IDF general to engage Palestinians' questions on Facebook

“I want to be in direct communication with you and answer your questions,” Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said.

Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai will answer ordinary Palestinians’ questions through his Arabic Facebook page on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., as a part of a larger Israeli effort to engage Palestinians directly.
“I want to be in direct communication with you and answer your questions,” Mordechai said in a video earlier this week, inviting Palestinians to participate in the Q&A session.
COGAT is the branch of the Defense Ministry responsible for coordinating civil and security affairs with the Palestinian Authority.
COGAT established Mordechai’s Arabic Facebook page eight months ago and it has since garnered more than 75,000 followers.
The page features a variety of posts from statistics about movement of people in and out of the Gaza Strip to explanations of decisions COGAT makes on a daily basis.
In the past week, Mordechai posted about the strawberry harvest in Jenin, a fire in Barta’a and a COGAT decision to crack down on illegal coal manufacturing.
The page also includes a phone number and email to contact COGAT.
A COGAT spokesperson, who asked to remain unnamed, told The Jerusalem Post that the Facebook page primarily aims to communicate directly with Palestinians: “We want to contact Palestinians and provide them with information and daily updates that we know they want and need.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced in August that he intends to invest in establishing direct contacts with Palestinians.
“Our goal is to create a dialogue with anyone who wants to talk to us,” Liberman said at the time, adding that his efforts could be defined as “a track that circumvents [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas.”
Palestinian officials condemned Liberman’s proposal, calling it an attempt to bypass Abbas and the Palestinian leadership.
COGAT declined to comment if the page is intended to bypass the PA.
COGAT and the PA Civil Affairs Ministry and other PA institutions work together daily on a number of issues pertaining to civil and security cooperation.
Civil Affairs Ministry spokesman Muhammad al-Maqadma told the Post his ministry has no problem with the Facebook page.
“The Civil Affairs Ministry has no objection to the Israeli coordinator’s Facebook page,” he said. “The page expresses the coordinator’s opinions and goals. We do not believe that it constitutes an intervention into our internal affairs.”
Yet, other Palestinians have adopted a more critical view of Mordechai’s Facebook page.
Al-Majd al-Amani, a news site closely affiliated with Hamas’s armed wing – Izzadin Kassam – authored a report on November 7, warning Palestinians against Mordechai’s page.
“Mordechai is one of the recruitment officers for a secret Zionist unit called 504,” the report stated, adding that the unit “recruits collaborators.”
The report also said the page “tries to act in a humanitarian manner to remove psychological barriers and lure someone in need through posts about work permits, business and entering Israel.”
A top PLO official, Ahmad Majdalani, likened the page to past, abortive attempts to communicate directly with Palestinians.
“I believe these forms of communication, whether via Facebook or otherwise, resemble past attempts to speak with Palestinians that failed,” Majdalani told the Post. “They won’t change anything.”
In the 1970s, Israel tried to establish village leagues to undermine Palestinian nationalists and establish a direct relationship with Palestinians, but the leagues ultimately collapsed in the early 1980s.
Majdalani added that he is certain Palestinians “will not fall prey to beautifying the occupation through Facebook pages.”
Nonetheless, COGAT intends to continue its outreach efforts, developing its Facebook page and constructing a new website.
Similar to the Facebook page, it will provide information and updates, but will also give access to a forum to request services.
Maqadma said the PA Civil Affairs Ministry “will not accept any attempt to supersede or bypass it and will express its objection, if necessary.”
Mahzouz Shlalda, a resident of Sair and prominent online activist, told the Post that Mordechai’s page lacks trustworthiness.
“We, as Palestinians, don’t trust these pages and are suspicious of Israel manipulating them for security purposes,” Shlalda said. “Israel needs to deal with the Palestinian leadership to ensure the well-being of the Palestinian people. They are our legitimate representatives.”