Israeli soldiers and policemen take positions during clashes with Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Hebron. Picture: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD
Israeli soldiers and policemen take positions during clashes with Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Hebron. Picture: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD

SCORES of veterans of elite Israeli intelligence unit 8200 rallied to its defence on Sunday after 43 comrades said they would no longer take part in its "injustices" against Palestinians.

The open letter, which was sent to Israel’s political and military leadership last week, was one of the most high-profile expressions of conscientious objection in years. The signatories — reservists and former members of 8200 — said that the intelligence collected by the unit "was an integral part of Israel’s military occupation", and that they would refuse to continue to serve.

They charged that information gathered by Unit 8200 was used by civilian intelligence agencies to coerce Palestinians uninvolved in militant activity and urged other members of the intelligence corps "to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end".

But in a letter of reply on Sunday, 200 veterans of the unit denounced their former comrades’ refusal to serve. "We wish to express shock, disgust and complete disassociation from the regrettable letter that was written by our comrades from the unit," they wrote in the letter, excerpts of which were published in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper. "Political refusal to serve has no place anywhere, and particularly so in Unit 8200. The moment we, as soldiers in the reserves, are called to the flag, we set aside our political inclinations and opinions, and come to serve the state."

Commentators said that the fact that the refuseniks were members of one of Israel’s most prestigious military units made their conscientious objection all the more remarkable.

"The Unit 8200 letter represents a watershed moment in the expressions of military refusal in recent decades," wrote Yediot Aharonot’s Shimon Shiffer. "This time, we are talking about intelligence gatherers who are refusing to spy on millions of Palestinians ... about refusal by the soldiers to resign themselves to the day-to-day reality in the territories."

Unit 8200 carries out communications monitoring and surveillance, similar to work performed by the US National Security Agency and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters. The unit shares information with Israel’s civilian intelligence agencies.

AFP