Listen to the Pilots

An obdurate government, which for a long time now has been thwarting any chance of negotiations and is using only force, force and more force with the Palestinians, is condemning its soldiers to torture themselves with unbearable moral dilemmas.

Now that the furor over the pilots' declaration has abated a bit, perhaps the time has come to listen attentively to the essence of what they wanted to say in their protest. Even if, in the end, "the voice of the masses" silences the pilots and even if some of them retract their protest, there is still validity and importance to what they have said. Basic fairness also says that a government and a people that send their sons to carry out the difficult and sometimes dirty work of this particular war on their behalf must listen, for once, in an unbiased way to what the people who are doing these things in their name are saying.

The bottom line of the pilots' message is that if the Palestinians are currently capable of carrying out painful attacks on Israel and Israeli citizens, the war that is raging is still, ultimately, a war between a military power and a civilian population. And in a war of this sort, Israel must impose limitations on itself of both a practical and a moral nature.

The pilots are reminding the Israelis that even if the aim of the military action is to hit a murderer who is to die, when a state orders its pilots to drop a 1-ton bomb into a residential neighborhood in the most densely populated place in the world, and with the clear knowledge that hundreds of innocent civilians are likely to get hurt, its action, to a significant extent, employs the methods of a terror organization. And when a state orders its pilots to use powerful missiles to hit a car that is driving in the midst of passersby, even if it does not want to harm them intentionally, the nature of the deed, as well as its results, are like those of a terror organization.

A state is not entitled to act in the same manner as a terror organization. It is worth remembering this even today, when our blood is boiling after the brutal terror attack in Haifa. One of the reasons for this is the destructive influence that such a mode of action has on the society itself. Another reason is that a state is not entitled to carry out assassinations and murders and executions without trial, because then it loses the legitimacy of its claims against the terror organizations.

And when the commander of the Israel Air Force says that "anyone who sets out to murder children in Israel has to take into account that in his own surroundings there are children who could get killed," he must understand that such an argument could serve as a double-edged sword, even if Israel does not harm children on purpose.

An obdurate government, which for a long time now has been thwarting any chance of negotiations and is using only force, force and more force with the Palestinians, is condemning its soldiers to torture themselves with unbearable moral dilemmas. Is it entitled to turn its back on them and be insulted and shocked, when these people are beginning, after so many years, to understand the use that is being made of them? Hasn't the time come to face the contents of what they have to say, and look straight into the mirror they have positioned - courageously and with a full willingness to pay the price - in front of all of Israel society?

The IDF has always proudly proclaimed that in its air force, it is not the aircraft that is the main thing, but the pilot, the man inside the machine. Every Israeli soldier grew up on the (oxymornonic) principle of purity of arms and every Isreli grew up on the belief that the IDF is the most humane and moral army in the world. How can the IDF top brass today deny that there are people there, inside the planes and the helicopters? What is the reason for the hermetic insensitivity of the majority of the public, which is not even prepared to listen for a moment to the distress of the people from whom it demands - not only to pursue a war against the enemy, but also to take upon their consciences, for their entire lives, the unnecessary killing of innocent men, women and children?

Something in the public's stormy and almost hysterical reaction that gives the impression that the "lynch mob" after the pilots does not derive only from the fact of the refusal to carry out missions: It seems that the more difficult thing, the unbearably difficult thing, that the pilots have done is that, in total surprise, they have torn off most Israelis the protective layer in which they have wrapped themselves for years so as not to know or understand what is really being done in their name.

This, perhaps, is also what is behind the absurd accusation of treason that is being cast at the pilots: If they have betrayed at all, they have betrayed only the huge, consensual denial, the collective blindness. For one moment, the pilots succeeded in creating the frightening, electrifying connection between what Israel has been doing in the territories for 36 years now and the terror attacks, and for this, apparently, it is hard to forgive them. It is possible to choose not to read the reports by Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, but when Hebrew pilots, the flesh of the flesh of the Israeli consensus and the jewel in its crown, force us to look, if only for a fleeting moment, into the heart of the darkness - the first instinct is to get out of there in a panic, patch up the rent that has been torn in the sophisticated flak jacket that protects us from the knowledge and understanding, and immediately - as we were taught in the IDF - to attack and fight back, this time against the pilots.