An Israeli Pilot Speaks Out
I am Yonathan, one of the initiators and signatories raeli pilot’s letter. Until some weeks ago I was a pilot and active leader in a squadron of “Blackhawk” helicopters in the air force. On the eve of last Yom Kippur I was called for an interview with the commander of the air force, wherein he told me that I was dismissed and that I was not a pilot anymore in the Israeli air force and all this because I announced that I will not agree to take part in obeying illegal and immoral orders.
And now during the last few months the commander of the air force has been making the rounds of the bases and the flight crews and announcing that a large and powerful organization supports our group, and the military will find it and expose it to all. On this present festive occasion, I want to disclose to you who this large and powerful body is. It is an organization on whose knees we grew up and were educated on.
I want to read to you two of the basic values of–the Israel Defense Forces.
Human Dignity: The IDF and its soldiers are obliged to honor human dignity. Each human being should be respected, regardless of his race, creed, nationality, gender, status or his social role.
Purity of arms: The soldier will use his weapons and his might only to achieve his objective, to the degree that this is required for the purpose, and will retain his humanity even during battle. The soldier will not use his weapons and his might to hurt persons who are not fighters, or prisoners, and will do everything in his power to prevent an assault on their life, their body or their property.
Let’s go back now to the night between 22 to 23 of July 2002. It is late at night, the F16 squadron is at the air force base. The crew which is on-call consists of a pilot and a navigator. Scramble to Gaza. Waiting for the order to attack. The order is received. The bombs are dropped. Landing. De-briefing, and return to routine.
On this specific mission a one-ton bomb was dropped (equal to a hundred suicide bombs) on a house in the Al-Deredg quarter in Gaza, one of the most crowded neighborhoods in Gaza, indeed in the whole world. During this action 14 human beings were killed and more than 150 others were wounded. Four families, 9 children, 2 women and 2 men, were wiped out by the crew of the airplane that executed this mission and hit the target in the full belief that they were defending Israelis. They honestly believed this.
This is what Dan Halutz (commander of the air force) had to say about the mission: “I declare that everything taking place before the mission is justified according to my moral compass…”
And to the pilots he said: “Sleep well tonight … you executed this mission perfectly.”
We did not sleep well that night, and we continued not to sleep when:
On August 31, 2002–when Darama was annihilated and with him 4 children.
On April 8, 2003–when Arbid and Al-Halabi were annihilated and with them 2 children and 5 adults.
On June 10, 2003–During an attempt to annihilate Rantisi, a girl, a woman and 5 men were killed.
On June 11, 2003–when Abu-Nahal was annihilated and with him 2 women and 5 men.
On June 12, 2003–when Salah Taha and with him a one-year old infant, a woman and 5 men were annihilated. And more, and more…
And also three months ago in a blitz of five attacks 2 wanted persons were wiped out and with them another 12 innocent people. Minister Effi Eitam and high officers in the IDF do not like the expression ‘innocent Palestinians’, they prefer to call them “bystanders”. Altogether 211 persons were killed in the action, among these about half (86) onlookers.
And what kind of security did we get in return? Attacks and more attacks, we in our Apache and they in their suicide bombs, together in a dance of madness towards suicide.
So we did not sleep at night and we wrote this letter:
“We, air force pilots in reserve duty, who were raised on the values of Zionism, sacrifice and contributing to the State of Israel, we have always served on the front lines, willing to perform any assignment, difficult or simple, in order to protect the State of Israel and to strengthen her.
“We, veteran pilots and active pilots together, who served and still serve the State of Israel during long weeks each year, object to perform illegal and immoral orders of attacks that the State of Israel performs in the territories.
“We, who were raised to love the State of Israel and to contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in the attacks of the air force in concentrations of civilian population.
“We, for whom the IDF and the air force are inseparable parts of us, refuse to continue and harm innocent civilians.
“These actions are illegal and immoral and are a direct result of the ongoing occupation, which corrupts Israeli society as a whole.
“The continuation of the occupation delivers a mortal blow to the security of the State of Israel and to her moral strength.
“We who serve as active pilots–fighters, leaders, and instructors of the next generation of pilots–declare hereby that we shall continue to serve in the IDF and the air force in every assignment in the defense of the State of Israel."
We spoke to more than a hundred pilots, among them veteran commanders in the air force, many were afraid to sign but supported our idea–and as proof: nobody leaked even a word. And maybe it is important to tell you on this occasion in short who signed the letter. This is an opportunity to get to know some of those “traitors who aided terrorism.”
I will start with the active pilots: Major Yotam–active Apache-pilot Captain Tomer–active F-16-pilot Captain Ran–active fighter-navigator Captain Zur–active F-16-navigator Captain Alon–active Blackhawk-pilot Captain Amnon–active Blackhawk-pilot Captain Yonathan–active Blackhawk-pilot Captain Asaf–active F-15-pilot and instructor in the field of fighting at the school of flying Lieutenant-colonel Eli–fighter pilot and active instructor at the school of flying Brigadier-general Yiphtah Spector–fighter pilot and active instructor at the school of flying.
