43 Israeli reservists refuse to serve in military, protesting 'abuses' of Palestinians

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Forty-three reservists and former members of Israel's elite army intelligence unit have slammed alleged "abuses" of Palestinians in the occupied territories, in a letter published on Friday.

The letter, addressed to Israel's prime minister, army chief of staff and intelligence director, said the reservists would refuse to serve in the military. The signatories gave just their rank and first names or first initials.

"We cannot continue to serve this system in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people," the soldiers and officers from the elite Unit 8200, which works closely with Israel's security services, wrote in English.

"Those among us who are reservists, refuse to take part in the state's actions against Palestinians," a copy of the letter seen by AFP said. "We call for all soldiers serving in the Intelligence Corps, present and future, along with all the citizens of Israel, to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end."

It said injustices included the expropriation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements, as well as lack of distinction between Palestinians who "are and are not involved in violence".

The letter also said intelligence collected by Israel was "used for persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society" and slammed the "collective punishment of inhabitants of the Gaza Strip", without specifically mentioning the July-August war in Gaza.

The army cast doubts on the credibility of the letter's claims of abuse.

"The Intelligence Corps has no record that the... violations in the letter ever took place," it said in a statement.

"Immediately turning to the press instead of their (the soldiers') officers or relevant authorities is suspicious and raises doubts as to the seriousness of their claims," it added."

The 43 reservists said that they will turn down their yearly call-up to the army, risking arrest and court martial.

All Israeli men do three years of military service after school, and women two years, with an option to stay on.