In Israel, being a military pilot is considered one of the most prestigious professions out there. Pilots are regarded as intelligent, hard-working and successful members of society. In Gaza, on the other hand, Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots are nothing but nameless, faceless individuals who bomb buildings and towns. They are the face of death and destruction.
We asked Gazans what theyd like to ask an IAF pilot if given the opportunity. We took their questions and interviewed a pilot. Here are the questions they asked, and the answers they received.
In Israel there is mandatory military service everybody joins the army by law. I was found fit to serve in the air force as a pilot, and I think its a privilege to serve your country in the best way you can. As the years went by I discovered I was good at it. I began to advance in the ranks, and it turned into a career. It wasnt planned.
The State of Israel is a democratic country where it is each persons right to think what he wants, and to say what he thinks. Every word Ill say here reflects only what I think. It is not what somebody else has told me to say, nor anybody elses opinion but mine.
First of all, that is factually incorrect: not every airstrike results in the harming of innocent civilians. Although Israel strikes in Gaza thousands of times, the harming of civilians, which we very much try to avoid, is very limited. Our clear and distinct goal is first of all to avoid harming civilians.
Hamas puts their civilian population in between themselves and their enemy, whether it be in schools, mosques, etc. When we strike a mosque, nobody means to strike a mosque, but when there is an arsenal, a weapon warehouse or a military base inside it, you strike it. There is no choice, because an armys first obligation is to protect its nation, and that is what the IDF does. Its goal is first of all to protect its citizens. Harming innocent people is highly undesirable and Israel does everything in its power to avoid it, but when the choice is between the safety of your people and the safety of the other sides people, you have to put your people first.
Yonatan Shapira is the proof of what I said earlier: in the State of Israel each person has freedom of thought and freedom of expression. He translated what he thought into acts against his country, because he truly believes that Israel does horrible things. However, he didnt propose to Israel any other solution for how to protect its people. If he finds some magical solution to that problem maybe it will be possible to take him seriously, but as long as he only rebels against his country and expresses acts against it, he is only causing harm. In my opinion he is also causing harm to the Palestinian side, since only saying what shouldnt be done and not saying what should be done is very easy, and doesnt promote anything.
First off, I want to remind you that Israel did not initiate the 2014 war. The other side started it, and what were they thinking, that they could attack the population here daily, hourly, and that we wouldnt respond?
A given location within an Israeli city is not any less dense than Gaza. When Hamas attacks in order to hurt civilians, and not military locations, is that ok? They didnt try to hit IDF bases, Hamas just attacks the civilian population. Do they just expect us to say oh no and wait? We do everything in our power to avoid hurting innocent people or hitting unwanted targets. However, in this kind of a battle, when Hamas burrows in civilian territory, if they think they wont be found theyre mistaken. If theyd go out into more open territories, nobody would get hurt. I say that we were moral because I know the procedures that lead up to any target or airstrike being approved. Weve refrained from attacking countless targets because we knew how many refugees, civilians, were there. I am very aware of the procedures, and its very moral.
Ill start my answer with a question does the Hamas really act according to international law when they attack towns in order to kill civilians [laughs]? That is completely, exactly according to international law [sarcastically]. International law works both ways. If youre asking this kind of a question, I hope youre familiar with the international law.
But, if youre already asking: Everything the IDF does is accompanied by legal reviews and jurists who state exactly what is or isnt legal. The international law always stands before our eyes, its always on our minds. On a personal level, since all actions are planned according to international law, we believe that we are backed by international law. Im not saying that there arent instances where we come close to violations, because we operate in dense civilian areas, but the topic of international law is always on our radar. As I said before, there are targets and operations that are disqualified because they dont adhere to international law.
If yes, what is your opinion on the following statement:
The Gaza Strip is an occupied territory by international law; especially after the international recognition of the State of Palestine, your airstrikes are considered assaults on a foreign country with no army. Can this be considered moral?
