Israeli Army's Gay Soldiers Must Stop Persecuting Gay Palestinians

IDF's 8200 is one of the army's most gay-friendly units - but recent refusenik letter revealed the unit does not shy from aiding Shin Bet to blackmail gay Palestinians.

IDF Spokesperson's Unit

Members of the LGBT community regard the army’s Intelligence Directorate in general and Unit 8200 in particular as gay-friendly places to serve. There is a relatively high percentage of gays and lesbians among the unit’s soldiers and officers, and many of the people who serve there feel comfortable identifying as gay. The unit’s internal website contains a special forum for LGBT troops, and for many years the unit has held an annual costume party on Purim known as “Miss 8200,” during which soldiers in women’s clothing go on stage and perform in drag. So tolerant of gays is Unit 8200 that its commander and senior officers honor the event with their presence, together with hundreds of soldiers, gay and straight alike. The high level of tolerance is explained by the fact that the unit’s members, who are carefully chosen, come from more well-to-do and tolerant socioeconomic groups, so they are more liberal and tolerant.

But one of the unit’s dissenters said that not all the gay people in Unit 8200 liked what they heard in the interview given by the members who refused to continue serving and participating in acts against the Palestinian people. According to one member of the unit, the reason was as follows:

“As a soldier in Unit 8200, I collected information on people accused of either attacking Israelis, trying to attack Israelis, desiring to harm Israelis, and considering attacking Israelis. I also collected information on people who were completely innocent, and whose only crime was that they interested the Israeli security system for various reasons. Reasons they have no way of knowing. If you’re homosexual and know someone who knows a wanted person – and we need to know about it – Israel will make your life miserable. ... Any such case, in which you ‘fish out’ an innocent person from whom information might be squeezed, or who could be recruited as a collaborator, was like striking gold for us and for Israel’s entire intelligence community. ... During my training course in preparation for my service in this assigned role, we actually learned to memorize different words for ‘gay’ in Arabic.”

This is not new to anyone who is familiar with the way the Shin Bet operates and the sometimes despicable methods it uses to recruit collaborators to strengthen Israeli control in the territories. The members of the Shin Bet put a cruel choice before gay Palestinians: betray their people by spying for the regime and risk being cruelly put to death – all in exchange for keeping their secret – or have their secret exposed and be ostracized from their families, exposed to violent attacks and perhaps even murdered.

In practice, the defense establishment takes advantage of Palestinian gays’ “weak point” – their sexual identity. Because of their sexual identity they are allowed to be persecuted, abused and their lives put at risk, cut off from their families and their dignity trampled. Let us remember, too, that as all of this happens, the unfortunate person being forced to choose between a homophobic society and a society that makes use of homophobia has never done a thing to endanger Israel’s security.

Now that these facts have been brought to light, what position should be taken by Israel’s LGBT community, with the myriad groups and individuals that comprise it? Can it demand solidarity between Jews and Palestinians that transcends national or religious identity? In the past, at the dawn of the gay and lesbian struggle for equality and recognition, some people claimed that sexual minorities all over the world had a “quasi-national” identity and, based on that, solidarity that should take precedence over national identity. This identity is based on shared history, which includes tragedies of hatred and rejection, and sometimes on shared cultural and linguistic characteristics.

Israeli and Palestinian LGBTs definitely share a broad enough common denominator that requires them to show solidarity, to protect others who are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation, and to condemn and refuse to cooperate with techniques that seek to use that same sexual tendency to hurt them.

It is precisely because of this that we might expect the members of Unit 8200, particularly the gay and lesbian people who serve there, to refuse to have any part in the techniques of using homophobic violence to blackmail gays and lesbians, and to tell their commanding officers: Beyond this line we will not go. The use of sexual orientation as a “weak point” that can be pressured every time the regime is interested in controling and watching people under its authority is a homophobic act in every way. The Foreign Ministry, which uses Israel’s liberal treatment of gays and lesbians to portray it to the world as an enlightened country, cannot hide the bitter truth: Israel is hell for Palestinian gays and lesbians, whose persecutors include, among others, Jewish gays and lesbians.

The writer, an attorney, works for human rights and LGBT rights in Israel.