An article by the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent about the NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS), which promotes lawfare and other forms of delegitmisation against Israel, devotes the entire piece to uncritically amplifying BtS’s demonisation of COGAT, while failing to include a response by Cogat – or any Israeli official.
In fact, we learned the following: that the journalist, Bethan McKernan, didn’t approach Cogat (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) prior to the article’s publication to offer a chance to reply, and that, following its publication, Cogat sent an email to McKernan with an official response, but the journalist didn’t added the quote to her story.
Allowing the subject of a critical report the opportunity to respond is of course a standard journalistic practice – a practice which the Guardian’s own editorial code requires, and which its journalists usually adhere to.
The article focuses on a BtS report about COGAT based on a selection of unverified, anonymous testimonies of Israeli soldiers collected by the group, but opens with quotes by the British born Joel Carmel, an Israeli employee of BtS, who previously worked for COGAT in Jenin, where he was charged with issuing various permits to Palestinians.
You can read in this 2020 post by our colleague Tamar Sternthal, Carmel has a history of feeding media outlets fictitious stories that show Israel, Israeli soldiers and pro-Israel diaspora organisations in a negative light.
McKernan’s promotion of BtS in her article is at times laughable, and includes this:
The sprawling system of military government created by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a world many Israelis are learning about for the first time, after the publication of testimonies from veterans exposing the “permit regime” that rules over Palestinian people and land.
The truth is that BtS, almost entirely funded by foreign sources, has almost no impact or influence in Israel. In fact, save two pieces in Haaretz, there’s been no coverage of the BtS report in the Israeli media. Unlike the Guardian, however, Haaretz’s article on the BtS report did include a quote by Cogat.
Further, since’s there’s mandatory conscription in Israel, most citizens don’t need a fringe, politically motivated NGO to ‘reveal’, via unsubstantiated allegations by a select group of anonymous former soldiers, what goes on in the military.
McKernan then claims that Cogat is “not subject to independent investigative mechanisms”. This isn’t true. It’s subject to monitoring and investigation by Israel’s state comptroller. In 2016, for instance, the state comptroller issued a report faulting Cogat for “not enforcing laws against illegal building by both Palestinians and Israelis in Area C, and for executing demolition orders in an unorganized, unsupervised and non-transparent fashion”.
In the same sentence, she alleges that Cogat has engaged in the “direct use of violence”. In fact, the BtS report in question only charges Cogat with what they refer to as “Bureaucratic Violence”, which is a woke-speak way of making the morally unserious argument that the rejection of Palestinian travel permit applications is akin to actual violence.
McKernan, of course, omits the real violence relevant to Cogat’s permit and entry allocation system: the bombings, shooting and stabbing attacks planned by Palestinian terror groups that, thankfully, are usually prevented as the result of Cogat’s diligence (i.e., their “beareaucratic violence”) in conducting thorough background checks and security screenings. In fact, according to Cogat figures, there were, in 2021, 491 attempts by Palestinians to cross into Israel smuggling firearms, knives and combat equipment.
To give a sense of how many Palestinians permits are issued: In 2021, an average of 65,000 Palestinians entered Israel daily – from the WB and Gaza – by way of the crossings, for work, commerce, medical treatment or to receive humanitarian aid.
BtS’s report isn’t a serious, empirically-driven analysis, but merely a collection of (anonymous) anecdotes. Indeed, its telling that neither McKernan nor BtS addresses possible alternatives to the current Cogat permit system, and whether any such reform would succeed at allowing more than 65,000 Palestinains to enter Israel daily while ensuring that efforts by terror groups to exploit the system to carry out deadly attacks aren’t successful.
Finally, here’s the Cogat statement sent to McKernan, which she chose not to publish:
The Civil Administration is a military and professional organization charged with several areas of responsibility and activity in the Judea and Samaria area, both by the provisions of law that apply to the area and by decisions from the political echelon. The officers, soldiers, and employees of the Civil Administration bring professionalism, values, and fairness to their work with all sectors of the population, while taking care to provide suitable professional responses to the needs of all those sectors according to the procedures, the orders, and the provisions of law.
We regret all attempts to cast doubt upon the work and the integrity of the organization’s staff, and we firmly reject all attempts to ascribe the organization’s efforts to one or another political agenda based on generalized statements that cite unclear sources and that misrepresent the truth.
Let it be clear that the organization always conscientiously examines and handles cases involving deviations from the procedures, the law, or the orders. Such cases are exceptions and do not reflect the practices of the Civil Administration.