Israeli Reservists of Spy Unit Refuse to Be Tools of Occupation, Sparking Ire From Officials

IDF soldiers in Gaza during Israel's most recent assault on the occupied strip. (Photo: IDF)

Israeli Reservists of Spy Unit Refuse to Be Tools of Occupation, Sparking Ire From Officials

Landmark letter of refusal to serve denounces unchecked surveillance, 'intelligence [that] is an inseparable part of military control'

Israeli officials are lashing out following a letter of conscientious objection penned by a group of reservists in an elite spy unit stating that they refuse to be tools of Israel's military occupation.

The 43 veteran reservists of intelligence Unit 8200 sent the letter last week to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the armed forces chief and head of intelligence, stating that they "refuse to continue serving as tools in deepening the military control over the Occupied Territories."

"There is a perception that service in military intelligence is free of moral dilemmas and only contributes to the reduction of violence and harm to innocent people," Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronothreports the letter as saying. "But during military service we learned that intelligence is an inseparable part of military control in the territories."

"There's no oversight on methods of intelligence or tracking and the use of intelligence information against the Palestinians, regardless if they are connected to violence or not."

"The intelligence allows for the continued control of millions of people and in-depth inspection that's invasive to most areas of life. None of this allows for a normal life, fueling more violence and putting an end to the conflict further away."

"We call for all soldiers serving in the Intelligence Corps, present and future, along with all the citizens of Israel, to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end," they write.

Richard Silverstein, who runs the Tikun Olam blog, which focuses on "exposing secrets of the national security state," remarked on the landmark move made by these reservists in writing the letter. He writes:

Unit 8200 is the equivalent of the NSA. It is one of the most critical weapons in the IDF arsenal to defend the nation's security. It participates in myriad ways supporting, and even initiating IDF operations. It is the biggest intelligence unit in the Israeli army. This is the first time any such officers have publicly protested.

These refusers are not Edward Snowden. They are not spilling secrets or naming names. But their motivation for protesting against Israeli intelligence operations is almost the same as Snowden's. They claim that there is virtually no oversight or restraint against spying on Palestinians. That there is no distinction made between innocent and guilty Palestinians. That their goal as intelligence operatives was to subvert Palestinian society from within.

In an interview with the Guardian, one of the signatories said, "It's not just a procedural objection that we have. It is the deeper issue that we are part of a regime that is denying Palestinians their rights. It's been going on for almost 50 years."

Another signatory who spoke to the newspaper added that "what's common to the Palestinian situation--and the situation in Argentina [under the military dictatorship]--is that people get the worst of the two types of intelligence. On the one hand, there are no rules about collecting the intelligence, but at the same time this intelligence might have severe consequences regarding all areas of their life."

In response to the letter, Israeli officials were swift in their defense of the IDF and calls for retaliatory action against the signatories.

Speaking Sunday at the 4th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference at Tel Aviv University, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the letter, saying that "refusal of any kind deserves the fullest condemnation. The political use that was recently made, including the voicing of baseless accusations, is unacceptable. The IDF, in all of its units, is the most moral army in the world."

"Based on my many years of familiarity with Unit 8200, I know that the baseless accusations that have been made recently will not harm its very important work on behalf of the security of the State of Israel and I say to them--carry on," Netanyahu said.

Also speaking at the conference was Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who praised the "sacred work" of officers and soldiers and said that the letters' signatories "will be treated as criminals."

Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Moti made a similar threat, stating that "the disciplinary action [against the signatories] will be loud and clear." TeleSUR adds that Chanan Gefen, former Brigadier General of Unit 8200, said ''The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) or CID (Criminal Investigation Division of the army) should be in charge of exacting justice against them [whistleblowers]."

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