Middle East

Middle East

Israel: Pilots’ Protest

Derby Missiles
A pair of the new Israel 'Derby' missiles are seen in an undated handout photo on the wing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet.

In a country known for contentious disagreements on most issues, there is unanimity on one thing: The Israeli Air Force (IAF) is the supreme symbol of excellence and a source of national pride. Thus, despite a history of military protests dating back to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, a recent protest letter to air force commander Dan Halutz caused great dismay and an outcry from all quarters of society and media.

Signed by 27 IAF pilots (nine of whom are listed as on active duty), the letter stated that “aerial activity over the [Palestinian] territories is illegal and immoral” and declared: “We, for whom the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the air force are an integral part of our being, refuse to continue to hit innocent civilians.…The continued occupation is critically harming the country’s security and moral fiber.”

Initial press reactions to the controversy described the pilots’ action as the culmination of an introspective process that began in July 2002, after the aerial attack on Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh in Gaza, which resulted in a large number of Palestinian civilian casualties.

In his analysis for Ha’aretz (Sept. 30), Amos Harel wrote: “The wording of the letter created confusion between conscientious objection and political arguments, and was easy prey for the army to attack.”

In an Oct. 1 opinion piece without a byline in The Jerusalem Post titled “Refusers’ Acts a Price Worth Paying,” the writer declared: “All antiwar movements, military and civilian, illegal and legal, give moral encouragement to the enemy, even if unwillingly.…In the case of the IAF refusers, they give only small, generalized, background encouragement to Palestinian terrorists....Ironically, what does spur Palestinian terrorists into immediate action, what gives them decisive moral encouragement are those air force bombing assassinations, the ones the pilots cited.”

In its Jewish New Year issue editorial, Hatzofeh stated: “The people demand that the ‘rebels’ be expelled from the air force. They aren’t worthy to wear [its] winged emblem.”

Commenting for Ma’ariv (Sept. 25), Dan Margalit wrote: “By taking the law into their own hands, these 27 dear ones of the sky over this land broke all of the rules. At the beginning of each Jewish New Year they are deserving of thanks from the entire nation. This time the greeting card will arrive from the house of [Hamas leader] Abdel Aziz Rantisi in Gaza, and I am sure that [the pilots] are the last ones who wanted this. The whole episode is more painful and sad than it is annoying and worrying.”

Writing for Yediot Aharonot (Sept. 25), senior commentator Nahum Barnea said: “The letter raises various points that Israeli society must not ignore. The commander of the air force yesterday comforted himself with the fact that there are almost no jet fighter pilots among the signers of the letter and only nine pilots on the active-duty roster....Woe to the air force commander for whom these are comforting facts, and woe to the political system, which instead of dealing with the questions put before it, buries its head in the sand.”