George S. Hishmeh
It was gratifying to learn this week that 43 veterans of an elite and secretive Israeli intelligence unit of the Israeli military have gone on record declaring that they would no longer participate in surveillance activities against the Palestinians.
The reason for this unprecedented action by the would-be whistle blowers has been their concern about the mistreatment of Palestinians under occupation. They explained further that they would not want to “continue serving as tools in deepening the [Israeli] military control over the Occupied Territories”.
They added that the surveillance work they had been required to perform made “no distinction between Palestinians who are and are not involved in violence” and that information collected “harms innocent people” and “is used for political persecution”.
The letter further explained: “The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed.”
These shocking revelations drew a typically exaggerated response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared that the Israeli armed forces “including all of its units is the most moral army in the world”. He argued that Israel owes a debt of gratitude to Unit 8200 soldiers for “continuing work that is so important for the security of Israeli citizens”.
This group protest has been described as “rare” and comes at a time, reported The Washington Post, “when Israel has been criticised internationally over its recent military operation” in the besieged Gaza Strip, where more than 2,100 civilians, many of them women and children, were killed. Israeli military losses were 66. The New York Times added, “It was the first by intelligence officers and the largest among soldiers in years.”
The protest letter was published simultaneously in both the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot and the British liberal daily, The Guardian. But no reason was offered for the failure of any American publication to run the expose. The news story appeared in the lower section of an inside page in both the Times and the Post. At least 200 unidentified reservists subscribed to the letter and only less than a quarter, whose names were not included, were described as having “chos[en] the path of political insubordination”.
What disciplinary action the Israeli military takes against the protesters remains to be seen. This incident, however, highlights the local and international misgivings prompted by Israel’s genocidal 50-day war on the Gaza Strip, which remains until today besieged and hardly reassured of any international effort to bring them relief from their disastrous situation. Several news features, especially in The New York Times, have detailed the extent of the devastation in many quarters of Gaza underlining the “lost homes and dreams”.
Another gratifying gesture came through an “open letter” to US President Barack Obama from seven organisations, which was published last Tuesday as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, the first from supporters of the Palestinian position in contrast with several recent others from pro-Israeli groups in the United States.
The letter could serve as a first-class historical document highlighting shocking measures that Israel has taken against the Palestinian people’s rights which “continue virtually unopposed” by the US. It said “yet another [US-sponsored] ‘peace process’ has failed”.
The organisations that endorsed the advertisement were Deir Yassin Remembered, Americans for a Just Peace in the Middle East, Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends, RighteousJews.org, If Americans Knew, the Council for the National Interest and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The ad reminded Obama that “this human rights crisis worsens in the evening of your presidency” and wondered what will be his “legacy in this matter” and whether he feels he did “everything possible to oppose Israel’s restrictions of Palestinian rights, or will you regret failing to have done so?”
Obama was reminded that he “still ha[s] time to take meaningful action” and was urged to “please begin by suspending aid to Israel — and, if appropriate, to Palestinian security forces — until these shameful human rights violations cease,” stressing that “this choice is yours alone”.
It concluded that it is hoped that Obama will take these “courageous steps, and more, to make them a reality”. Israel needs to wake up and take courageous steps much like what several Arab countries have done this week in joining the US-led international campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), since this international effort is not an anti-Muslim gesture as some Muslims might have believed but a bid to introduce civility to this turbulent region.
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