Posted 6 years ago on July 24, 2014, 6:27 p.m. EST by flip
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AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by the author of that article, Yael Even Or. She is an Israeli journalist and activist who, during her service, evaluated candidates for the recruitment department of the Israeli army. She’s now a graduate student in international affairs at The New School.
And in Tel Aviv, we’re joined by Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli captain and Air Force pilot. He was one of the organizers of a 2003 letter signed by 27 Air Force pilots who refused to participate in Israeli military operations against Palestinians. Shapira has also signed on to the internal Israeli movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, known as BDS.
Yael Even Or and Yonatan Shapira, we thank you very much for being with us. I want to stay with you, Yonatan, in Tel Aviv, first. Talk about the climate right now in Tel Aviv and where you stand 10 years after you resisted attacking Palestinians as an Air Force pilot.
YONATAN SHAPIRA: Hi, Amy. The line is not perfect, but I will try my best. Just before I answer your question, you asked me where do I stand. So, if the cameraman can make a little wider shot, I can just turn to the back and show you the center of Tel Aviv. You can look behind me. The camera guy is not happy about that, but you can see the headquarter of the Kirya just few meters from the biggest hospital in Tel Aviv, Ichilov. You can see all of them just behind me, just in this frame. Just next to it, you have the biggest tower in this side of Tel Aviv. It’s the HaShalom Towers, the Peace Tower. And I think, in some symbolic way, it tells the whole thing. We are here talking about how the Hamas surround themselves with children, using them as a shield. By now, it’s 160 children dead and around 730, 740 people, most of them civilians. And Israel is still using this argument that the Hamas surround themselves with children. And I want you just to look at this picture and tell me what you think. You can really see the tower with the antennas. This is the headquarter of the Kirya, the headquarter of the army, the Israeli army that is controlling Gaza, controlling the air, the sea, the area in the West Bank, in everywhere. And just few meters from there, you have Ichilov and you have basically the city center of Tel Aviv. So, I think it’s very important, especially for liberal Jews that are now protecting and helping Israeli propaganda machine.
Regarding where I am after 10, 11 years after refusing, I feel that it’s like the situation that you feel that you are walking on a path, and slowly everyone else, or almost everyone else, are disappearing far, far to the right of you. Today we are a minority of a minority of activists in Israel. Of course there are more and more people, but we are still a very, very small minority. We have people that are going to jail. I have a friend who is going to jail on Monday for refusing to enlist with the army. There are now a few people in jail.
But overall, overall, there is a disease in my country, and the disease is spreading very fast, and it’s called fascism and racism. Fascism and racism is now the biggest threat of the Jewish people in the Middle East. And I can just cry and shout and ask everyone that hear us now to join the BDS movement, to join the boycott, divestment and sanction movement, and to try to put enormous pressure on your leaders, wherever they are, that they, in turn, will help us here stop this massacre, stop this ongoing slaughter of innocent people. I have friends in Gaza now that yesterday called and told us that their house in Shejaiya was leveled. Now the only thing they have is the cellphone, and a family of nine people are hiding in the Shifa Hospital. This is a war crime. This is an ongoing slaughter of innocent people. And that’s the discussion. That’s what we have to talk about, how to stop it.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me, Yonatan—
YONATAN SHAPIRA: I am getting very emotional, because I can even feel how—yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Yonatan Shapira in Tel Aviv, when you resisted in 2003, refused as an Air Force pilot, as a captain, to attack Palestinians, what were the consequences of that move? You’re part of the elite group of Air Force pilots, your family; you come from a family of pilots.
YONATAN SHAPIRA: Well, first, luckily, I was flying rescue helicopters, and I flew soldiers, but I felt that my responsibility is nevertheless as big as the pilots who are attacking and throwing those bombs. The reaction was that, of course, the military dismissed us and, of course, said that it’s wrong, but we had about one-fifth of the Israeli society, in a poll that was conducted by the Israeli National Radio, supporting our initiative. One-fifth, in those days, mean one million Israelis were sympathetic to the concern that we raised about the morality of these actions.
I think the interesting thing about what happen now is what you hear is all the time how amazing and morally we act. Yesterday I listened to the army news, and the discussion was how pilots and soldiers are complaining that there are so many limitations they have to abide and follow because of the threat of harming civilians. So the whole discourse is how good we are and how we are willing to sacrifice and endanger ourself in order to be careful and not to kill civilians while doing this crazy massacre that, by the way, is much, much more intense. If you look at the mass of casualties and dead people in those days, it’s much faster than even in Cast Lead.
What the army actually did with us is, after 10 days that we got time to think about it and to meet our immediate commanders in the bases, we were invited to an interview with the commander of the army, and then if we said that we are not withdrawing our signature, we do not regret, we were dismissed from the Air Force. And we got a letter of dismissal saying that—like, the first thing they mentioned in this like sort of legal letter was that we filmed ourself and we interviewed with a uniform without permission. They had really difficult time to bring us to court, for example, because—and we actually wanted that. I sat in front of the commander of the Air Force, and I said, "Well, I feel totally complete and whole with everything that we did, and I’m happy to be even sent to jail if you can prove and show in court that we refused legal orders. We think that all these orders are illegal and immoral. And even by the laws of the Israeli army, you must disobey to an order that is illegal, immoral and is going to harm civilian and innocent people." Of course, the army, the Air Force chose not to open any court case against us, because it would just serve us and give us a platform to raise more and more of these issues within the public, the Israeli public, debate.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you, Yonatan, you are right there in Tel Aviv. This issue of the siege, that I asked Yael about, for an American audience, it is not explained very much what it means for Gaza to be under siege for these years. Can you explain technically what that means?
YONATAN SHAPIRA: Technically, Gaza is the biggest open-air prison. People inside cannot go in and out. They can find their way through tunnels sometime, but most of the population is locked there as prisoners. Israel control the air. Israel control the sea and the land. And the little strip that Egypt controls is basically coordinated with Israel and the United States to keep this a cage with those 1.8 million people. I, myself, tried, with different groups and a flotilla, to sail to Gaza and to break symbolically the blockade, but we were stopped by the Israeli occupation forces, claiming that we are dangerous because maybe we are bringing a weapon. So, just it’s so ridiculous to see now. You know, they stopped us from bringing the weapon, and I don’t think that Hamas had any problem to bring a weapon in. Maybe even in some paradoxical way it helps Netanyahu and his guys, these missiles, because I’m here in Tel Aviv, and I have a 10-month-old baby, and I have to hug her and go to the shelter when the missiles are falling, but it’s really nothing compared to what people in Gaza are experiencing. And I have family in Sderot, next to Gaza, and I have even relatives who are in Gaza as soldiers.
And I think that if I have to give one allegory to this whole thing, and this need of Israel and me, myself, of self-protection—legitimate thing, by the way; I want to be safe, I don’t want anyone to bomb me and to kill me and my baby—I would imagine it as gang rape. And forgive me for using this hard language, but when you have a group of people raping someone, and this person that is being raped starting to scratch, the first thing you want to do in order to stop the scratches is to stop the rape. And what Israel, official Israel, is trying to do is to continue the rape and deal with the scratches. And I say, stop the rape, stop the occupation, stop the apartheid, stop this inhumane ghettoization of Palestinians, and then—then—we can start talking, and we can reach peace agreements and all these beautiful words that now don’t mean anything for us.