Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli captain and air force pilot, was born on an Israeli military base to a father who had flown fighter jets in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.
Shapira, however, refuses to carry on in his father’s footsteps. In 2003, he wrote a letter, pledging not to fly over the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
His decision has cost him greatly. He has faced backlash by the Israeli military for attempting to break the siege of Gaza.
He wanted to follow his father’s military legacy but could not come to terms with his motherland’s “assassination policy” of 2001-03.
While talking to the Electronic Intifada contributor Ryan Rodrick Beiler recently, Shapira remembered the events that brought about the change in him.
"In July 2002, Salah Shehadeh, head of the armed branch of Hamas in Gaza, was bombed in the middle of the night with an F-16 dropping a one-ton bomb on his house where he was sleeping with his children and his wife. The bomb killed fifteen people, most of them children, and about 150 were injured. If I needed some answer for my questions and doubts, that was clear: this is a terror attack. And I’m part of a terror organization.
“The commander of the air force said that everything was done perfectly, and the pilots should sleep well at night. That was an additional thing that helped us: when someone says you can sleep well at night, maybe it’s time to wake up and start to think. For me and several friends, that was the moment we decided to do something.”
Shapira also talked of 43 soldiers from the elite intelligence unit called 8200 who declared they are not willing to participate in criminal actions and high school seniors who decide they cannot join the Israeli army because it’s engaged in terrorism against civilians.
Joining hands with like-minded people in Palestine, Shapira and his fellows have started an organization called Combatants for Peace. “It was one of the most significant experiments I ever had in my life. To step into a room with people who before you were fearing to death – they were supposed to kill you and you were supposed to kill them. Suddenly you sit in a room and you talk about your story and about your family and friends. When you leave this room you are a different person. The 'we' and 'them' that you had before cannot exist anymore. We realized that we are actually much more similar than different,” he recalled.
He is also a member of Boycott from Within – a group of people from Israeli society who support the boycott “just like white activists in South Africa supported the boycott against apartheid.” Their goals are “to end apartheid for Palestinians within the 1948 borders; to end the control over Gaza and the West Bank; and to promote the right of return of the millions of Palestinian refugees around the world.”
Indeed, times are changing and whereas it may be in the interest of the political bigwigs to continue with assault and harassment, there are people on both the sides who feel differently. In the middle of 2014’s deadly Israeli onslaught on Gaza, many Israeli soldiers refused to participate in the offensive.
“For us, the army is flawed for reasons far broader than 'Operation Protective Edge,' or even the occupation. We rue the militarization of Israel and the army’s discriminatory policies," they declared.
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“Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard,” they went on.
He’s not alone. There are others like him as well who refuse to serve Israel against Palestine and the West Bank. Last year, more than 50 former Israeli soldiers signed a petition declaring their refusal to be a part of the Israeli military reserves.
Then there are the people.
Groups like Refuser Solidarity Network whose motto is “Ending occupation one soldier at a time” and Israel Loves Palestine and the people who refuse to tolerate and go ahead with barbarism in the name of patriotism and religion are the real faces of change and perhaps the only hope for the region.
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