By D. Bender
Israeli public leaders, military leaders and rank-and-file troops are slamming a protest letter by 43 reservists in the IDF’s 8200 signal intelligence unit, who threatened on Friday to no longer serve, over claims of intrusive snooping policies against Palestinians.
“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,” read a translated version of the letter, reportedly penned by 10 officers and 33 soldiers.
However, in response, at least 200 other soldiers in the unit wrote a counter letter in staunch support of the unit’s operational methods and goals, and dozens of others said they’d gladly replace the would-be deserters in the secretive unit, which is tasked with gathering electronic data pertaining to Israel’s security.
“We, former and current 8200 soldiers, wish to express complete disclaim of the letter which our fellow unit soldiers articulated, who chose to go down the insubordination path and declared that they will no longer be willing to serve in the unit,” according to a reply released over the weekend by the hundreds of former 8200 soldiers, according to Israel’s Channel 2 News.
One of the authors of the counter-letter, Capt. “H” said Saturday that “we read the letter of declaring insubordination and we were appalled. It is full of lies. We decided to expose the truth about how the unit actually works, and the extremely high moral and ethical standards applied there. It is important to show the public that this is not the face of the unit. They are sullying our unit’s name,” Israel Hayom reported.
Speaking at a cybersecurity conference at Tel Aviv University on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the protest letter and lauded the unit’s work.
“I would like to make it clear that refusal of any kind deserves the fullest condemnation. The political use that was recently made, including the voicing of baseless accusations, is unacceptable. The IDF, in all of its units, is the most moral army in the world. It carries out the missions that we assign to it in the best way possible in order to guard the security of the State of Israel,” the PM said.
“I would like to say, in this forum that, based on my many years of familiarity with Unit 8200, I know that the baseless accusations that have been made recently will not harm its very important work on behalf of the security of the State of Israel and I say to them – carry on,” Netanyahu said.
Laying out broad claims of “oppression,” and “persecution,” of Palestinians by the unit, who they allege gathered far more information than their roles require to safeguard Israel’s security, and used it to harass and “harm innocent people,” they conclude that “…as individuals who served in Unit 8200, we must take responsibility for our part in this situation and it is our moral duty to act. We cannot continue to serve this system in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people. Therefore, those among us who are reservists, refuse to take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians. We call for all soldiers serving in the Intelligence Corps, present and future, along with all the citizens of Israel, to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end. We believe that Israel’s future depends on it.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Saturday said he was intimately familiar with the unit’s work since he headed Military Intelligence, “and know(s) the massive scope their efforts play in Israel’s security. The soldiers and officers there are doing God’s work, night and day – 8200 preserves Israel’s existence.
“The attempt to harm it and its work, through calls to refuse to report for duty, based on claims that are incongruent with the unit’s ways and the values of its people, is a base and distasteful attempt to aid the hateful and dishonest anti-legitimization campaign being led around the world against Israel and the IDF,” Ya’alon charged.
“…the people of Unit 8200 are moral, ethical and dutifully fulfill their diverse missions. I wish to express my support of them and of their important work,” Ya’alon said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also referred to the letter, saying that she opposed “insubordination of service from the left or right wings. Period. There are other and more suitable ways to sound opinions and even criticism”, she wrote on her Facebook page.
“To the 8200 soldiers who are in service I want to say this: as a cabinet minister I greatly appreciate the life-saving information which you obtain. Keep it up,” according to Channel 2.
Former 8200 commander, Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Hanan Gefen, told Channel 2 that the “Shin Bet should investigate them: they exposed inner unit information without authorization.”
“When such a soldier joins the military he signs a confidentiality declaration. He is not authorized to determine which information he can expose and which he cannot – exposing anything is forbidden,” Gefen asserted.
Labor Knesset member and former party chief, Shelly Yacimovich said the objectors’ complaints “have no connection to reality,” The Jerusalem Post reported.
“If you did things that were so immoral, why didn’t you refuse orders in real time?” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“You would have refused, been put on trial, thrown out of the unit, paid a price, and lived peacefully with your conscience. That is what real conscientious objectors do.”
Yacimovich derided the group for what she characterized as a “selfish and self-righteous act,” which, she said “didn’t harm the country, but rather the Zionist Left.”
“You didn’t influence the Israeli public discourse by a millimeter,” she wrote. “The opposite is true. With your collection of shallow and childish cliches, taking advantage of the IDF, spitting into the well from which you drank and will continue to drink your whole lives, with endless arrogance, you moved us a step back.”
Hard-left Meretz Party chief, Zahava Gal-On, meanwhile, came out in support of the letter.
“Is it not time for the government to face the [letter’s] content and not be shocked and insulted?” Gal-On questioned. “The soldiers are saying ‘we are serving, we want to serve, but we don’t want to violate human rights because of political decisions not to end the occupation. Take politics out of our service.'”
IDF Spokesman Brig-Gen. Moti Almoz, on Sunday said on the army’s blog page that “there is no room for military insubordination,” referring to the letter.
Almoz called the letter an “exploitation” of military service for the purpose of expressing a political opinion, and noted that only 10 of the signators actually held active roles, and that the remainder were in support positions.
“…their military service was taken advantage of in order to express a political stand, and we in the IDF view it gravely. The disciplinary treatment will be ‘sharp and clear,'” Almoz said.
“There is no place for insubordination in the IDF – there are controversies and political stands, and we in IDF have a common ground, maybe the broadest in Israeli society, and we take very good care of not expressing political opinions in forums which are not meant for it.”