Lowest Deeds From Loftiest Heights

Israel’s 'heroic' pilots push buttons and joysticks, battling the weakest and most helpless of people.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
An Israeli pilot in an F-15.
An Israeli pilot in an F-15. Credit: Alon Ron
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

They are the most articulate, polished, brilliant and educated of soldiers. They study at the best universities during the course of their military service, come from the best homes, the most highly regarded high schools. For years they are trained for their job, in electronics and avionics, strategy and tactics, and of course flying. They are the very finest of Israeli youth, destined for greatness. They really are the very best, ‘bro: They are the ones who become pilots, the best pilots, and they are now perpetrating the worst, the cruelest, the most despicable deeds.

They sit in the cockpit and push buttons and joysticks. It’s a war game. They determine life and death, from their lofty place in the sky they see only black dots running around in panic, fleeing for their lives, but also some who wave their hands in terrible fear from the roofs. The black arrow points at the target, and already a mushroom of black smoke rises – poof, a slight tremor in the wing, as the saying goes; a “good” hit, and they’re already embarking on the next sortie.

They have never seen an enemy plane coming toward them – the last aerial battle of the Israel Air Force took place before most of them were born. They never saw the whites of the eyes and the red blood of their victims from up close. They are heroes who are battling the weakest, most helpless people who have no air force and no aerial defense, barely even a kite.

And they are considered heroes par excellence, the real he-men, who will go far in civilian life. They will marry the best girls, live in a nice communal settlement, become El Al captains, ‘techies or businessmen, vote for Yair Lapid and Meretz, and raise their children to be upright citizens.

And they will forget what they did during their military service. Forget? They never really knew. From the F-16 you can’t see very much. They are not Border Policemen who chase children in the alleyways, beat and abuse them. They aren’t members of the Golani Brigade who invade homes in the middle of the night, in search and kidnap operations. Nor are they soldiers from the Kfir Brigade who stand at the checkpoints. Nor members of the undercover Duvdevan unit or the Duchifat battalion. Nor do they use foul language or humiliate others. Their language is clean. They are the pilots. His Majesty’s pilots, in the most moral army in the world.

As of this writing, they have already killed almost 200 people and wounded approximately 1,000, most of them civilians.

Two nights ago they killed the 18 members of the Al-Batash family. The “target” was Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batash, and the result was 21 dead, including 18 members of his family, among them six children and four women. A family, wiped out.

I would like to meet the pilot or the operator of the drone who pushed the death button. How do you sleep at night, pilot? Did you see the pictures of the death and destruction you sowed – on television, and not just in the crosshairs? Did you see the crushed bodies, the bleeding wounded, the frightened children, the horrified women and the terrible destruction you sowed from your sophisticated plane? It’s all your doing, you excellent young man.

Yes, the fault is not (only) the pilots’. They obey orders. One former IAF commander, Maj. Gen. Ran Goren, said on Shabbat that they are moral. The most moral. But are they really such robots? Do they understand what they are doing? Do they even know? After all, it’s harder to brainwash them with hatred and fear, it’s harder to convince them that all Gazans are animals. And yet they obey orders with bloodcurdling automatism and blindness, push the right button at the right time – those of you who are known for your accuracy.

Do they really all believe that they are serving the country and its security needs, by means of the 1,000 sorties and the 1,000 tons of bombs that they have already dropped on top of the unfortunate Gaza Strip?

As far as we know, not one of them has “arisen” as of yet. In 2003, 27 of their colleagues did something far more courageous than completing all their “battle” sorties: They wrote a letter of refusal to carry out operations that might endanger civilians in the territories. But not this time. There isn’t a single person like Yonatan Shapira or Iftach Spector (two of the signatories back then), who will get up and ask: Is this the way? There isn’t a single person who will salvage their honor. Not a single one who will refuse to take part in this death squadron. Not a single one.

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