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JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of elite officers in Israel’s military reserves say they will not show up for duty starting on Sunday in protest over the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.
The firm date is the first time set for an unprecedented political protest within the security services. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial legal overhaul has sparked weeks of mass protests across Israel amidst a deteriorating security situation in the occupied West Bank and rising tensions with Palestinians.
In two separate letters published Thursday, about 750 elite officers from the Air Force, special forces, and Mossad threatened to stop volunteering for duty. The typically taboo talk underlines how deeply the overhaul plan has divided Israel and is now tearing at what Israeli Jews see as their most respected institution, the military.
READ MORE: Netanyahu’s planned judicial overhaul divides Israeli military
After completing three years of mandatory service, many Israelis continue in the reserves until their 40s, when service becomes voluntary. Reservists are the backbone of the force when security crises erupt, and regularly serve in complex operations overseas.
One hundred elite Air Force officers, including two former chiefs, said in an open letter reported by Channel 12 News, Israel’s top television program, that Netanyahu’s government was subverting the nation’s security and democracy.
“We fear that following military orders would be a violation of our oath, our conscience and our mission,” read the Air Force reservists’ letter.
About 650 more officers from the reserves’ special forces and cyber units said in a separate letter that, “We will not serve a dictatorship. The contract was broken. We are ready to give our life and soul and the government should give responsibility and sanity.”
The officers pointed to a statement in early March by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, in which he suggested erasing a Palestinian town in the West Bank that was attacked by Jewish settlers. Smotrich later backtracked, saying he didn’t mean for the Hawara to be erased but for Israel to operate surgically within it against Palestinian militants.
”You want a dictatorship – you will pay the full price,” they wrote.
Israel’s military chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, has met with protesting officers and warned Netanyahu about the rising discontent in the ranks.
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