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Israeli Intelligence Officers Refuse to Spy on Palestinians

Israeli army situation room. (IDF photo)

Israeli army situation room. (IDF photo)

A group of active and former members of an elite Israeli intelligence unit have announced their refusal to spy on Palestinians in the occupied territories, citing excessive harm done to innocent civilians and detrimental effects on Israel’s security.

The New York Times reports the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday threatened disciplinary action against 43 veterans and active reservists from Unit 8200, an elite corps responsible for collecting signal intelligence and code decryption, after they penned an letter in which they state their refusal to spy on Palestinians.

The signatories, who included a major and two captains, cited what they called “our moral duty to act” as they wrote they are refusing to carry out their appointed duties due to Israel’s “political persecution” of 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,” the letter stated.

“It is commonly thought that the service in military intelligence is free of moral dilemmas and solely contributes to the reduction of violence and harm to innocent people” the letter continued. “However, our military service has taught us that intelligence is an integral part of Israel’s military occupation over the territories.”

The work of Unit 8200 “harms innocent people,” according to the letter, which claims the intelligence gathered is “used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself.”

The letter added that Israel’s “persecution… does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.”

The dissenting Israelis also lamented that while surveillance of Israeli citizens is strictly limited, “the Palestinians are not afforded this protection.”

“I don’t feel comfortable in my conscience continuing to serve,” wrote a reserve captain named Daniel.

“We have to take responsibility,” Daniel added. “In the end, I served there for seven years… I must take responsibility for what I see as the perpetuation of the cycle of violence. We hope that people will think critically about these things.”

The letter, which marks the first public collective refusal to serve by Israeli intelligence officers, was not motivated by Israel’s recently concluded Operation Protective Edge bombardment and invasion of Gaza, which was launched in response to thousands of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas and other militant Palestinian resistance groups. Israeli forces killed more than 2,100 Gaza residents, mostly innocent civilians, over the course of the 50-day war, in which Palestinian militants killed 66 Israeli troops and six civilians. More than 11,000 Palestinians were wounded, and hundreds of thousands left homeless, by the war.

Many Israelis, including IDF leaders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the intelligence officers’ letter.

“The IDF is the most moral army in the world and it carries out the missions that we give it to safeguard our security,” said Netanyahu. “From my long years of acquaintance with the members of Unit 8200, the baseless slander leveled against them will not harm the vitally important work they do for the nation’s security. And I say to them — continue.”

On Sunday, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz wrote on his Facebook page that the dissenting troops’ refusal to serve was a serious offense and that “the disciplinary treatment would be sharp and clear.”

Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s security services, hailed the Israeli letter as “humanitarian” and a “moral move,” Haaretz reports.

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