The following is the text of a speech by Yonathan Shapira, a former
Blackhawk pilot and signer of the Pilots’ letter refusing to serve in the
Territories. The speech was given at a symposium in the Department of
Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University on January 18, 2003.
Shapira and Prof. Asa Kasher from Tel Aviv University presented opposing
am Yonathan, one of the initiators and signatories of the 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.
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
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
* 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
“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
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
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
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. Why? 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
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
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
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
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.
And I’ll end on a personal note. Professor Asa Kasher from Tel-Aviv
University, we waited before we published our letter, and I say this with
the utmost sincerity, because we were waiting exactly for a personality like
you, who is so familiar with the army, who wrote the military’s ethical
code, who ostensibly is so concerned with morals – we waited for you to rise
up to the occasion, and to stop the slide down the moral slope. We waited
for you to call out the cry for sanity. We waited for you to protest out
loud against our descent into the abyss, against the loss of values and loss
of our humanity.
We waited and waited, and you did not come. On the contrary! You became
part of this snowball of madness which is accelerating down the steep slope,
you entered deeply into the service of the military and proceeded arm in arm
with them in an attempt to embellish the ugly reality.
Therefore, you left us with no choice but to get up and shout ourselves what
you should have shouted. In a certain sense, Asa, we are testimony to your
You did not confer morals and ethics on the IDF, but rather a shocking and a
sad authorization to commit war crimes. Maybe only the trial of history will
prove to those who remain here how large your part was in the moral suicide
of a military, which had engraved on its flag values like “purity of arms”
and “human dignity,” but has turned with your modest contribution into an
army of oppression, humiliation, annihilation and lies.
Yes, you hear me correctly. I accuse you of giving a “moral license” to
commit acts that should not be done. I accuse you of comparing us with the
murderer Yigal Amir, and drawing a “straight line” as you defined it, that
stretches from the objectors from the infantry, the commandos and from the
air force, to the despicable murderer of Israel’s Prime Minister.
The straight line I prefer to draw runs between you and certain
philosophers and intellectuals who played a well known role in human
history. Those well-known people, who at the most fateful times joined the
powers that be and served as a “moral cushion” of a corrupt authority.
Yonathan Shapira is a former Israeli
military pilot who refuses to serve in the Occupied Territories of