checkpoint - AP - September 3 2010
Palestinian men pass by Israeli Border Police officers as they cross a checkpoint in Bethlehem. Photo by AP

Though a Defense Ministry unit was set up five years ago to oversee checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank, these checkpoints are still run by no fewer than six different agencies, and no single body coordinates their work, Haaretz has found.

The agencies running the checkpoints include the Israel Defense Forces, the Defense Ministry's Crossing Administration, the Border Police and the regular police. In addition, staff work is carried out by the Counterterrorism Bureau, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Crossing Administration and the IDF Central Command. Haaretz found that none of these organizations were certain who has overall responsibility for these checkpoints.

Unlike checkpoints within the West Bank, which are all operated by the military or the Border Police, checkpoints on the Green Line, which separates Israel from the West Bank, deal exclusively with Palestinians seeking to enter Israel. They are positioned at every crossing from the West Bank into Israel.

The Green Line checkpoints are under the purview of the defense minister: He, together with his staff, is the one determines their location, size and operating procedures, the number of people allowed through, and so on.

In addition to the minister, three other organizations have responsibilities in this area, but are not connected to each other. The first is COGAT, headed by Brig. Gen. Eitan Dangot, who answers directly to the minister. COGAT's main component is the Civil Administration, which answers both to Dangot and to the GOC Central Command.

The second is the Crossing Administration, which is mainly an operational body, but can occasionally influence policy. The third is the Defense Ministry's political-security department, which deals with issues affected by the checkpoints, such as the West Bank economy.

And alongside these agencies, which fall under the Defense Ministry, is the Counterterrorism Bureau, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.

In 2003, the state comptroller published a report urging the development of an overall strategy for checkpoint administration. But only in 2005, when the comptroller began working on a follow-up report, did the cabinet finally decide to set up the Crossing Administration. It also decided to replace the soldiers at these checkpoints with private security companies answerable to the Defense Ministry.

The administration was formally established in July 2005, just a month before the comptroller released his follow-up report. This report attributed the delay in dealing with the problem to disagreements among the relevant ministries.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that two different bodies are responsible for each checkpoint: One is in charge of operating it, while the other is responsible for security. At the Tarqumiya checkpoint, for example, the body responsible for security is the Defense Ministry, but the actual operator is a private security contractor. In Shuafat, the organization in charge of security is the Jerusalem police, but the operator is the Border Police.

A large number of new checkpoints were set up around the outskirts of Jerusalem following the cabinet's decision to build the separation fence. All of these fall under the purview of the Jerusalem police, which set up a special administration to deal with them.

A visit to the checkpoints around Jerusalem revealed that each organization involved sends representatives to every checkpoint. Thus military policemen stand alongside civilian security guards, Border Police officers, representatives of the special police administration and COGAT staff. A checkpoint known as the Rachel Terminal is operated by the regular police, while the nearby Wallaja checkpoint, which is closed to Palestinians, is run by the Border Police.