Yoav Mordechai, a major general in the Israeli military, went on Facebook for his first live video chat with Palestinian residents in Gaza and the West Bank last month.
Mordechai, who serves as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), is responsible for matters that concern ordinary Palestinians such as the provision of permits to work in Israel, or permission to travel back and forth between Israel and the Territories for medical treatment.
Fluent in Arabic, Mordechai held this virtual meeting on his Arabic Facebook page called Al Monsiq (The Coordinator) that was set up in March 2015. The page now has some 80,000 Palestinian followers and many of them participated in the chat.
“Hundreds of [Palestinian] participants reacted with ‘likes’ and openly addressed the security, diplomatic and economic situation,” Shlomi Eldar, a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, reported.
Eldar said that Mordecai’s made a point to warn residents: “If you are asked to pay someone for an exit permit [from Gaza or the West Bank] to Israel, don’t pay.”
“Tough economic times and many Palestinians’ growing needs to seek a livelihood in Israel have spawned a flourishing industry of fake documentation and extortion by middlemen who charge poverty-stricken Palestinians high fees for obtaining entry permits,” Eldar explained.
Palestinians have sought work in Israel because of poor economic conditions in Gaza and the West Bank.
In 2015 Gaza had the highest unemployment rate – 42 percent – in the world. According to the World Bank this was because of “blockades, war and poor governance.”
Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist group. The coastal strip is subject to land, air and sea blockades not only from both Israel and Egypt. Israel established blockades for security purposes, as Hamas has openly stated its commitment to the destruction of the Jewish state. Egypt maintains its blockade so as not to legitimize Hamas.
In the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled West Bank unemployment is around 27 percent. The World Bank reports that Israel has been reducing unemployment there by issuing more work permits.
“I am happy to report that the number of Palestinians working in Israel these days is the highest since the year 2000 (when the second intifada started),” Mordechai said during the chat. “Some 75,000 permits have been granted.”
Work permits for Gaza residents were canceled in 2007 when Hamas came to power. However, earlier this year Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said they may be renewed provided that quiet was maintained.
Mordechai assured Gazan participants in the chat that a pilot program was in place to look into the renewal of permits. He also said 10,000 permits were immediately available for those in the West Bank and that participants should apply for them through the PA.
The chat went ahead despite Hamas’ ban on Gaza citizens having direct contact with Israelis and despite skepticism within the Palestinian Authority.