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Israeli pilot rebels accused of mutiny

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Wednesday October 1, 2003
The Guardian

Israeli MPs called yesterday for 28 air force pilots to be sacked and tried for mutiny for refusing to attack Palestinian towns.

The defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, told the knesset that the pilots were aiding "terrorists" when they signed a letter last week saying they would not carry out "illegal and immoral orders to attack, of the type Israel carries out in the [occupied] territories".

These included targeted assassinations in Palestinian urban areas which, the pilots said, endangered civilian lives.

Mr Mofaz called the pilots pretentious, sanctimonious and arrogant. "The refuseniks' letter gives moral encouragement to the lawless members of the terrorist organisations."

The knesset defence committee voted to call on the air force to sack the officers and consider trying them for "incitement to mutiny in a time of war". Most of the pilots are reservists, but six are still on active service. Their letter was described in the Israeli press as an "earthquake".

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and army reservists have refused to serve in the occupied territories, but the pilots' letter has outraged the military establishment and much of the public because pilots are held in such esteem.

The most senior of those involved, Yiftah Spector, is a fighter ace who has shot down 15 enemy planes in Israel's wars. The pilots have divided opinion, even among former Israeli air force commanders

Major General David Ivri, the commander from 1977 to 1982, said they were playing in to the hands of Hamas.

"[They] fell into the trap laid for them by the terror, and unintentionally and indirectly created support for terrorism and reinforced it and gave it a certain justification, without wanting to," he said.

But his successor, Major General Amos Lapidot, said he understood their motives.

"Their argument is not against the Israeli air force, but against those who issue the order, and those who determine the policy that leads us nowhere," he told the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

"I share your position that the occupation is increasingly corrupting this nation ... We are neither aware nor sensitive enough to what we are doing to the other side. We must begin to dismantle the settlements, we must recognise the fact that the Oslo accords have failed, not only because of the other side, but also because of us."

Newspapers reported that the letter reflected wider dissent in the air force about the "targeted killings" of wanted Palestinians, in which more than 100 civilians have died.


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