The IDF will hand down a “sharp and clear punishment” to members of Unit 8200 who are refusing to serve in West Bank missions, IDF spokesman Moti Almoz said Sunday.
In a letter distributed Friday, 33 reserve soldiers and 10 reserve officers from the highly regarded intelligence unit expressed their refusal to take part in any action designed to “harm the Palestinian population” in the West Bank and Gaza.
While the unit members presented themselves as conscientious objectors, Almoz accused them of exploiting their “military service to express a political stance.”
“We in the IDF take a grave view of this, and disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear,” he wrote on Facebook.
Almoz also charged that only 10 of the objectors were involved in work related to the kind of activities referred to in the letter.
The signatories denied that charge and accused Almoz of manipulating the situation by making accusations he knew they could not refute in detail due to security restrictions.
Thus far, the signatories have received little support from mainstream Israeli politicians and on Sunday faced more condemnations.
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich called them cowards for only coming forward after the fact.
“Why didn’t you refuse at the time of truth? You would have refused, been judged, been dismissed from the unit, paid a price and lived at peace with your conscience,” she said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Recalling the case of a lieutenant from Unit 8200 who refused an order and was dismissed she said, “Why did you follow him? How convenient when you are already a citizen to paint the narrative that you wouldn’t dare in the army… Cowards.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said that the signatories had “done a great service to haters of Israel.”
“This is a clear political statement against the IDF and published just as harsh criticisms with no basis or understanding of our situation are being thrown at us,” he said in a statement.
In the letter, copies of which were sent to to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz, and the head of Military Intelligence, the reservists stated that their consciences would no longer allow them to contribute to the gathering of information on Palestinian society.
The communication stressed that, in the opinion of the reservists, such information was often used as a tool to exert control over innocent Palestinian civilians and to turn the residents of the West Bank against each other. The reservists added that the unit’s methods of information-gathering unjustly invaded the privacy of Palestinian civilians.
The signatories, however, stressed that they would continue to take part in operations to gather information regarding enemy states.
Following the release of the letter, Netanyahu refrained from criticizing the signatories publicly, but Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon defended the unit and compared the call for a general refusal to international attempts to legitimize Israel.
Opposition leader and head of the Labor Party Isaac Herzog, who served as a major in the 8200 unit, also hailed its work and said he was opposed to, and repulsed by, so-called “conscientious objectors.”
“This unit and its activities are essential not just in time of war, but especially in times of peace,” Herzog wrote, adding that he believed the way in which the members went about voicing their objections was harmful and that Israeli citizens would ultimately pay the price.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.