Israeli Pilots Mutiny Over Illegal Liquidation Attacks in Palestine

Last week, a group of 27 pilots with Israel’s air force signed and made public a letter saying that they would not participate in certain types of “liquidation” attacks that recklessly endangered innocent Palestinians. Some of these attacks, which are designed to assassinate terrorists before the terrorists can launch their own attacks on Israel, are carried out by bombing civilian areas where the suspected terrorists are thought to be, and without regard for the innocents who will certainly be killed in such an attack.

The Israeli establishment’s take on this is more-or-less “better their innocent civilians than ours.” But some Israelis are reluctant to quietly relinquish their claim on the moral high ground and would rather that Israel not resort to the deliberate murder of innocents as its official policy.

I spent some time discussing the moral calculus involved in these types of attacks several months ago when a U.S. “bunker buster” bomb was deliberately dropped on a residential neighborhood in Baghdad in the hopes that Saddam Hussein was in a fortified building underneath the neighborhood. (See: The Picket Line — )

I bring this up here not to readdress that issue, and certainly not because I want to start hashing over the Israel/Palestine conflict in this blog, but because I was surprised at how seriously this gesture by the 27 pilots (most of whom were not assigned to fly the disputed “liquidation” missions in the first place) is being taken in Israel.

There are other conscientious objectors in Israel and other “refuseniks” in the Israeli military, and the debate about Israel’s policies is just as vigorous there as it is, say, in Blogistan. So it’s not that nobody has ever thought about these issues before.

It appears to have something to do with the prestige that the air force has in Israel. People are taking this a lot more seriously because pilots have a reputation of being steadfast and courageous defenders of Israel and of Zionism. One of the signatories, Yiftah Spector, is a hero of legend in Israel. The establishment probably fears that if such pilots are starting to question their orders, things may really be slipping.

The pilots aren’t just claiming that the bombing policies that are being carried out are immoral, but illegal (probably under the Nuremberg principles and however those principles are represented in Israeli law and military codes of conduct) and that they are obliged to disobey illegal orders. So this is more than a personal statement of conscience — it is putting other pilots on notice that they need to address for themselves a conflict between their orders and the law. And the Israeli establishment is interpreting this as a call to mutiny.

I wonder if a person or small group of people could get conscientious objection onto the public agenda here in the U.S.. Certainly it would take more than just the usual lefty suspects writing op-ed pieces or some malcontent and his blog. It would take someone unexpected, well-respected in establishment circles, and somewhat famous. I somehow doubt that Colin Powell is going to find religion and get on Fox News and say “Bush is going to have to find another Secretary of State if he wants someone to make excuses for a shock-and-awe attack on Damascus or Tehran.” Who’s your nominee for the role?

I’m more of a bottom-up than top-down person, myself, so I’ll nominate you before I nominate some celebrity.

I couldn’t help but do some googling around to try and find out if tax resistance has been tried as a tactic in the Israel/Palestine conflict. In fact, yes: the Palestinians tried it at the beginning of the intifada and it was taken very seriously by Israel.

In , leaders of the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour decided to protest the Israeli occupation by withholding taxes. They borrowed the “no taxation without representation” slogan from the American Revolution. Israel responded with draconian reprisals, arrests, curfews, blockades and with military force. The fury of Israel’s response might have encouraged Palestinians to acknowledge the strength of nonviolent activism, but seems to have had the opposite effect. The nonviolent resistance movement still exists, but has been overshadowed by the armed intifada.

Thanks to the folks at Strike the Root for giving a plug to The Picket Line today.