What do COGAT propaganda tweets and Islamic State hostage videos have in common?
Both exploit powerless people in a vulnerable position.
It’s an admittedly provocative comparison. But that’s what came to mind when I watched the latest video tweeted by the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation:
The video features Palestinian workers from the occupied West Bank employed in farms located in what COGAT describes as southern Israel.
The Palestinian laborers describe their tasks – pruning plums, collecting pomegranates – and praise their field of employment and their Israeli bosses.
Tsvika, an Israeli boss, describes his employment of 20 Palestinians from the West Bank as mutually beneficial. They “are satisfied with my treatment of them as I am satisfied with them,” he says.
The Palestinians are never explicitly identified in the video as coming from the West Bank. One man says he is from Idhna, a village near Hebron. Tsvika calls them “Palestinians with permits,” meaning they have received permission from the military to enter Israel.
In the video, the same military puts a microphone in front of Palestinian laborers with the expectation that they lavish praise on their employment that is dependent on a permit.
No one should believe these laborers are in a situation where they can speak freely without the risk of punishment or reprisal. Just like no one should believe a hostage is speaking with free will when she says she is being treated well by her captors.
Israel has a massive pool of exploitable labor because it has snuffed out the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza.
The World Bank stated earlier this year that “Israeli constraints on movement, access and trade continue to be the main impediment to economic growth in the Palestinian territories.”
Israeli restrictions on Palestinians in Area C – the 60 percent of the West Bank under full military control, including the fertile Jordan Valley – costs the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion each year.
These restrictions include access to water and land. Israeli restrictions on so-called dual-use items like fertilizer also constrain agricultural productivity.
Israeli restraints and its siege on Gaza are “hollowing out” Palestine’s productive sectors, agriculture being chief among them, according to the World Bank.
The world body anticipates that a stagnant economy will see a “further rise in unemployment and poverty.”
“There is no work”
Palestinians in the West Bank do not enjoy economic freedom. Israeli bosses would not have a captive pool of exploitable labor if they did.
“The reason I decided to work inside Israel is because here there is no work,” a Palestinian laborer in the West Bank told The Electronic Intifada in 2017.
He and others queue at an overcrowded checkpoint before dawn to reach their jobs in Israel in one of the worst daily commutes on the planet:
The work permits issued to Palestinian laborers by Israeli occupation authorities are often revoked as a means of collective punishment. They are used by Israel’s secret police to coerce Palestinians into becoming informants.
Israel’s permit regime imposed on Palestinians living under occupation is one of draconian control.
COGAT, tasked with deciding which Palestinians receive permits to access life-saving medical treatment, plays a central role in this repressive system.
In dozens of documented cases, Israel’s denial of a permit has been a death sentence.
The euphemistically named “Civil Administration,” a unit within COGAT, incrementally dispossesses Palestinians from their agricultural land.
The dissonance between this reality and the over-the-top praise from a Palestinian laborer for his Israeli employer in the COGAT video is more than jarring.
“He’s like a father taking care of his son,” the Palestinian man says of his boss, “and even more.”
“What I say is true,” he emphasizes.
Why would his claim be doubted? Why would he feel the need to say this?
Maybe the comparison to a captive prisoner and hostage-taker isn’t so extreme after all.