Israel has sold itself internationally as a gay Mecca. (Here, here, and here, for instance.) This freedom is regularly cited by advocates for Israel in the west, making stark comparisons to Muslim societies that repress gays. Well here’s a new spin on that claim: reports that Israeli intelligence pried into Palestinians’ phone calls and internet activity so as to identify and blackmail Palestinian gays and turn them into informants against other Palestinians.
Haaretz has a story up on 43 reservists in Israeli intelligence who are refusing to serve because of the “political persecution” of Palestinians. The reservists write that while surveillance of Israeli citizens is strictly limited, “the Palestinians are not afforded this protection.” They declare in a letter to the Israeli P.M.: “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.”
An unsigned piece in the Guardian details testimonies from intelligence veterans and exposes practices reminiscent of totalitarian countries: “Any Palestinian is exposed to monitoring by the Israeli Big Brother.” Here are selections where the recovering spooks describe using Palestinians’ sexual practices to turn them into informants, or exploit the Palestinians’ need for medical care in Israel.
No boundaries were set for us, for both passive activities such as gathering intelligence, and for active initiatives that had an impact on people’s lives.
If anyone interests us, we’d collect information on his or her economic situation and mental state. Then we would plan how we can perform an operation around this individual, in order to turn them into a collaborator or something of the sort….
Any information that might enable extortion of an individual is considered relevant information. Whether said individual is of a certain sexual orientation, cheating on his wife, or in need of treatment in Israel or the West Bank – he is a target for blackmail.
Throughout the duration of my service no one in my unit ever asked, at least not out loud, if there is anything wrong with this well-oiled system – whether the transformation of any individual into a target is a legitimate act.
Notice the exploitation of gays and those needing life-or-death medical care:
The period during which I collected information on people who were accused of attacking Israelis, trying to attack Israelis, the desire to harm Israelis, thinking of attacking Israelis, in addition to collecting information on completely innocent people, whose only crime was that they interested the Israeli defence establishment for various reasons. Reasons they have no way of knowing. If you’re homosexual and know someone who knows a wanted person – and we need to know about it – Israel will make your life miserable. If you need emergency medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank or abroad – we searched for you. The state of Israel will allow you to die before we let you leave for treatment without giving information on your wanted cousin.
Any such case, in which you “fish out” an innocent person from whom information might be squeezed, or who could be recruited as a collaborator, was like striking gold for us and for Israel’s entire intelligence community. As such, Palestinians who are not related to or involved in fighting Israel are objectives…
We also talked about what is done with information on a target’s sexual preferences. Here, too, there was some would-be deliberation, but the message was that there is no problem with this issue. As an instructor I said that one should apply one’s own judgment and not always pass on such information.
Americans for Peace Now sent out the story today, and included translated statements from Hebrew media. One reservist makes a direct connection to the eastern European experience:
For D., [the decision to refuse] happened after he was released from the military when he saw the movie, “The Lives of Others,” about Stasi agents from communist East Germany, who eavesdrop on people and invade their personal lives. “I was horrified,” he said. “On the one hand, I identified with the victims, with the oppressed side, whose basic rights were denied. On the other hand, I suddenly understood that in my military service, I was on the side of the oppressor, that we are doing the exact same thing, only in a much more efficient manner.”…
For N. it happened during her military service, when she was present during a targeted killing operation, during which there was a mistake in the identification of the target. “I remember the picture on the screen. The suspect inside an orchard, an explosion, smoke and a mother running. The body was a small, of a child. We understood we screwed up. It was uncomfortable, but we needed to continue in our work.”
“The pilots are not responsible for the killing, because they are carrying out orders, and also those in Unit 8200 are not responsible, because they are only transferring information. So who is supposed to not sleep at night?”