Report: IDF to discharge reservists from elite intel unit who refuse to serve in West Bank

The controversy stems from a letter signed by 43 reservists in the vaunted Unit 8200, an intelligence outfit that has often been likened to the US National Security Agency.

An IDF soldier detains a Palestinian near Hebron. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An IDF soldier detains a Palestinian near Hebron.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF over the weekend rejected claims made by 43 reservists serving in Military Intelligence’s Unit 8200 who published a letter declaring their refusal to serve due to what they said were a series of breaches of proper conduct in the unit’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza.
The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, and the head of the IDF’s intelligence branch, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, decried “the main function of 8200 in the territories, which is to control another nation.”
“The intelligence that is gathered [in the West Bank] harms innocent people and is used for the purposes of political persecution and violating the privacy of Palestinians,” the letter, which commented only on the unit’s activities in Judea and Samaria, read.
“We are conscientiously incapable of continuing to serve this system.”
Unit 8200 is the military’s primary signal-intelligence body. The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in a statement: “Unit 8200 has been working daily since its founding to gather intelligence, which allows the IDF and security bodies to carry out their duties. It assists in the defense of Israeli civilians every day.”
“The Unit operates through a range of means and in many arenas, while activating techniques and rules for intelligence purposes only. Those who serve in the unit are trained, after a lengthy and meticulous process, and undergo a program that has no equivalent in any other intelligence community in Israel or the world. During the training, a special emphasis is placed on the field of ethics, morality and working rules. These are applied throughout the service of the soldiers and officers in the unit, who are continuously monitored by commanders of various ranks.”
The spokesman’s office said that “concrete claims” made by some of those who signed the protest letter, which were brought up in an interview published on Friday by Ynet, “are not known to the Military Intelligence Directorate.”
The fact that those who wrote the letter spoke to the media “before speaking to their commanders or to the relevant officers in the IDF, is strange and raises doubts about the seriousness of the claims,” the statement continued.
“Throughout the years, and in recent years especially, the unit has received daily evaluations, which sometimes result in citations and Israel security prizes. Regarding claims that innocents are harmed, the process of authorizing targets in the IDF is long and meticulous, and takes into account the issue of noncombatants.”
Responding to the letter, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the unit’s officers and soldiers “do holy work, night and day, in an awe-inspiring manger, with extraordinary creativity and dedication. Unit 8200 perpetuates the existence of the state of Israel.
The attempt to harm it and its activities, through calling for a refusal to serve, is based on claims that do not match the path of the unit and the path of its personnel.
This is a foolish and offensive attempt which aids campaigns of fraudulent delegitimization in the world against the state of Israel and IDF soldiers, who are innocent of wrongdoing.”
Ya’alon added that the unit’s members are “moral, ethical, and carry out their various roles with modesty. I would like to support them in their work and activity, which is so important to the security of the state of Israel and the security of its civilians.”
The commanders of Unit 8200 are expected to dishonorably discharge the 43 reservists who signed the letter that was released to the press declaring their unwillingness to continue their service in protest of the army’s methods of intelligence-gathering in the disputed territories, Channel 10 reported on Friday.
According to that news outlet, the reservists’ fellow soldiers in the unit are outraged by the letter.
“We signed this letter out of a sense of urgency,” Capt. Daniel (an alias) told Army Radio on Friday.
“When I enlisted in the unit over 10 years ago, I knew that I was going to a place that I can do important work in defending the State of Israel. Today, we understand that the situation is different and that the only task of the unit in the Occupied Territories is not defense. The central task is to control another people.”
“We refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians and refuse to continue serving as a tool for deepening military rule in the Occupied Territories,” the letter read. “Intelligence allows ongoing control over millions of people, thorough and intrusive monitoring and invasion into most aspects of life. All of this does not allow for normal living, fuels more violence and puts off any end to the conflict.”
In response to the letter, the Legal Forum for Israel, a non-government organization that was formed to advocate against territorial concessions to the Palestinians, called on Gantz to oust the soldiers from the military.
“These people are not worthy of wearing the IDF uniform,” the group said. “It’s been less than three months since the murder of the three young boys at the hands of Hamas and the exposure of murderous terror tunnels and the firing of rockets on the State of Israel, and they are ignoring the dead and wounded while showing a readiness to harm the security of the residents of this country.”
No names of signatories were published, in apparent keeping with their non-disclosure commitments to Unit 8200, which monitors enemy states across the Middle East.
Several were interviewed anonymously by Army Radio and other news outlets, however, and complained about what they described as the abusive gathering of Palestinians’ private information – for example, sexual preferences or health problems “that might be used to extort people into becoming informants.”
Reuters contributed to this report.