Palestinians hail 8200 protest letter: Proof some Israelis reject occupation
After Ynet's print publication breaks letter signed by 43 reservists lamenting IDF intelligence gather practices on Palestinians, vowing not to serve as reservist in such missions, former-MI commander says letter represents 'fringe percentage' of soldiers.
"If there are, among the Israelis, 43 soldiers who reject the idea of occupation, we view this as a moral act," Palestinian security services' spokesman Adnan Damiri said. "We salute humanitarian ideas like this toward an oppressed people."
A protest letter signed by 43 veterans of Unit 8200, was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, it was dismissed by the military as a publicity stunt by a small fringe.
By decrying the sweep of eavesdropping on Palestinians, and the role such espionage plays in setting up air strikes that have often inflicted civilian casualties, the move opened a window on clandestine practices that usually go unreported.
It also tapped into wider international debate over the ethics of state surveillance following last year's media leaks by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), the US counterpart to Unit 8200.
"We refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians and refuse to continue serving as a tool for deepening military rule in the occupied (Palestinian) territories," Yedioth Ahronoth, Ynet's sister print publication quoted the letter.
"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."
No signatories' names were published, in apparent keeping with their non-disclosure commitments to Unit 8200, which monitors enemy states and as well as the Palestinians.
Several were interviewed anonymously by Yedioth, 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".
The IDF spokesman's said in a statement that Unit 8200 personnel were held to ethical standards "without rival in the intelligence community in Israel or the world", and had internal mechanisms for filing misconduct complaints.
That process had been circumvented by the letter-writers, the spokesman's office said: That they went first to the media "raises serious doubt as to the seriousness of their claims".
Amos Yadlin, a former chief of military intelligence under Netanyahu, played down the letter, saying 43 reservists were a "fringe percentage" of those available to Unit 8200.
"It's a big outfit, so naturally a few of its veterans may gravitate to the far left, as well as to the far right" said Yadlin, who now runs Tel Aviv University's INSS think-tank.
Israel has in recent years seen similar statements by a small number of conscientious objectors among reservists of its air force and its premier infantry unit, as well as an Oscar-nominated documentary in which former directors of its Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency questioned the sustainability of the occupation.