COGAT: Palestinians react to damning testimonies by Israeli ex-soldiers exposing civil administration's 'collective punishment'
Palestinians affected by Israel's punitive tactics against the civilian population of the occupied territories are speaking out in reaction to testimonies published by dozens of Israeli ex-soldiers who served in the Israeli occupation's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit exposing their government's practices used to enforce control over Palestinians.
Many have told The New Arab they were unsurprised by the revelations, corroborating and further contextualising the testimonies and reports many of which failed to interview Palestinians affected by the practices in question.
The testimonies were published on Monday by the Israeli ‘Breaking The Silence’ group, in a report entitled ‘Military Rule’.
The report included the testimonies of some 50 soldiers who had served in COGAT, the Israeli army’s administration in charge of civil affairs for Palestinians in areas out of the Palestinian Authority’s control. COGAT is also in charge of giving or not Palestinians crossing permits into Israel or Jerusalem.
According to the testimonies, the civil administration unit's offices and soldiers have often refused to give Palestinians permits as means of "collective punishment".
One soldier gave an example during the Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike in 2017.
“Evey family member who wanted to visit a prisoner, we canceled their permit … In order to pressure them into ending the hunger strike”, said the soldier, whose real name was not revealed.
A second testifying soldier said that he witnessed how after a Palestinian attack against Israelis, hundreds of permits were cancelled for the only reason that their holders were from the same village as the attacker.
JUST DROPPED:— Breaking the Silence (@BtSIsrael) August 2, 2022
Our latest testimony booklet—"MILITARY RULE"
Dozens of veterans of the Civil Administration, Gaza DCL and COGAT—which manage day-to-day life in the oPt—testify about the bureaucratic violence these units are responsible for.
Read it here https://t.co/OhbkkKwdrU
A 32-yar0 old Palestinian from Ramallah, who asked not to be named, told The New Arab that Israeli soldiers’ testimonies ‘are not a surprise, but they help me understand my own experience”.
“Some years ago I went to cross the Qalandia checkpoint to go to Jerusalem, to attend a birthday party, confident that I had a crossing permit”, they said.
“I had a valid 6-moths permit that I had used several times, but when I presented my ID, the soldier told me that I couldn't pass, and when I argued back, another soldier came and dragged me to a room where they kept me for half an hour, then the same soldier cam in and told me to go home”, they added. “I never obtained a permit again, and to this day I don’t know why”.
Another Palestinian from west Ramallah, who also asked not to be named, told The New Arab that “some years ago, the Israeli army gave me a notice that I have to go the Ofer interrogation center to be interviewed by the Israeli army and intelligence”.
“Once there, they showed me an aerial image of my village on a screen, and asked me to point at my house, then they told me that they knew that I wanted to visit the sea, but that for a time they will not give me a permit to do so”, he added.
The ‘civil administration relies on an extensive system of data gathered about every Palestinian resident in the occupied territories, including their addresses, details of their relations and the checkpoints they have crossed through. Some soldiers testified to the degree of exposure they had to detailed information about Palestinians.
“I remember that for fun, we introduced the ID number of some high-ranking ember of the Palestinian Authority and read all his information, just to laugh”, said one female soldier. “I could see everything about them. It was hysterical how a 9-year-old girl could have access to so much information”, she described.
Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can’t go to Jerusalem or Israel, unless with a special permit granted by the Israeli army’s ‘civil administration’. Some 200.000 Palestinian workers depend on these permits for a living as they work inside Israel’s 1948 boundaries.
“People can have their permit revoked for ‘security’ reasons, based on a secret file”, Areen Touma, lawyer at the human rights organization Hamoked, told The New Arab.
“Someties, permit revocation happens without justification, and there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who never get a permit at all”, she detailed.
“Sometimes we help two Palestinians to request permits, where both cases would be identical”, said Touma.
“Both files would be complete, fulfilling all requirements, and none of the individuals has any precedent in Israeli jails, and yet one of the two cases would receive a rejection, and no reason would be given”, she added.
“Simply, the system is completely unpredictable. We don’t know what the reason behind it is, but it is a reality we recognize for fact”, she stressed.
New insight into the "absolute power" that Israeli soldiers serving in the 'Civil Administration' of the occupation regime have over Palestinians in the West Bank, including the ability to arbitrarily deny entry permits. This is the cruelty of apartheid. https://t.co/vmrDXdwbDT— Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (@CJPME) August 2, 2022
Israel’s ‘civil administration’ used to function as a special government unit for the occupied territories, running education, health and basic services, until the outbreak of the first Intifada in the late 1980s. During the uprising, Palestinian massively boycotted the ‘civil administration’ and created alternatives to detach themselves from relying on it.
After the Oslo accords in 1993, most functions of COGAT were transferred to the then-newly established Palestinian Authority, especially services and tax-collection. The civil administration unit, however, keeps a tight control over Palestinians in the occupied territories, mainly through the crossing permit system.
In Area ‘C’ covering more than 61% of the West Bank, the civil administration continues to run all daily-life affairs of Palestinians, including property demolition for lack of building permits.