Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / June 3, 2020
Palestinians recently launched a massive campaign to boycott Israeli social media pages and apps, especially those connected to Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) responsible for communicating with them.
COGAT presents itself as a contributor to the betterment of their personal and social activities. The Palestinians, however, view it as a dangerous portal for security and intelligence recruitment. The campaign has so far succeeded in stopping tens of thousands of Palestinians from “following” such pages.
There has been a noticeable intensification of Israeli security activity in recent months across the occupied territories, but particularly in the Gaza Strip. The intention is to gather intelligence about the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance. This illustrates both the importance of such information and the threat that resistance poses to Israel. Various means are used, including COGAT’s social media pages and its misleading humanitarian services. As well as resistance activity, Israel wants to know about the problems being faced by Palestinians in Gaza in order to develop a strategy for dealing with the issues there.
COGAT and its specialist teams also communicate with various Palestinian groups using false identities to have a negative impact on the resilience of the Palestinian people. This requires the resistance groups’ own security teams to develop ways to thwart attempts to drag ordinary citizens into collusion with the occupation. They do this by exposing details of Israel’s blackmail of journalists, businesses and individuals who require urgent medical treatment. Travel, work, study and treatment permits are offered in return for information.
While collecting the details it wants, COGAT does not hesitate to try to recruit agents and develop spy networks as its eyes and ears against the Palestinian resistance. Israel is desperate for information about recruitment, arms, training and guerrilla activities. At the moment, the occupation state’s capabilities for intelligence gathering in Gaza have been limited by the resistance groups’ vigilance.
It is no accident that the increase in COGAT’s activities coincides with Israeli intelligence agencies’ lack of security information and targets in Gaza. The loss of many of its human resources and agents in the territory has caused it to resort to unconventional recruitment methods to glean information about Palestinian capabilities.
The complex security situation in Gaza pitches the Palestinians and Israelis into a battle of wits using technology and social media. This is why a boycott of COGAT’s social media pages has become so important. An intense intelligence war is under way.
The Israeli in charge of COGAT is Major General Kamil Abu Rokon, who interferes constantly in Palestinian affairs, putting his unwelcome nose into every detail of life. His Facebook page, which was created by his predecessor Yoav Mordechai in 2015, has 600,000 followers, prompting the boycott campaign.
The coordinator’s latest communication trick has been to create several internet pages on the pretext of addressing Palestinian problems and seeking solutions, including travel and other permits. The “solutions” come from Israeli ministries, so such pages are popular amongst the Palestinians and help them to find a common language with Israel, away from the reality of the occupation. Such direct interaction seeks to marginalise both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
It has become evident in recent months that the Palestinians have increased engagement with the COGAT social media pages, despite efforts to raise awareness of the dangers and the importance of a boycott. COGAT knows that it reaches large groups of Palestinians, including women at home, young people in cafes and drivers of public vehicles, for example.
In essence, the COGAT efforts reflect Israel Radio’s Arabic output in the 1970s and 80s, with programmes like Studio One, I want a solution, My taste and Judicial Files. They were heard by thousands of Palestinians and Arabs and it took some time before it was discovered that some of the presenters were Israeli intelligence officers who succeeded in ensnaring some listeners in security activities.
To be fair, COGAT does not hide the fact that it is working to break down the barriers between Israel and the Palestinians; increase the latter’s engagement with the civil administration; and establish “economic peace”. Many Palestinians want to get work permits, building permits and agricultural support, and COGAT hopes to establish an open relationship between them and the occupation state.
Furthermore, COGAT’s social media activities use the information and news provided by its “followers” after analysing their online comments. There is a team dedicated to such social media analysis. The conclusions and subsequent actions are based upon the Israeli army’s security agenda.
It is clear, therefore, that COGAT’s online presence is a threat and a challenge to the Palestinians, who remain desperate for solutions to the problems arising from life under occupation and are thus tempted to engage with the coordinator. This happens despite them knowing the risk of being targeted and recruited by Israeli intelligence.
It is too early to say if the boycott of COGAT on social media is having a lasting impact. However, the preliminary data indicates that tens of thousands of Palestinians have unfollowed COGAT pages, with the number growing daily in the light of the political and security risks of such engagement.
Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic