Israeli Occupation Forces witness new wave of defections over rights abuses

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Israeli soldiers stand in front of the graffiti-covered apartheid wall during clashes with Palestinians who rallied to show their support for the Gaza Strip at the Israeli Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Back city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, on August 13, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Abbas Momani)

By: Chloé Benoist

Published Friday, September 12, 2014

Forty-three reservists and former members of Israel's elite army intelligence unit have announced in a letter published on Friday that they will refuse to serve in the military. The letter, addressed to Israel's prime minister, army chief of staff and intelligence director, slammed "abuses" of Palestinians in the West Bank, annexed East Jerusalem and Gaza.

"We cannot continue to serve this system in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people," the soldiers and officers from the elite Unit 8200, which works closely with Israel's security services, wrote.

The signatories gave just their rank and first names or first initials.

"Those among us who are reservists, refuse to take part in the state's actions against Palestinians," a copy of the letter seen by AFP said.

“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 added. "However, our military service has taught us that intelligence is an integral part of Israel's military occupation over the territories."

"We call for all soldiers serving in the Intelligence Corps, present and future, along with all the citizens of Israel, to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end."

It said injustices included the expropriation of Palestinian land for illegal Zionist settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, as well as the lack of distinction between Palestinians who "are and are not involved in violence."

The letter also slammed the "collective punishment of inhabitants of the Gaza Strip." In an interview with the Guardian, one signatory specified that the document had been a months-long project, and that it denounced more than the recent Israeli assault on Gaza.

“We were worried that this action would be seen only as a response to the war in Gaza and it is important to us to make it clear this is about the ‘normal’ situation” of the Israeli occupation, he told the British newspaper.

The letter also said intelligence collected by Israel was "used for persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself."

Several of the anonymous contributors to the letter told Israel’s army radio that Israel was using its intelligence services to spy on Palestinians and obtain private information, including on health issues or sexual preferences "that might be used to extort people into becoming informants."

"We now understand that the responsibility is not just that of the soldier standing at the checkpoint, the soldier who squeezes the trigger," a Unit 8200 reserve captain said in the radio interview. "We have responsibility."

The Israeli army said it doubted the credibility of the letter's claims of abuse.

"The Intelligence Corps has no record that the... violations in the letter ever took place," it said in a statement.

It was unclear whether the army meant to deny in this statement the existence of illegal settlements or other well-documented Israeli violations of international law.

"Immediately turning to the press instead of their (the soldiers') officers or relevant authorities is suspicious and raises doubts as to the seriousness of their claims," the army added.

The 43 reservists said that they will turn down their yearly call-up to the army, risking arrest, court martial and time in military prison.

All Israeli men do three years of military service after school, and women two years, with an option to stay on.

Israel’s “refuseniks”

A small but growing number of Israeli citizens are refusing to serve in the Israeli Occupation Forces. The “refuseniks,” as they are known, object to the abuses perpetrated by the Israeli army against Palestinians.

Over the years, there have been multiple instances of Israeli citizens publicly announcing their refusal to serve in the army. Most recently a group of 50 former soldiers signed a separate letter in July announcing that they would refuse to serve in the army reserves.

The legal and social repercussions are big for conscientious objectors in Israel, as many have found more discreet ways of evading military service.

“I don’t feel comfortable in my conscience continuing to serve, and instead of dealing with the dilemmas and the ramifications, I chose to take a more evasive route,” Daniel, one of the signatories of the Unit 8200 letter, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“Now, later on, we feel that evasion is wrong, and that we have to take responsibility. In the end, I served there for seven years. I believed in what we did there – and for all those reasons, 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,” he added.

According to one of the Unit 8200 objectors, they could no longer face their responsibility in perpetuating the Israeli occupation through means similar to those of “undemocratic regimes.”

“I decided to refuse long before the recent [Gaza] operation. It was when I realized that what I was doing was the same job that the intelligence services of every undemocratic regime are doing,” he told the Guardian. “That I’m part of this large mechanism that is trying to defend or perpetuate its presence in the [occupied territories] to preserve and hold and deepen our hold on the Palestinian population.”

A number of these conscientious objectors are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, including Omar Saad, who has spent more than six months in prison. While Muslim Palestinian citizens of Israel are exempt from serving in the army, Druze and Circassians are included in the compulsory military service.

While Palestinian Christians are exempt from serving in the Israeli army, some Israeli politicians have been pushing for a legal distinction between Muslim and Christian Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, leading to fears that the latter could eventually be drafted.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

Comments

I think it is very brave of these soldiers to actually show there is some humanity in them, hopefully others will follow. I hope the world including the idiot also known as the Palestinian president that there are people within the Israeli government that do see an injustice being done to the Palestinian people, if these soldiers are brave enough to stand up to their government then why isn't our stupid President willing to do the same?

Not sure I would term them "defectors." Israel has had a resistance within the IDF since it was founded. Whistleblowers within have prompted inernal investigations and military court convictions for abuse and torture over the years, just as a US Army officer blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib. many have served short prison terms or been denied promotions or left service due to what they have seen.
The difference is that the IDF has internal mechanisms and Israel has an independent judiciary that puts checks and balances on its military and tries to curb its abuses. There are always bad apples in a bunch.
The same cannot be said for its enemies.

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