Thirty-three reserve soldiers and 10 reserve officers from the IDF’s highly regarded 8200 intelligence unit issued a public letter Friday expressing their refusal to take part in any action designed to “harm the Palestinian population” in the West Bank.
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, Army Radio reported.
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 Palestinian population, which is under military rule, is completely exposed to the espionage and surveillance efforts of Israeli intelligence,” the letter read.
“The intelligence [that was] gathered, hurts innocent people, and was used in order to politically persecute [Palestinians], and as a means to create division in Palestinian society by mobilizing collaborators and directing Palestinian society against itself.
“We are unable, morally, to serve in such a system which harms the rights of millions of people,” the letter concluded.
The signatories, however, stressed that they would continue to take part in operations to gather information regarding enemy states.
“We understand the need to defend ourselves, and intelligence is by definition something dirty, and compared to other countries it really is self-defense. But with the Palestinians, the main objective is to maintain the military rule in the West Bank,” one of the reservists told Siha Mekomit magazine.
“We say this not because we read some newspapers or blogs, but because that is what we had to do in the line of duty.”
Unit 8200 is the main intelligence body in the military. The unit is responsible for collecting all of the army’s signal intelligence, including telephone calls, text messages, and emails.
The IDF, in response, said that special emphasis is placed on the operations of the unit in order to ensure that civilians in the West Bank are inconvenienced only to the degree absolutely necessary in order to protect the Israeli population.
“Unit 8200 is dedicated to gathering intelligence that allows Israeli Security forces to carry out their mission, which is to defend Israeli civilians,” an IDF spokesman told the Times of Israel.
“Those who serve in the unit undergo a thorough screening process and intense training which is unmatched by any of the world’s intelligence agencies. Throughout the training, a special emphasis is placed on morality, ethics, and proper procedure. Soldiers and officers in the unit act in accordance with their training and remain under the strict supervision of high ranking officers.”
The spokesman said that the IDF had no record that any of the violations alleged in the letter ever took place, adding that the fact the reservists made their complaints public before turning to military officials suggested that they were politically motivated.
“Immediately turning to the press instead of to their officers or relevant authorities is suspicious and raises doubts as to the seriousness of the claims,” the spokesman said of the reservists.
“Regarding claims of harm caused to civilians, the IDF maintains a rigorous process which takes into account civilian presence before authorizing strikes against targets.”