Opposition Leader Rebukes 'Call for Insubordination’ by Reservists in Intel Unit

Isaac Herzog, who served in Unit 8200 himself, writes that its activities are 'vital not only in wartime but mainly in peacetime;' Defense Minister deplores 'attempt to damage' unit; source: letter has symbolic, not practical value.

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Soldiers of Unit 8200.
Soldiers of Military Intelligence's 8200 unit.Credit: Moti Milrod

Opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog has criticized the “call for insubordination” in the letter by army intelligence reservists announcing their refusal to take part in actions against Palestinians.

Writing on his Facebook page Saturday, Labor Party chief Herzog said he opposed the 43 reservists’ refusal to follow orders.

Herzog, who served as a major in the elite Unit 8200 himself, wrote that the unit’s activities were “vital not only in wartime but mainly in peacetime. When one speaks of a political arrangement and setting borders, one speaks about early warning stations and intelligence capabilities to locate and stop extremist forces that would do anything to damage peace.”

According to Herzog, though mistakes have been made, there is a right way to complain and launch a discussion, and it’s not “by encouraging and calling for insubordination, or with a damaging publication abroad, the price of which we, Israeli citizens, will pay.”

The reservists’ letter Thursday was addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Military Intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi.

“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 reservists wrote.

“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. However, our military service has taught us that intelligence is an integral part of Israel’s military occupation over the territories.”

The signatories claimed that while surveillance of Israeli citizens was strictly limited, “the Palestinians are not afforded this protection.”

They said the information that is collected in the military’s computers “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.”

According to the reservists, “In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed. Intelligence allows for the continued control over millions of people through thorough and intrusive supervision and invasion of most areas of life. This does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence further distancing us from the end of the conflict.

The soldiers noted that millions of Palestinians have been living under Israeli military rule for more than 47 years.

“This regime denies the basic rights and expropriates extensive tracts of land for Jewish settlements subject to separate and different legal systems, jurisdiction and law enforcement,” they wrote.

“This reality is not an inevitable result of the state’s efforts to protect itself but rather the result of choice. Settlement expansion has nothing to do with national security. The same goes for restrictions on construction and development, economic exploitation of the West Bank, collective punishment of inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, and the actual route of the separation barrier.”

'Root of all evil'

Smola, a new left-wing Zionist movement, has also come out against the letter.

“Refusal to serve — on the left and the right — is the root of all evil,” said Smola founder Eran Hermoni, a former head of the Labor Party’s youth wing. We are completely opposed to the government’s policy and believe that continuing to control another nation will bring disaster to the Zionist vision, but we will fight it democratically.”

Late Saturday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon praised the “sacred work” by Unit 8200 and deplored “the attempt to damage it and its activity by calling for insubordination based on claims that are inconsistent with its activities and its values.” He cited an “attempt to aid the lying campaigns abroad to delegitimize the State of Israel and the IDF.”

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Danny Rothschild, a former coordinator of government activities in the territories and current head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Herzliya, said over the weekend that both the letter and a letter of support in Unit 8200 “should not have been sent.”

A number of Unit 8200 veterans have told Haaretz that at any given time thousands of soldiers serve with the unit, so a letter by 43 people shouldn’t surprise anyone. One reservist said that because any reservists there can easily choose not to do reserve duty with it, the signatories’ announcement had more symbolic than practical value.

Yesh Gvul is an Israeli peace group that campaigns against the occupation by backing soldiers who refuse “duties of a repressive or aggressive nature,” as it says on its website.

“You [Ya’alon and Netanyahu] thank Unit 8200 soldiers for their professional service on the one hand and with the other hand instruct them to continue to carry out war crimes,” the group said in a statement, referring to remarks on Facebook by Ya’alon and Netanyahu about the reservists’ letter.

“You send soldiers to die in wars of choice [and] bring Israel to nondemocratic abysses with your choice to continue to rule over another people.”

According to Yesh Gvul, “Instead of listening to the clear voice of Unit 8200 objectors, which calls on you to end the rule over millions of Palestinians, you continue on your path of wars and blood .... Israelis will only have security when you end your positions and Israel begins looking for a political solution to the conflict.”

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