BBC News report on 8200 tells a partial story

On the afternoon of September 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israeli intelligence veterans refuse to spy on Palestinians“. The report is illustrated with an unrelated image photographed during rioting in Qalandiya a month ago and carrying the amusing caption: “Intelligence gathering is a key part of Israel’s military operations”.  Intelligence gathering is of course a key part of any country’s military operations, including (one at least hopes) the UK.8200 art

Two hundred and thirty-seven of the report’s 407 words are devoted to amplification of the obviously politically motivated – and unverified – claims of a small group of apparently soon to be former reservists in Unit 8200. Ninety-five words are allotted to the IDF’s response to the letter which was promoted in local and foreign media and the rest of the report’s word-count is devoted to background, including amplification of a no less politically motivated UN position.

“Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, since 1967. It pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, though the UN still regards Gaza as under Israeli occupation.”

Since its publication, this BBC article has not been updated to reflect the fact that on the same day another letter was also published.

“Meanwhile, over 150 reservists from the same unit signed a letter on Friday protesting the claims put forth in the original letter.

“Having been familiar with the unit for many reasons, we can’t accept the claims regarding a lack of ethical and moral guidelines in the intelligence work of the unit,” the 150-plus soldiers wrote. “Throughout our service, we bore witness to many cases in which the use of intelligence capabilities made it possible to safeguard human lives, on both sides.”

“Even when moral dilemmas arise during the work, as well as in wartime, we have witnessed, and still witnessed, a mature and responsible response which is in line with international law and the ethical and moral code of the army.”

The soldiers noted that when summoned for reserve duty, they cast their political opinions aside and “come to serve the country, as any soldier should do, particularly in a unit like ours.” “

That letter now has some 200 signatories.

Likewise, BBC audiences have not been informed of other reactions to the letter, including from the leader of the Labour party and chair of the opposition.

“Also on Saturday, Israeli opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog came out against the reservists’ letter. Herzog, who served in the unit during his time in the military, said on his Facebook page that he strongly opposes the refusal of military orders, and warned that at the end of the day the Israeli public will pay the price. “This unit and its operations are vital not just for wartime but also, and in particular, during times of peace,” he wrote.”

The fact that 43 reservists of a particular political stripe were able to publish such a letter (just as similar ones have been published in the past), and that some 200 others were able to publish their counter-statement, is of course testimony to Israel’s free and vibrant democracy. BBC audiences, however, have missed out on that important aspect of this story because – after having published the part which conforms to the narrative it wishes to promote – the corporation then dropped the story. 

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