The Pilot Who Said No

Many in Israel are still trying to make sense of Yonatan Shapira,

Many in Israel are still trying to make sense of Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Black Hawk helicopter pilot who in September 2003 made public "the pilots’ letter" of refusal, which he authored and 26 other pilots signed.

"We refuse to take part in attacks by the Air Force on civilian populations, and we refuse to harm innocent civilians. These acts are illegal and immoral, and the direct result of the ongoing occupation, which corrupts Israeli society."

This break with patriotic vocation was too much for their superiors. Even though they declared their intent to continue to serve on defensive missions, Shapira and his co-signers were promptly dismissed from the Air Force.

A cradle Zionist - a believer, as he put it, in "the one-sided history lessons, the laundering of words" - Shapira could never quite rid himself of doubt about Israel’s military adventures outside its borders. He was opposed to Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza, but his opposition took the form of demonstrating and voting for the left. Bending to the sanctity of the command, he continued to fly commandos into the Occupied Territories.

"It took me a while to realize that I had responsibility for what those commandos were doing there. They weren’t picking flowers."

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Sojourners Magazine August 2005
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