The 8200 affair

43 signatories disparage "main function of 8200 in the territories, which is to control another nation.”

IDF soldiers detain an activist near the West Bank town of Ramallah. (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers detain an activist near the West Bank town of Ramallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Forty-three reservists of the military’s single largest section – Military Intelligence’s Unit 8200 – dispatched a letter to the prime minister, IDF chief of staff and the head of IDF intelligence informing them and the citizenry at large of their refusal to continue any service in the unit because of what they charged were serial breaches of the rights to privacy of individual Palestinians whose communications were intercepted.
Unit 8200, it must be noted, had preempted numerous terrorist attacks and saved many Israeli lives on the battlefield. Nonetheless, the 43 signatories disparaged “the main function of 8200 in the territories, which is to control another nation.”
This is hardly the first instance of such insubordination.
In 2003, 27 reservist pilots (most of them past reserve call-up age) signed a letter informing the nation that they would refuse to fly missions beyond the Green Line “because of the occupation,” which they demanded be forthwith terminated.
Supporters in the media cheered it as a honorable stand on behalf of freedom of conscience and expression.
A few years later, Pvt. Anat Kamm worked in the office of the commander of the IDF Central Command, where she duplicated 2,200 documents, hid her haul and hung on to it long after her 2007 discharge. She basically copied everything in the major-general’s computer.
She did not home in on a specific controversy (which would have been bad enough).
In 2008, Kamm passed her contraband to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau. Thus the touchiest IDF documents – including detailed battle plans whose exposure put lives at risk – fell into unauthorized hands and might have ended up anywhere.
Kamm’s crime – for which she spent over three years behind bars – was lauded by her supporters as an honorable stand on behalf of freedom of conscience and freedom of information.
Kamm and the elderly pilots were not the only ones.
Intermittently we hear of others who abuse their positions, invent idiosyncratic rules or refuse to serve. Occasionally, this starts even before enlistment.
In 1970, a group of Jerusalem 12th-graders sent thenprime minister Golda Meir a letter objecting to her policies vis-à-vis Judea and Samaria. It was emulated nine years later by 27 other 12th-graders who vowed not to serve beyond the Green Line.
It is perfectly legitimate for some members of the Israeli collective to identify with the ideology of any of the aforementioned. But before applauding the actions taken by those who reject military rules, their well-wishers must imagine what their reaction would be if the identical moves were resorted to by holders of diametrically opposed ideologies.
Upon induction every IDF recruit swears to “maintain loyalty to the State of Israel, its laws and legally authorized government, to accept without condition or reservation the discipline of the Israel Defense Forces, to obey all orders and instructions by authorized commanders and to devote all my energies and even sacrifice my life in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.”
But occasionally there are those who presume to impose their political views on the rest of us by defying military discipline and rejecting given orders.
They are entitled to their opinions about what the policies of the state and its army ought to be. Since, however, the state is run by a democratically elected government and since the IDF is subordinate to that government, service personnel who flout authority in effect proclaim that their personal judgment trumps the will of the electorate.
That is arrogant, unconscionable and unacceptable, even if borne of conviction – and it is being exploited to demonize Israel abroad. No offenders are above the law, even if they purportedly committed their offenses in the service of a political creed.
Our national defense would be undermined if every conscript/career soldier/reservist can take liberties with no guideline but his or her hubris. If each soldier were to decide that he or she is empowered to determine national strategy or military tactics, the IDF would have to shut down. So would any army anywhere.