostile. Stop the BS.”

        I never said that it isn’t. But hostilities in this context means something else. But feel free twisting my words.

      • Mooser
        May 11, 2016, 4:03 pm

        “One can also carry a gun for self defence.”

        If an Israeli feels he needs a gun for “self defence” in the Occupied Territory maybe he shouldn’t be there. If an Israeli has a legitimate reason to be there, the occupying army is responsible for providing security, I would think.

        Can you think of why an armed Israeli (a private individual) would need to be in occupied territory? Why are you so adamant that armed Israelis, private citizens, need to be in occupied territory?

      • Talkback
        May 12, 2016, 9:19 am

        Mooser: “If an Israeli feels he needs a gun for “self defence” in the Occupied Territory maybe he shouldn’t be there.”

        The point of issue is that neither a settler nor a Palestinians who is simply carrying a weapon is ipso facto a “valid military” target. Settlers are first and foremost illegal residents who should be deported to their home country. If posession of weapon is illegal according to the local law of the occupied then he also should be disarmed and punished for illegal posession. But all of this doesn’t make him a “valid military target”.

  6. Shmuel
    May 6, 2016, 1:57 am

    The checkpoints are holy temples, where the god of occupation meets the god of outsourcing. Who profits (prophets?) indeed.

  7. Ellen
    May 6, 2016, 11:15 am

    G4S is the security contractor for US Embassies in the Middle East.

    The GS4 employees are very poorly paid and have often horrific housing conditions , where (according to State Dept. employees) they are expected to “find” their own mattress.

  8. Boo
    May 6, 2016, 12:08 pm

    “The civilian agents do not wear identifying badges and often dress in uniforms that do not include a company insignia.”

    Ah, yes. Blood brothers of Kosovo’s “little green men”.

  9. BenYehudah
    May 10, 2016, 5:33 pm

    You mean Hewlett-Packard, not Hewitt-Packard. If the name is wrong, the shame doesn’t pong!

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