A few months ago, Israel and the world was stunned by 43 members of the IDF’s elite intelligence Unit 8200, who protested their military service, which was being used to blackmail and disrupt Palestinian society. They had joined 8200 to serve as its eyes and ears in protecting the nation from enemies who meant it real harm. But they hadn’t signed up to find out which Palestinian leaders were gay or cheating on their wives or whose family members had terminal illnesses–all of which could be exploited to sow dissension in Palestine or provide an opening for recruiting spies. They also objected to the secrecy under which their intelligence information was gathered, complaining that Palestinian security detainees could not examine or question it when it was used against them in judicial processes.
One of their main criticisms was that there was no system of civilian review of their activities. They were essentially given free rein to pursue whatever they wished in whatever way they wished. This led to major breaches of ethics according to the refusers. It seems that intelligence and morality are diametrical opposites. The only constraints upon Israeli intelligence are what they can get away with. And in Israel, unlike the U.S., it’s almost anything.
These braves soldiers linked the deterioration in the mission of their Unit to the nation’s refusal to come to terms with the Palestinian conflict. They closed their statement with a call for reform and review of both the procedures of Unit 8200 and policies of the State toward Palestine.
Today, 8200’s commander, Brig. Gen. Ehud Schneerson , whose identity I first exposed here a few months ago (it is censored in Israeli media), made his response. Instead of considering the validity of the protest, he summarily dismissed all 43 members (all of whom were on reserve duty), deeming them harmful to the morale of the army, and soldiers who’d violated the chain of command by going public with their criticism. His letter to the refusers only continues the charade of excuses offered by defenders of 8200:
[In publishing your letter], you made an error. You crossed a fine line that separates politics from military service. This is a line of separation that enables us to within the Unit to continue to supply high-quality intelligence to the branches of the army and the government of Israel.
The entire point of the letter was to say that it was Unit 8200 which was being politicized to advance the hard-right political objectives of the Likud government. To say the dissenters had brought politics into the IDF is ludicrous since politics were ingrained in 8200. This is the very same critique made against the CIA when it found WMD in Iraq that wasn’t there at the behest of the Cheney cabal. The other more general criticisms offered by the signers of the letter also find echo in Edward Snowden’s attack on the NSA and its invasive intelligence practices.
Schneerson’s response, of course, was not unexpected. Just as Israelis themselves bristle when dissidents from within or outside offer new paradigms for restructuring Israeli society or politics, so the national security apparatus remains hidebound in clinging to its outdated ways. Both groups seem to think that things are proceeding well enough and refuse to listen to any voices that come from outside a narrow consensus.
Former Aman chief Amos Yadlin, who is running for Knesset on the Labor list, approved the expulsions which, again, is as expected. He even called the mission of 8200, “holy work saving the lives of Israeli citizens.” This inferred that the dissenters were traitors who whether intentionally or unintentionally damaged the Unit and endangered Israel by doing so.
In Israel, you may argue around the edges of politics or security. But you may not question fundamentals. And the notion that Israel is pursuing the wrong security goals is treif. It will get you expelled from the army and from polite [Israeli] society.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.