First of all, Gaza is not occupied territory. You cant claim it is, Israel withdrew from Gaza in a one-sided move. Second of all, Hamas has a strong military wing, you cant say that Gaza is a country with no army.
In terms of morality I dont want to say most or anything of the sort. Personally, I know I serve in an army that acts according to moral values of the highest order, but I dont want to say that it is more or less than any other – I dont want to make those kinds of comparisons. Just like I dont compare myself to Hamas, because if we were to act like Hamas does, with the goal of killing as many people as possible, we would have killed many, many thousands.
And its very important that you know Gaza is not occupied territory.
There is no connection between the two things. Anybody who flies over hostile territories understands that the enemy probably wants to hurt him, and does what is necessary to avoid being hit of course I wont go into details about that here. About the airstrikes, theres no connection to height. If anything, the airstrikes are only getting more exact, it has nothing to do with high or low flight. With every strike ourprecision only improves. Even when we strike a target in between houses, we use a specific kind of bomb in order to hit only what we need to.
I dont agree with or accept the governments policies. I think Israel needs to find the solution, since we are the stronger side.
There is a cycle of violence here that keeps repeating itself, and I think the strong side is the one that can more easily get us out of it. If Israel would express some kind of good intentions towards Gaza, for example lessening the blockade in exchange for steps Hamas will take, and there will be cooperation, it can help us out of the cycle. The Netanyahu government doesnt have the courage to do so. One cant do everything all at once, you need to go slowly, step bystep. I believe Hamas will have good reason to agree to this. Theyre no longer a classic terrorist organization, theyre not just a guerilla. They have more than a million and a half citizens they’re committed to care for.
– They invest a lot in social welfare, actually.
True. They invest a lot, but not enough. They invest more underground [reference to Hamass tunnel system].
I expect my government to initiate actions that will get us out of this cycle of violence. This hasnt happened yet, unfortunately.
First of all, in the next 10-15 years there is no chance for peace. Its a question about which I’m gradually getting more and more pessimistic as the years go by. I used to think that only Israel needs to take steps to bring peace, but today it’s pretty clear to me that it depends not only on Israel, but on leaders from both sides, and today they are weak. There are no leaders who can decide for their people what is needed, theyre all populists. I used to be very, very left winged, but in recent years I’ve become more realistic. I dont think peace needs to be our goal right now. Peace is a vision we may reach after decades of understanding. First of all we need to reach understanding and acknowledgement. If we do that, eventually peace will arrive on its own after weve lived peacefully for ten or twenty years. If this lasts, and Israel feels that the Palestinians accept its existence and the Palestinians feel that they can develop themselves, grow and thrive, there is a chance.
Its very sad to say, but when I was a kid, my parents told me that when I reached army age I wouldn’t have to serve, because there would be peace. Now nobody dreams of saying such a thing, sincethe prospect of peace is just getting further and further away. Our goal today shouldnt be peace, but rather quiet and building trust.
It starts and ends with the leaders. As long as they arent strong enough to do it we will keep dreaming. I think that today, talking about peace is sort of nave. Peace isnt hocus-pocus. Its not like when we made peace with Egypt, where it was just a matter of time, everyone expected it. This situation is much deeper and more complicated.
I think it is the only possible solution, therefore I have to believe that it will see the light. I also think that in practice, there already are two states, certainly in Gazas case. If we attain some kind of cease-fire agreement, a long one, 10-15 years, where both sides will be able to grow and develop within themselves, there is a chance that well reach a solution.
Will it last? Woe to us if it doesnt, because then there will be utter chaos. Hamass fighting abilities will become more sophisticated, that is clear to us, and we too will need to attack there harder. Just look at how things have been getting worse in recent years. I dont even want to think of what will happen if there is another war.
The two state solution is the only one, and we have to believe itll last, otherwise theyll keep killing us, and we them. And its a shame.
Catch us for Interview With the Enemy: Part Two in the coming weeks, when Israelis get a chance to interview the other side.