Israeli Refuseniks Spark Debate over Intelligence Gathering

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43 veterans of one of Israel’s most secretive intelligence units signed a letter over the weekend refusing to serve in the occupied territories, specifically rejecting orders to spy on Palestinians. An unidentified captain who served from 2003 to 2011 spoke to the Guardian, saying, “The problem is that the goal of what the unit does in regards to Palestinians is not just self defense – it’s upholding a military regime, which means to oppress the population, weaken the political system so they can’t improve their situation so the military regime continues.”

They’re only the latest so-called “refuseniks” in that country, but their public act of defiance has caused an unusual backlash from government officials. The Israeli defense minister called them “criminals.” Part of the reason is the wing of the army they come from. Unit 8200 is a prestigious intelligence team for the Israeli Defense Forces; it’s been compared to the NSA here in the United States.

Bradley Burston is columnist and senior editor at the Israeli news site Ha’aretz.