Peace in our Time?

January 9, 2007

Refusenik Pilot Yonatan Shapira talks to Trocaire

Filed under: Blogroll, Palestine, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 11:42 pm

yonatan.JPGYonatan Shapira was one of twenty-seven Israeli pilots who refused to take part in aerial attacks on populated Palestinian areas. The pilots spoke out against the actions of the military, and condemned the occupation and targeted executions. Their refusal to fly, in a signed letter in September 2002, shook Israeli society. Thrown out of the military, Yonatan continues to advocate against the repression of the occupation.Everything I do, everything I say, is founded on my love for Israel, my people, and my ties to Jewish tradition. I was raised in a patriotic family. My father fought in all Israel’s wars up to the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. My two brothers belong to commando units. I piloted Black Hawk helicopters. My speciality was rescuing victims. I carried out very dangerous missions in Lebanon. Then, during the Second Intifada, I dropped officers and commandos on the ground, so even though I myself was never involved in an attack mission, I was a cog in the machine.I was moulded by the ideals of purity in the use of arms, and the certainty that our leaders are driven by moral values and the desire for peace. But my passion for flying and my attachment to the Israeli airforce “family” stopped me seeing the real world. For years, I flew over the occupied territories. I saw this land of apartheid with its splashes of grey and splashes of red. The grey splashes were the refugee camps – overcrowded, suffocating, closely monitored from military bases. The red splashes, in between the camps, were the roofs of splendid settlements.

Even though the injustice was staring me in the face, it took me a long time to realise the simple fact that, for decades, we have been an occupying force controlling millions of people. We, the “Master Race”. And I really do mean apartheid. When some people have all the rights over a piece of land, while others have none, what else can you call it?

A German friend of mine served as a volunteer in some of the hospitals in Gaza. She told me about what she saw, the results of our attacks and our bombardments. I didn’t want to hear. I wanted to go on believing that we were “the most highly moral army in the world”.

One day, when I was in the United States, someone spoke to me about missiles being fired on children. I felt then that I could no longer simply go on being an ambassador for my country without trying to find out a bit more. It has then been a whole series of events which has opened my heart up to realities that I just didn’t want to see.

Is Israel crossing the red line?

The trigger was the dropping of a one tonne bomb on the building containing the home of Saleh Shehadeh, one of the leaders of Hamas, on 22 July 2002, in one of the most heavily populated districts in Gaza (or the world!). It killed fourteen people, nine of them children, and injured 150 others. Four families were totally wiped out. A few days later, following criticism of the incident, Dan Halutz, head of the Air Force, stated that the pilot could sleep with a clear conscience and that he had carried out his mission perfectly. I don’t have words strong enough to express how much terrorism disgusts me and Shehadeh was responsible for a number of terrorist attacks. We have to fight terrorism, but without becoming more and more like terrorists ourselves. The statistics show that, when targeted executions are carried out, 50% of the victims are civilians. Official terminology prefers to talk about “uninvolved persons”. If you plan such a mission while hiding the fact that half of the victims will be civilians, you can’t talk any longer about purity of intention. The fact that buses explode here, does not authorise us to sow terror among a population that lives under a regime of enclosed camps, threatened by an army equipped to the teeth, with fighter planes that make the sky shake and helicopters that sometimes launch missiles in traffic or through the windows of houses.

I’ve transported the victims of terrorist attacks; I’ve landed at sites a few minutes after explosions. I’ve seen my fill of mangled bodies. I’ve brought the injured to hospital. I’ve also witnessed the escalation of the madness that is driving us all towards collective suicide. Us, with our Apaches, the combat helicopters used for targeted executions in particular, and them with their bombs. The signatories of the pilots’ letter realized that the Israeli policy of targeted assassinations is a war crime. Far from contributing to Israel’s security it has had the opposite effect. But it is hard to get a hearing in Israel because our society is so militarised. After the letter, I heard things that would send shivers down your spine. It started with a one-to-one meeting with Dan Halutz for over an hour who tried to get me to change my views. He finished by setting out for me how he ranks the value of blood, with Jewish blood at the top and Palestinian blood at the bottom.

Another pilot who signed the letter wrote to me saying: “Heroism in 2003 does not mean risking our lives in aerial combat but overcoming our repugnance at being professional assassins in the service of the state of Israel.”

In 1993, an army spokesman and the military prosecutor rejected the accusation that there was a unit whose job included individual executions. They stated: “There has never been, nor will there be, any policy or reality that will see the Israeli army intentionally execute people being pursued. […] The sacredness of human life is one of the fundamental values of our army. Nothing has changed or will change in that respect.”

And yet today, this practice of targeted assassinations continues. It is acknowledged and justified, even by the authorities responsible for military ethics. Is this not a sign that we have crossed a red line?

Pressure by all governments

When my country is like a plane heading straight for the ground, I have three options: jump overboard and leave Israel, let it plunge headlong towards the crash that will kill us all, or pull the joystick with all my legal strength to try and save us from crashing. Our mission is not only to refuse, it’s to express our views within Israeli society. Some people ask us: “Why bother about them?” But “we” and “them” no longer mean anything. That’s what has changed inside me as a result of this long process. I’ve reached the point of feeling part of a community of Israelis and Palestinians who share the same values, the same vision of the solution. This process has value as therapy, but it’s an individual thing. It is always possible to wake up but it takes a long time. Maybe if I could take an average Israeli to Nablus for a week so he could see the reality for himself, he might change in the same way. But we are rushing headlong towards catastrophe and some people have given in to total pessimism. For me, it’s as though this is the most important rescue mission of my life. If we don’t act now, what kind of society will our children live in?

We must prevent a situation where only the poor and extremists will be left in Israel. On this mission, we need Europeans with us. We here will continue to fight with what resources we have but massive pressure must be exerted on our government from outside so that it behaves in line with international law, ends the occupation and the apartheid. To put it even more clearly: as a Jew and an Israeli, I’m calling for targeted sanctions against our regime. It’s an idea that’s hard to grasp, but I think we’ll get there by degrees. We must move Israeli society, because I don’t want us to be in the same situation in twenty years time.

Click to access cidse_palestine_booklet.pdf


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