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Israeli elite unit soldiers condemn army abuses

September 12, 2014

Soldiers from Israel's elite Unit 8200 have condemned alleged abuses of Palestinians in an open letter. They have refused to serve in the army on moral grounds.

Image: Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

Forty-three reserve soldiers and former members of Israel's elite army intelligence corps, Unit 8200, addressed the country's prime minister, armed forces chief and the head of intelligence in an open letter published in the Yediot Ahronot daily on Friday.

The soldiers alleged that information collected by Unit 8200 "harms innocent people." The intelligence was being used for "political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators."

The reservists were protesting Unit 8200's activities in Palestinian territory including targeted killings and spying on locals, which the soldiers claimed to be the "collective punishment of inhabitants." More than 2,100 civilians in Palestine have died since war broke out this summer.

They said they could not continue to serve such a system "in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people."

The soldiers signed the letter just with their ranks and first initials, and said that they "refuse to take part in the state's action against Palestinians."

Army questions validity

Israel's army, however, has questioned the seriousness of the soldiers' claim. "The intelligence corps has no record that the…violations in the letter ever took place," according to an army statement quoted by the AFP news agency.

Mariv newspaper quoted reserve Brigadier General Hanan Gefen as accusing the letter's authors of a breach of trust and said if he were the union commander, he would "put them all on trial and would demand prison sentences for them."

Recently, the Israeli military launched five criminal investigations into incidents involving its soldiers in the Gaza war after Palestinians threatened to take evidence of alleged war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

However, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has criticized the investigations as lacking independence.

mg/hc (AP, AFP)