Opinion

Good Cop, Bad Cop of Expulsion

Far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich merely takes the trouble to publicize his plan, while Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai prefers quiet

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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File photo: MK Bezalel Smotrich at the illegal Amona outpost in the West Bank, February 1, 2017.
File photo: MK Bezalel Smotrich at the illegal Amona outpost in the West Bank, February 1, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

While Bezalel Smotrich talks of expulsions, Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories, makes expulsions happen. While the former prattles about the ultimate expulsion, the latter remains silent about the dozens of little evictions he approves and oversees.

For example, completing the plan to force the Jahalin clan out of Khan al-Amar to a site near the garbage dump at Abu Dis, so that the settlement of Kfar Adumim can expand to its heart’s content. Soon Mordechai will also approve the forced evacuation of the Palestinian residents of Sussia, so that the area’s settlers can fulfill their desire for more space.

The Knesset member from the National Union-Tekuma faction of Habayit Hayehudi seeks headlines. The person who heads the Defense Ministry unit known as COGAT doesn’t need them. Both were preceded by others who were partners to the same ideas, status and roles. Citizen S. takes the trouble to publicize his plan, while Maj. Gen. M. prefers quiet. Like his predecessors, he knows that Israeli journalists aren’t interested in his small, continual expulsions, which is why they will never report them. The reporters certainly won’t see the connection between them; after all, what do hut-dwellers without electricity have in common with the American woman, married to a Palestinian, who was told by an arrogant Civil Administration clerk that her request for an extension of her residence permit was being denied because she dared travel through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Both the civilian and the general look personable enough. The yarmulke-wearing civilian sounds to some to be totally unrealistic, while to others he sounds like a hallucinatory racist whom you’re allowed to hate and urged to loathe. The man in the uniform and beret is portrayed as the responsible adult, the system’s balanced, logical one. He supplies military commentators and experts on Palestinian affairs his compact, filtered information without attribution and without fear of the professional skepticism. The instructions given to foreign diplomats and senior Palestinian officials is to steer clear of Smotrich. COGAT, meanwhile, is an official interlocutor of the representatives of the Palestinian Authority’s donor states, and an admired, regular partner of senior officials in the Palestinian government and Fatah.

Tentacles in an octopus-like system

Citizen S., the younger of the two, represents a minority political stream, albeit a widening one. Maj. Gen. M., the older one, is part of the well-oiled, hybrid, civilian-military bureaucracy that is long-standing, experienced and octopus-like: The Civil Administration, government clerks and regular army personnel, the District Coordination and Liaison Administration, the District Coordination Offices, the Seam Line Administration, the Jerusalem Envelope Administration, the Supreme Planning Commission in Judea and Samaria, the inspection subcommittee, the steering committees inspired by or in cooperation with the Shin Bet security, you name them.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories.Credit: Moti Milrod

In recent years, the racist pestering of the nonprofit association Regavim, which Smotrich helped found, has urged the Civil Administration (which is subordinate to COGAT) to accelerate the demolition of Palestinian structures. By petitioning the High Court of Justice, the group that seeks to preserve The Nation’s lands was pressing to expel the residents of Sussia and Khan al-Amar from their homes. But it is the Civil Administration which implements the policy of forbidding construction, of demolitions and stealing Palestinian lands to give them to Jews – in all sorts of overt and covert ways that were developed long before Smotrich was born and Regavim was founded.

COGAT and the Civil Administration act slowly but surely. They also bring one-off bureaucratic explanations for their moves that are ostensibly purely objective and professional. On September 13, Civil Administration representatives showed up at the Jahalin tent camp east of Jerusalem and informed the residents that the state had designated land for them in a miserable, crowded, poverty-stricken village called al-Jabal, which was established 20 years ago for Bedouin who were expelled so that Ma’aleh Adumim could expand. The community’s attorney, Shlomo Lecker, had informed the Civil Administration officer that he was not permitted to meet with his clients without his presence and consent, but the officer simply ignored the message.

The Civil Administration is preparing itself for next Monday, September 25, when the community’s petition against the demolition of their structures is expected to be heard. As B’Tselem wrote, “The Civil Administration’s actions appear to be paving the way for the state to claim that it is acting with good will and has consulted the community.”

Last week I wrote a report, which probably interested two-and-a-half readers, about Palestinians (primarily men) who dared to marry citizens of countries with which Israel has full diplomatic relations and entry agreements. Suddenly, without prior warning or bothering to explain, COGAT is making it difficult for their families to stay together. On the one hand, it long ago halted the process by which foreign passport holders with Palestinian families were able to become permanent West Bank residents. On the other hand, it restricts their visas and forbids them to work.

Like his predecessors, this coordinator is doing his job of implementing government policy. This is how he forces “mixed” families to leave the West Bank for abroad, without trumpeting what the real intention is.

Expelling Palestinians from their lands and homes passes like a line of barbed wire through Israel’s history, from the pre-state era through today. Smotrich and Mordechai are both products and shapers of that history and society, which denies the transfers it has carried out and continues to carry out, while at the same time doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about and why it’s a crime.