Israeli Pilots and Blind Obedience? That’s Nonsense

Gideon Levy should be careful about the way he criticizes our pilots and other troops. After all, we’re fighting for our lives here.

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Air force chief Amir Eshel at the Tel Nof base, December 2012.Credit: Alon Ron
Nehemia Dagan

Haaretz’s Gideon Levy complains in his op-ed this week that, unlike in 2003, there are no refusenik pilots this time around. If I thought for a moment that widespread refusal to obey orders to bomb Gaza would make Gazans disarm Hamas and go to the border with hands outstretched for peace, I’d put on my old uniform. I’d stand at the gate of every Israeli army base and preach in favor of refusing to attack Gaza. I have experience in wars, which I’ve always known don’t accomplish anything if leaders don’t follow up with rapprochement.

Levy sure has found the right people to attack — people who are aren’t allowed to answer, and it’s a good thing they aren’t. He’s attacking people who will now see him as a bad person, and that’s a shame. I’m responding this time because I think his article has breached the bounds of legitimacy, at least my bounds.

I suppose that it’s also because I was a pilot. No, I don’t have pilot friends with whom I meet for coffee and vacations, but since I flew, usually a Cobra, I consider all combat-helicopter pilots and drone operators my children and grandchildren. My son is a pilot too.

But every time I’ve had to appear in the media and talk about a deviation from ethics by soldiers in treating the Arab population — terrible deeds: abuse, beatings, things that don’t bring the other side closer and corrupt us as a society — I’ve defended them from the useless anger of the politicians and tsk-tskers. I’ve said the Israel Defense Forces has to treat these soldiers harshly — a punishment that others see and fear.

But I’ve also attacked the hypocritical politicians who create the scenarios in which soldiers find themselves and that bring out the evil in us. This is the result of having a nation that dominates and a nation that is dominated. So the soldiers have to be dealt with, but so do the politicians — because the root of the evil lies there: with the decision-makers.

But we are a democracy, and in a democracy the government has a right to decide what it decides, even if in my view it’s a bad government and its decisions are bad; even if in my view it’s bringing us to places that 1,900 years ago were the corridor to exile. Still, Levy would do well not to compare the actions of the pilots, the Border Police, the Duvdevan special forces or the Givati and Golani brigades to blind obedience without considering the consequences.

They know, just as I know do, that we’re fighting for our lives. We’re fighting not against a weak and oppressed people, but against a people weakened and oppressed by the leaders it chooses. But with all the sorrow and pain at the terrible living conditions in Gaza — yes, what’s happening there really is terrible — it’s not exactly the Warsaw Ghetto.

Levy’s implied comparison to the Nazis’ blind obedience is infuriating; if only the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto had the options the Gazans do. We’re fighting against people who are trying to kill us and, at the same time, without any hesitation, are killing their own people. The elderly, women and children — a helpless population.

I think there’s a solution, and it’s in our hands because we’re the strong side. A continuation of this situation is causing one people — the Palestinians — to live in indescribable conditions, and without any alternative (except for making peace with us). They are corrupting us in our attitude toward them, and in our attitude toward ourselves. And people like Gideon Levy are being corrupted in their attitude toward us.

On another page of the newspaper I found an article by Amira Hass, to the effect that “Hamas is actually becoming stronger.” They say that children are cruel. I don’t think so. I think children try by any means and with all their might to get what they want, without understanding what is bad, what is good, what is permitted and what is forbidden.

The writer was a senior pilot in the Israel Air Force and a chief education officer in the IDF.

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