If Gideon Levy Wants Occupation to End, He Must Back Israel's Right to Self-defense

Without accepting the necessary evil of civilian casualties, Israel cannot afford to withdraw from the areas it occupies.

Kobi Richter
Kobi Richter
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 22, 2014.
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 22, 2014.Credit: AP
Kobi Richter
Kobi Richter

Gideon Levy’s op-ed (Haaretz, July 15) lashed out at Israel Air Force pilots, calling on them to disobey orders to bomb the Gaza Strip. Reading it was painful and infuriating. Infuriating, because Levy threw mud at people who are doing their utmost in the service of this country, trying to obtain peace and security even if they see things differently from Levy. Painful, because I agree with many of Levy’s positions regarding the need for peace, a resolution to the conflict and an end to the occupation. And so, when he gets worked up and goes off the track, I’m embarrassed as well.

Like the people you have made the targets of your poison arrows, I too am a pilot. I too hold liberal opinions, to the left of the current Israeli government, like you and the 27 IAF pilots who wrote the 2003 refusal letter you so lauded. I obviously share some of their opinions, but strongly disagree with the way they chose to express them. As citizens, they have the right to demonstrate, to write and to express their opinions in any manner and in any forum they choose, but their flight suits and helmets are not their private possessions. They were given to them by the state and cannot be used as part of their protest. Let them don their civvies when expressing their opinions and then I will respect them, even if they differ from my own. Let them write a letter as “concerned citizens” and not as air force pilots, disseminating it among their civilian friends, not among their commanders.

Finally, I must say to you and others of your ilk that before publishing venomous criticism one must know and understand the facts. In an air assault it is possible to reduce harm to innocent civilians much more than in a ground assault. Thus, if decision makers have to decide on attacking Hamas targets in civilian areas, an aerial strike is the lesser of two evils in terms of the civilians who are near the target site.

Worse than this is your lack of understanding of the harm caused by unfettered criticism to the delicate democratic fabric of Israeli society and to the attainment of objectives which you obviously support. When you encourage a pilot, or any soldier, to disobey orders that are not clearly prohibited, you encourage, or allow others to encourage, the preaching of disobedience in circumstances in which you deem it critical to obey orders. Furthermore, after such preaching from the left, it will be difficult to strongly oppose the chanting of slogans such as “death to leftists” and to avoid a deterioration into violent and illegal actions within our society. It is embarrassing that such misjudgment comes out of the liberal camp, of all places.

The occupation must be ended as soon as possible. Israel’s continued rule over the West Bank poses an existential threat to us both because of the expanding international boycott, which can cause grievous damage to our economy, and because it threatens the strength and spirit of this nation, whose children are forced to dominate another people as occupiers. I won’t dwell here on the tactics for ending the occupation, but one thing is crystal-clear: A majority of Israelis must be persuaded that such a move will contribute more to our strength and security than the perpetuation of the present situation.

Even those hoping for the best outcome, who believe that ending the occupation will contain the conflict and give us peace in our time, should consider the possibility that events will not unfold that way, and that the conflict will continue to erupt periodically, taking the form it takes now, with incessant rocket fire and an Israeli response such as Operation Protective Edge. Such a possibility poses in all its starkness the question of whether our situation with regard to the Gaza Strip, from which we withdrew a decade ago and no longer rule, is better or worse than our situation in the West Bank, which we have occupied for 47 years.

It should be said, honestly and clearly, that as difficult and infuriating as the situation may be the Gaza Strip is not an existential threat to Israel. This, despite the fact that the situation is a tragedy, the source of ongoing trauma and difficulties for Israelis living near the border with the Strip. Nevertheless, this is preferable to continued occupation, which does pose an existential threat.

It is precisely for these reasons, Gideon Levy, that if you want to bring an end to the occupation, whose damage you so admirably describe most of the time, you must accept the fact that withdrawal may force us in the future to fight and attack, whether by land or by air, areas from which we have withdrawn. Such attacks, even if conducted with the greatest care, will cause Palestinian civilian casualties in the event the ruling authority uses them as human shields. Without accepting this as a necessary evil resulting from the limited choices we face, one cannot recommend ending the occupation. Thus, insisting on the right to self-defense, even in densely populated areas, is a condition for ending the occupation.

The author is a tech entrepreneur and former IAF pilot.

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