Portrayal of Israel’s ‘Bureaucratic Power’ Over the Palestinians Is a Lie
What is the nature of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank? What do the soldiers who serve as liaisons between Israel and the Palestinians think of their military service? These are the questions that Bethan McKernan claims to answer in her latest piece for The Guardian, headlined, ‘‘The power we had was astonishing’: ex-soldiers on Israel’s government in the occupied territories.”
However, rather than provide a well-rounded and informative take on Israel’s activities vis-à-vis the Palestinian residents of the disputed territory, McKernan’s article seeks to stigmatize the Israeli bureaucracy, makes misleading claims that are lacking in context, and is overall terribly one-sided and skewed against Israel.
For her report, McKernan quotes a number of Israelis who spent their military service in the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli unit dedicated to arranging all civilian issues between Israel and the Palestinians.
Throughout the article, these former soldiers make numerous complaints about their time in COGAT, asserting that their work reduced the Palestinians passing between the West Bank and Israel to “just numbers,” was boring, and that it took the sense of independence away from the soldiers. One soldier also lamented the fact that their position allowed them to view details about individuals by merely typing in their identification numbers.
While The Guardian attempts to use these testimonies to disparage the Israeli administration in the West Bank, they are actually painting a picture of a normal bureaucracy that is commonly found in democratic countries.
In many countries, the processing of a large number of applications by a bureaucrat can be both mind-numbingly boring and reduce the people behind the applications to mere numbers on a page. None of this, however, is a direct indictment of the system that created the bureaucratic process.
Similarly, the fact that a lowly soldier can access personal information on their computer is not unique to the Israeli administration in the West Bank. Indeed, in many Western democracies, police officers, customs agents, and other government officials all have the ability to access certain parts of an individual’s personal information.
A major flaw in Bethan McKernan’s piece is that she fails to give the reader proper context regarding many of the claims made throughout the article.
For instance, she refers to “arbitrary or baseless blocks on goods allowed in and out of Gaza.”
However, McKernan fails to inform the reader that the only restrictions on goods going into Gaza are those deemed by the Israeli authorities to be “double-use,” referring to goods that can be used for military purposes by the US-designated Hamas terrorist organization.
Even the report by the highly contentious Israeli NGO Breaking The Silence — upon which part of this article is based — does not paint a picture of “arbitrary” or “baseless” blocks on goods, but rather refers to the ever-changing regulations as to what can be considered “double-use.”
Similarly, McKernan claims that the Breaking The Silence report showcases “the considerable influence of Israel’s illegal settler movement on the Civil Administration’s decision-making processes.”
While this may paint a nefarious picture of the Israeli administration being unduly controlled by a supposed “illegal” movement, the “influence” that she is referring to, as detailed in the Breaking The Silence report, is mainly the accession of the Civil Administration to requests by Jewish communities for the development of infrastructure as well as cooperation between these communities and the IDF regarding security in the region.
Aside from the above-mentioned issues, the main problem with McKernan’s article is that it presents a terribly one-sided and skewed portrayal of COGAT and the Civil Administration in the West Bank, reading more like a hit piece than a balanced piece of journalism.
At no point does this piece feature a response from COGAT, the Civil Administration, or any former soldiers who present an alternative narrative to that presented in this article. This last point is particularly troublesome as it leaves the impression that, upon completing their service, many ex-COGAT soldiers are dissatisfied with what they did as part of the Civil Administration.
Similarly, The Guardian’s piece relies heavily on a report by Breaking The Silence, while not once mentioning that this NGO is the subject of controversy in Israel and has been accused numerous times of publishing fabricated or misleading testimonies against the IDF (see here, here, and here).
Lastly, the only soldier that McKernan cited by name in her article is Joel Carmel, who served in COGAT for both Gaza and the West Bank. This is not the first time that Carmel has spoken out about his military service, having previously been the subject of a 2020 piece in Business Insider. At the time, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) published an in-depth analysis of Carmel’s allegations, and discovered a number of claims made by him that were disputed by soldiers who either served alongside him or who performed similar roles in COGAT.
However, just like her presentation of Breaking the Silence’s report, McKernan treats Carmel like an unimpeachable witness who can be taken at his word.
In a 2014 piece for The Atlantic, Matti Friedman, a former member of the Jerusalem Bureau for the Associated Press, lamented the fact that when it came to Israel, contemporary journalism had “assumed a role of advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians and against Israel.”
Unfortunately, this seems to be true for Bethan McKernan’s latest article for The Guardian.
Instead of providing readers with a well-rounded report that provides both criticism of COGAT and the Civil Administration as well as arguments on behalf of these Israeli institutions, McKernan’s piece seeks to portray Israeli bureaucracy in a negative light, misleads the reader regarding aspects of COGAT’s activities, and uncritically relies on the work of a politicized NGO, all in an effort to unabashedly smear Israel.
Don’t the readers of The Guardian deserve better?