By Jeremy Salt – Ankara
Hello, brave Israeli airman.
What’s it like, firing missiles at people you can’t see? Does it help to keep saying that you are not deliberately targeting civilians? Does this enable you to sleep well at night or do you have nightmares of the women and children you killed, in their homes, in their beds, in their kitchens and living rooms, in their schools and markets and mosques? What do you feel when the mission is over? That you did a good job? Would you still think that you had done a good job if you were made to look at the dead and dismembered bodies that are your particular contribution to the Middle East ‘peace process’?
Your political leaders, your media and your government and military spokesmen are all describing your aerial attacks as a great success. How would you personally apply the words ‘good’ or ‘success’ to the killing of civilians? Does it cross your mind that people around the world regard you as a war criminal who should be prosecuted if your identity is ever revealed and if you step out of your own country and expose yourself to arrest in a country which takes war crimes seriously?
In your own country, so to speak, there are numerous precedents for what you are now doing. No doubt you remember the remark made by Dan Halutz, your former air force commander. When asked what he felt when he bombed an apartment building in Gaza, he said he felt the wings of his plane tremble as the bomb was released, killing 18 people when it exploded. Would you turn the killing of women and children into a joke? Commander Halutz was disgraced not for killing civilians, as one might think he should have been, but for running a poor war against Lebanon three years ago. Now the political leaders who gave you your orders have taken their place alongside him in the overcrowded pantheon of Israeli war criminals. They told you to go out and defend your country and that’s where the problem begins, doesn’t it. Your parents or grandparents took what you call your country from someone else. True or false? What you are actually doing by bombing Gaza is attacking those driven out of the homeland you say are defending but what you are defending is your ‘right’ to hold stolen property, and even after sixty years, that’s nonsense, isn’t it.
What do your parents say when you get home? Does your mother bustle around you, spoiling you, ruffling your hair, making you a cup of tea, relieved that her darling boy is home safe and sound. She won’t have any idea of what you actually did today, and you aren’t going to be the one to tell her – not that she will want to know. You just did your job. So, what was your job? What did you achieve today? We know what your mission was but what you actually did was something different.
In the name of destroying the terrorist infrastructure you killed civilians very efficiently and effectively. No possibility of them ever getting on their feet again. No chance of those children growing up or of their dead mothers giving birth to more children. No hope of the limbs or the head severed by the missile you fired being reattached to the body. No way of returning life to the dead. Perhaps it was you who bombed the market. If so, have the honesty to sit down and watch the video of what you did. You will be watching a scene from hell. It might occur to you that you have never seen such horror since … Since what? Since when? What is your parallel for what you have done? Since the Nazis did what you are doing to civilians or what the Americans did in Vietnam or Iraq? Does it somehow comfort you that many others before you have done exactly what you are doing, that you are no better and no worse than them?
In all likelihood you are a nice young man from a good family, proud that you got into the air force academy. You were taught how to fly the most advanced warplanes in the world so you could destroy the enemy. No doubt psychologists were called in at some stage to prepare you for incidental civilian deaths.
When the target area is the most overcrowded piece of earth on the planet you know that civilians are going to die but you will have your rationale all worked out. All this is the fault of the enemy. After all, they started this; after all, we did everything we could to avoid this; after all, they broke the truce; after all, they have made life hell for our people in the south; after all, they are taking shelter and hiding weapons among civilians; after all, we don’t deliberately target civilians …. there are so many after alls, aren’t there, and you will use them all up when explaining that while it was the missiles fired from your plane that killed all these people, while it was your hand that released these missiles, their deaths are not your fault. Is it your fault if the enemy turns schools, mosques, apartment blocks, university campuses, government ministries, the parliament building and ambulances into a terrorist infrastructure? So you are not the murderer – after all. They are the murderers.
The enemy is the murderer. He forced you to kill his own people. He left you with no choice. Of course, as a pilot in one of the best air forces in the world there is something suspect in all of this. You are in no danger over the skies of Gaza. The Gazans have no planes or ground to air missiles to threaten you. You are completely safe in the cockpit of your F16.You have all the time you need to lock on to your target and fire, so it has to be concluded that your bombing of a market or a shopping centre or a school is deliberate and that your killing of civilians is part of a plan worked out by your military commanders and endorsed by your politicians to render the Hamas government dysfunctional by terrorizing the civilian population. This is what the Americans did to Iraq in 2003 and this is what you or your fellow pilots did to Lebanon in 2006, of which, can we assume that what we are now seeing in action is the blueprint for what you intend to do to Lebanon next time around? That you did not go far enough in 2006, and intend to go still further in your next onslaught?
You must justify your crimes because otherwise you could not live with yourself or other people. You could not bear to listen to their praise because you know even if no one else does what you have done. But what will you say if all of this ever catches up with you, what will you say, not in the middle of the night when you are lying in bed staring up at the ceiling, wondering what you have done, but in the court of law where you are being tried for war crimes? ‘I was only obeying orders’. Surely even you have heard that somewhere before.
-Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.