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TEL AVIV — The Israeli military has expelled dozens of reservists from its elite intelligence unit after 43 of them publicly refused to take part in operations they claimed left Palestinians "completely exposed to espionage and surveillance."
The decision came four months after a group sent a letter objecting to the work they were being required to do to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the heads of the military and the intelligence services.
“We refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians and refuse to continue serving as tools in deepening the military control over the Occupied Territories,” they said in the letter published in the Israeli media and obtained by NBC News. “The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. While there are severe limitations on the surveillance of Israeli citizens, the Palestinians are not afforded this protection.”
The letter [PDF link] was written after the war with Gaza that left 2,300 Palestinians and 72 Israelis dead.
It added: "Information that is collected and stored harms innocent people. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself."
The group said it was their "moral duty to act" and said they could not "continue to serve this system in good conscience."
"It seems the unit is trying to make the issues we raised go away simply by making us go away"
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that members of the unit — known as 8200 — had been expelled.
"The [Israel Defense Forces] views with great severity any attempt to elude mandatory military service especially when the act is intended to make a political statement,” the IDF said in a statement issued Monday.
One of the letter’s signatories told NBC News that he was not surprised to find out that the army had decided to end his military service, although he was disappointed.
“I grew up as a settler and a lot of what we did in the army looked very natural to me,” said the 30-year-old who asked to be identified as Sgt. R. “But it was when I met face to face with Palestinians that I understood they are not targets but human beings. The army is sweeping under the rug the real issues we raised in our letter. It seems the unit is trying to make the issues we raised go away simply by making us go away.”