The 43 veterans of the elite intel unit who announced that they will no longer agree to serve the occupation have made a double contribution to Israeli society.
Like other conscientious objectors, including soldiers and military pilots, these members of Unit 8200 are courageous and moral. But their refusal has an additional dimension, the likes of which have never been seen before in Israel. They etched another scar into the ugly face of the Israeli occupation, deeper than the ones that preceded it, because it involves the darkest and most base sides of the occupation’s malignant routine. In a healthy society, the reservists’ action and their disclosures would have set off real shock waves. But in Israel, all the systems of defense, offense and propaganda, of ridicule and denial, have already been co-opted for the purpose of swiftly burying this important letter by objector-spies.
They, too, are among the finest of our youth, perhaps the best – almost like the pilots. Unit 8200, the largest unit of the Israel Defense Forces, has the right of second pick, after the air force, in selecting recruits. Their image is sparkling – and their future is assured; tech firms lie in wait for them. Their military service is free of risk and – like the pilots – they don’t see their victims up close. Until now, their service was nearly free of ethical qualms. They do not kill, beat or carry out arrests, they are jobniks, desk jockeys with prestige, the kind of child nearly every parent would want. Their weapon is their intelligence, their computer and other sophisticated instruments; their bunker is their office. A large part of their work, it must be stressed, is vital and legitimate. And still, Unit 8200 is Israel’s Stasi.
In contrast to the East German intelligence service, its Israeli successor targets not citizens of the state, but rather the Palestinians who are subject to its occupation. Anything may be done to them, using means the Stasi would have envied. Like the Stasi, it involves not only intelligence gathering and espionage, but also mechanisms to control, extort and exploit an entire nation. This is based on erecting an enormous army of collaborators and informers, recruited through the vicious exploitation of their weaknesses, needs, illnesses and sexual orientations.
Thanks to Unit 8200, an entire nation exists without the right to privacy. The great contribution of the new objectors is that they have told us about this. In their Arabic studies, they were taught all the forms of the Arabic word for “homosexual” – because they need it. They were required to find out about the sexual orientation, health and financial problems of tens of thousands of individuals. Perhaps there’s a nephew on Israel’s list of wanted terrorists, perhaps a cousin who’s wanted for questioning, offering an opportunity for extortion. Perhaps they’ll agree to talk about the next-door neighbor in exchange for a chemotherapy treatment; a report in return for surgery; snitching in exchange for an income boost; a bit of information in return for a night in Tel Aviv.
This despicable collecting work – there’s no other way to describe it – is done by soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, and “every Jewish mother should know” this. They collect important security information, and alongside it also political and personal information, and they mark targets for assassination. A few of them tried to talk about it over the weekend, and the radio and television stations rocked with laughter. The commentators vied with each other for adjectives: “trippy,” “scandalous,” “negligible,” “spoiled brats” and, worst of all, “politicos” and “lefties” – in unison, of course. No one came to the defense of a group of people who, until Thursday, were a source of pride. Not even activists from the LGBT community, who are called in after any inappropriate comment about lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. They have been silent about the persecution of their Palestinian counterparts by the state, which brags about its enlightened attitude toward the gay community.
That’s Israel for you. As long as the members of Unit 8200 were up to their arms in the filth of the occupation, they were considered principled young men and women, and were respected. But as soon as they decided they’d had enough, they became targets for ridicule and ostracism. The step they have taken is a milestone. In their footsteps, perhaps, a few veterans of the Shin Bet security service – the other pillar of the Israeli Stasi in the territories – will also come forward and finally talk about what they did at work. Their commanders already did, partially, in “The Gatekeepers.”
The military and media establishment will quickly stomp on the 43 objectors, but perhaps they will not be forgotten. From out of the deepest darkness, they broke the silence.
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