JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of reserve soldiers from an elite Israeli intelligence unit publicly declared Friday that they refuse to operate in the Palestinian territories, citing moral reasons.
Soldiers from Unit 8200 — Israel's equivalent of the eavesdropping, code-breaking U.S. National Security Agency — aired their grievances in the Yediot Ahronot daily after sending a letter to the military chief of staff and the prime minister.
"We veterans of Unit 8200, reservists past and present, declare that we refuse to take part in activity against Palestinians and refuse to be tools to deepen the military control in the occupied territories," the soldiers wrote.
The 43 soldiers, including some officers, allege that some of their unit's intelligence work prevents Palestinians from leading "normal lives" and only serves to prolong the conflict.
An anonymous soldier told Yediot that information gathered on a Palestinian's personal life or health issues can be used against him for intelligence purposes.
Israel has long relied on a network of Palestinian informers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who help target militants and tip off security services to imminent attacks. Informers are often recruited through blackmail, the lure of travel permits and money.
The soldiers emphasized that their refusal to serve applies to Palestinian areas only.
The military said soldiers in the unit are held to a high ethical standard and work under supervision. It questioned the "seriousness of the claims" in the letter.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to comment.
Soldiers have refused to operate in the Palestinian territories in the past, citing similar reasons. But this is the first time a large group from this elite unit has done so.