An additional 20 veteran pilots joined this initiative, fighters who flew in the wars of Israel, some of which were more justified and some less justified. Amongst these pilots: Colonel and doctor Yigal Shohat–fighter pilot who was in Syrian captivity and later served as chief medical doctor of the air force. Lieutenant-colonel Yonathan Shahar–fighter pilot and flight commander in the six days war. Lieutenant-colonel Abner Raanan–fighter pilot who was awarded the Israel Prize for Security for developing intelligent weapons systems. Professor Motti Peri–helicopter pilot and today head of the economy faculty at the Hebrew University. Professor Nahum Karlinski–fighter pilot and historian at Ben-Gurion University. Lieutenant Yoel Pieterberg–senior test-pilot in the air force, amongst the founders of the first Apache squadron, leader of the Cobra squadron in the Lebanon war, and awarded a medal by the chief of staff, one of the planners and executors of the ‘Karin A’ mission. Captain Moshe Bukayi–transport pilot who was awarded a citation for Courage during the Sinai War. Major Hagai Tamir–fighter pilot and architect was also the outstanding trainee during Dan Halutz’s pilots training course.
Two weeks after publication of the pilots’ letter a report appeared in the “Seven Days” supplement of “Yedioth Aharonoth” newspaper, wherein five brigade commanders, colonels in the professional army, photographed in uniform and carrying weapons, declare their support for Sharon, the settlers and the policy of annihilations. Knesseth Member Yuval Steinitz and his friends raised no hue and cry on this occasion. Even the Minister of Defense did not call them supporters of terrorism, and did not decry the fact that they expressed their opinion while in uniform.
Because they represent the consensus. They support the government. A government which from day to day becomes less and less democratic, and more dictatorial.
If we were to ask a citizen who lives in a state which turned into a dictatorship, at what moment exactly did this happen? He would not be able to give an answer. It is a incremental process, often much of which is hidden from view.
But there are elements that are not hidden and I would like to give an example: A few months ago the Chief of Staff (a person in uniform) declared that every member of Hamas is a target for annihilation.
With your permission I would like to read you the response of the army spokesman and the army prosecutor, regarding complaints addressed to the IDF a decade ago, in the year 1993. At the time the prosecutor and spokesperson claimed that role of the ‘Mista’Aravim’ unit is not to annihilate:
“The IDF dismisses this claim absolutely. There was not, and there will not be any policy or reality in the IDF of intentional annihilation of wanted persons. The instructions for opening fire are twofold: … the principle of the sanctity of life is a basic value in the IDF. There is no change whatsoever, and there will be no change in this matter.”
So what does this statement suggest? Have we not crossed the red line? Or can we perhaps continue a bit further? Many people say that we have not yet reached the red line and that for the time being one must not refuse…we must continue to obey. And this position reminds me of the red water line of the Sea of Galilee. Every time the level of water in the lake crosses the red line we lower it a little.
When my country finds itself in the situation similar to a plane in a wild nose-dive towards the ground, I have three options: I can jump out, and leave Israel. I can continue indifferently to let the plane dive and crash bringing about everybody’s death or I can pull the stick with all my legal strength, and try to save myself from crashing. We are about to crash. So we pulled the stick and people asked us how we could do this considering that terrorism is rampant in the streets. And I reply–you are right, and regretfully I know this from close up.
For the past years I have volunteered for ‘Sela’–an organization helping new immigrants who are victims of terrorism, I assisted the wounded during their period of recovery, and I guided groups of orphans and of bereaved family members.
Each person is a world unto him or herself and each bereavement has many circles of grief and hurt, like a small stone thrown into the water gives rise to nearly interminable rings. Grief, pain, want, anger, despair and more … so we must fight this criminal terrorism.
If I must kill a suicide bomber on his way to a terrorist attack, and even pay with my life for this, in the knowledge that I save other human lives–I will do this with all my heart. But none of the so-called selective annihilations was directed against a terrorist on his way to an attack (and the IDF corroborates this).
So we must fight terrorism, but at the same time we must fight not to become more and more like the terrorists. The fact that buses explode here, does not justify Sharon, Mofaz and Air Force Chief Dan Halutz decision to ‘unintentionally’ kill nine children in their sleep, and to sow terror in a population of millions who live under a reign of closures, curfews and checkpoints.
A population enclosed by walls and camps, under the guns of an enormous and frightening army, equipped to the teeth with jet-planes which shake the skies, and attack-helicopters who time and again send rockets into cars and into the windows of houses, in crowded and destitute cities.
So I said that I would with all my heart sacrifice my life to stop, even with my own body, a suicide terrorist, and maybe the time has come to speak about my faith. After all, what are we talking about? That we lost our faith in a system that sends us to enforce a scandalous and doubted policy.
