Reservists From Elite IDF Intel Unit Refuse to Serve Over Palestinian 'Persecution'

Forty-three signatories, including a major and two captains, in a letter to the prime minister: 'Intelligence is an integral part of Israel's military occupation over the territories.'

The IDF's Unit 8200's base in central Israel.David Bachar

Forty-three former members of Israel Defense Forces intelligence Unit 8200, including some officers, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top military officials, saying they would refuse to do reserve service because of Israel's `political persecution' of the Palestinians.

"We, veterans of Unit 8200, reserve soldiers both past and present, declare that we refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians and refuse to continue serving as tools in deepening the military control over the Occupied Territories." the soldiers said in the letter, which was also addressed to IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate.

Among the signatories are a major and two captains in the reserves. Also signing were other intelligence personnel, who include officers and non-commissioned officers who served in the unit in professional capacities.

“It is commonly thought that the service in military intelligence is free of moral dilemmas and solely contributes to the reduction of violence and harm to innocent people" they said in the letter. "However, our military service has taught us that intelligence is an integral part of Israel's military occupation over the territories."

The signatories claimed, among other things, that while surveillance of Israeli citizens is strictly limited, "the Palestinians are not afforded this protection."

The 43 unit members who signed the letter, some of whom serve in the reserves, say that the information that is gathered and stored in the army’s systems “harms innocent people. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself.”

For this reason, the signatories say, their consciences do not allow them to continue serving that system and depriving millions of human beings of their rights.

Daniel, a captain in the reserves who lives in Jerusalem and signed the letter, said that the process of getting signatures for the letter, which took about a year, started with a small group of people who knew each other from the unit.

“There were fears of how people, and friends from the unit, might respond — if they knew that it was I and if they didn’t know,” Daniel says. But he adds that they felt a sense of responsibility and urgency, so they wrote the letter, Daniel told Haaretz on Thursday. According to the letter’s organizers, most of the people who signed it are reservists, but some of them have adopted a kind of “gray-market dodge” and were not summoned to perform reserve duty.

“I don’t feel comfortable in my conscience continuing to serve, and instead of dealing with the dilemmas and the ramifications, I chose to take a more evasive route,” Daniel said, describing the “gray-market dodge” he has used for the past three years.

“Now, later on, we feel that evasion is wrong, and that we have to take responsibility. In the end, I served there for seven years. I believed in what we did there — and for all those reasons, I must take responsibility for what I see as the perpetuation of the cycle of violence. We hope that people will think critically about these things.”

An official of the IDF Spokesman's Office said that “Unit 8200 has worked since the day it was established to gather intelligence that allows the army and security agencies to perform their tasks, and each day it helps protect the citizens of the State of Israel.

"The unit uses varied methods and many fields while using methods and rules directed toward those who consume the information and for its own uses only. Those who serve in the unit are trained after a meticulous search process using training methods that have no parallel in the intelligence community in Israel or in the world. The content of their training places special emphasis upon the fields of ethics, morals and work procedures. These are put into practice during their service as soldiers and officers of the unit, and they are under the constant supervision of commanding officers of various ranks.

“The concrete claims made in the report are unknown in the Intelligence Directorate. The fact that the alleged signatories of this letter contacted the media before bringing their complaints to their commanding officers or relevant agencies in the army is surprising and raises doubts regarding the sincerity of their claims.

"Over the years, and particularly in recent years, the unit daily has received appreciation that often takes the form of citations, medals and national-security awards. As for the claims about harm done to innocent people, the process of gaining approval for targets in the army, which is long and meticulous, also takes the topic of uninvolved parties into account.”

The spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority's security services, Adnan Damiri, said the reservists made a moral move, and that the Palestinians salute humanitarian ideas of this sort, which come to the aid of an oppressed people, Israel Radio reported.