UN Fears Defense Ministry Control of Jerusalem Crossings Will Delay Aid

For several years, the IDF has been gradually handing over responsibility for crossings into the West Bank to the Defense Ministry Crossing Authority.

If the Defense Ministry's Crossing Authority takes responsibility for the checkpoints surrounding Jerusalem, this will significantly harm United Nations humanitarian activities in the eastern part of the city, UN officials say.

For several years, the Israel Defense Forces gradually has been handing over responsibility for crossings into the West Bank to the Defense Ministry agency. On January 1, 2011, the Crossing Authority is scheduled to assume full authority for all crossings between the capital and the West Bank.

Bitunia checkpoint that seperates Route 443 from the local urban center of Ramallah
Daniel Bar-On

UN officials fear this will affect aid agencies' mobility and ability to provide humanitarian assistance in East Jerusalem.

According to a UN document, at least 186 of the organization's vehicles enter Jerusalem from the West Bank each day. Under the procedure that is to be instituted when the Crossing Authority assumes full authority for the checkpoints, each vehicle will be searched. This will take 15 minutes on average. That's a total of 46 hours of searches on UN vehicles per day.

In addition, all passengers will have to get out, present identification and pass through the crossing on foot. According to the UN document, 350 UN officials will have to undergo this process daily, resulting in the loss of the equivalent of 1,330 working days per month.

The 12 percent of the UN officials with diplomatic passports will be exempt.

UN officials also say that Israel does not permit UN employees to use the Shoafat crossing unless they are registered as inhabitants of the Shoafat refugee camp, which considerably lengthens the daily commute for some people.

The officials also expressed concern about food aid deliveries to refugee camps under the new arrangements, which are often held up at the border crossings. The UN Relief and Works Agency brings about 100 tons of goods into East Jerusalem every month.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Crossing Authority is an executive body, not a policy-setting one, and that the issues mentioned here are not within its purview.

In addition, the ministry said, "The main argument [of the UN - C.L.] refers to complaints that have been referred to the coordination and liaison bodies, in other words the coordinator of government activities in the territories, and are not within the boundaries of our responsibility."

The coordinator of government activities in the territories did not issue a response.