We do not believe the head of State, the Minister of Defense and the highest of our commanders, when they send us to send rockets to places where, afterwards, we learn that we killed women and children. When Air Force Chief Dan Halutz lies to the press–then nonsense is written in the newspapers. But when Dan Halutz lies to the pilots–innocent citizens are killed, or, as we call them today: “non-involved” persons. (quoted from the ‘Terminator’).
An army consisting of fighters who are not convinced of the rightness of their way, is a weakened army! A pilot who leaves on an assignment, must be able to trust the system, to be 100 percent sure that it weighed the strategic, tactical, and morally right considerations.
The pilot has practically no way of knowing what is hidden behind the target he aims at. And it is naive to require of him to decide in real time to determine whether he considers the order fit or not to execute–because in real time it is extremely difficult to make such considerations.
In addition, pilots have to know these days another crucial fact. They should know the nauseating statistics of the assignments they are being sent to carry out. Fifty percent of those killed as a result of “selective extermination” missions in populated areas are innocent civilians. When one suppresses in the planning and execution the practically certain result of fifty percent civilian casualties, then the “pure intentions” of the planners is no longer pure; it is tainted.
I would like to quote from a recent article, was initiated by the air force spokesperson, in which Apache-pilots (not refusers) were interviewed about the dilemma’s facing them: An experienced helicopter pilot told the interviewer: “It is likely that in another couple of years I’ll say to myself: you are an idiot, you crossed red lines”.
Another pilot spoke about a set of values which underwent change in the last two years:
“I would not have believed that I would send rockets into Jenin, Gaza and Tulkarem, and I am doing it. Maybe they’ll send me to shoot rockets at Umm-El-Fahm (an Israeli city)? Today this looks crazy, but it might happen in another year. Perhaps we’ll shoot rockets at Arafat’s office, maybe a rocket at Arab houses in Jaffa–this is the kind of thing that I believe I will not do. But today I shoot rockets 100 meter away from people, just to get them to disperse, and two years ago I would not have entertained the thought that I would carry out such actions; we have become indifferent.”
Yet another pilot says: “Sometimes I come from a debriefing after a successful extermination and I know up front that the countdown for another attack has started”.
I have seen much blood lately during my service in the squadron. In between dropping commando troops at the outskirts of cities in the West bank, I had to evacuate dozens of wounded, including IDF soldiers and civilians, some of them children who were suffered horrible wounds. At times we would evacuate the wounded to a hospital, scrub the blood from the floor of the helicopter, and return to bring more.
And I ask myself–why? Are we really so obtuse and naive to think that we can repress 3.5 million people who have lost all fear of death? Aren’t we going crazy too? Apparently we are.
It seems to me that we are a society in an advanced psychotic state, a kind of split personality and the only way many of us survive is to close up and to disappear into our own bubble. And if anything is really worthwhile blowing up–it is this bubble.
How can we blow up the bubble? Very simple–get to know the facts.
So let’s briefly examine what has happened to us in the past three years? In the territories: 2289 Palestinians have been killed in the territories by Israeli security forces, amongst them 439 minors under the age of 18. At least 128 Palestinians have been put to death without trial by Israel.In the course of their execution 88 additional Palestinians were killed. 32 Palestinians were killed by Israeli civilians. 9 foreign nationals were shot and killed by bullets from Israeli security forces. 196 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians. 180 members from the Israeli security forces were killed by Palestinians. 86 Palestinians were killed by Palestinians on suspicion of collaboration with Israel. 29 Palestinians were killed by Palestinian security forces.
In Israel: 377 Israeli civilians, 80 members of the security forces and 32 foreign civilians were killed by Palestinian inhabitants of the territories. 48 Palestinians were killed by the security forces. The IDF confirms that among the 2289 Palestinians that were killed by our forces only 550 were bearing arms or were fighters. What happened to the remaining 1739?
Before I finish, I would like to share with you some hair-raising moments from the last two difficult months: During the interview of my dismissal I sat opposite the commander of the air force and I heard him say repeatedly with burning eyes that all the missions we performed, including the most difficult ones, are highly moral, and even Professor Asa Kasher agrees. Further on in the conversation and by his own initiative Dan Halutz, Commander of the air force and candidate for the office of Vice Chief of Staff –spelled out before me the value of blood as he sees it–in descending order, from Jewish blood down to the blood of a Palestinian.
I have heard many infantry soldiers say, and to my deep regret I have also read in a letter that was sent by one of the pilots who objects to our acts, that “our heroism today in the air force of 2003 is not to endanger our lives either under anti-aircraft fire or when fighting enemy aircraft; our heroism today is expressed in that we succeed to overcome the catastrophic feelings that arise in us as a result of our being ‘professional assassins’ in the service of the State of Israel. Our heroism is to overcome all this with courage, and to get up every morning with a renewed choice to be good soldiers who are willing and ready to take upon ourselves any mission.”
This same shift of responsibility from the shoulders of the soldier and its exchange for a sense of fulfillment of “valor” in coping with his difficult task, is what enables pilots to perform the worst crimes against humanity.
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