Yonatan Shapira is a former rescue pilot in the Israeli Air Force and a founding member and prominent activist of the Israeli movement Boycott From Within. He was interviewed in Naples by Dmitri Lascaris.
In 2003, after more than 10 years of service in the Israeli Air Force, I was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot doing rescues and flying soldiers doing everything that I was asked. I realized together with other friends in the air force that we are fighting for the wrong side, and we are part of an organization that commits a crime against innocent Palestinians, and we do not want to be part of it anymore.
So together with a group of about 27 pilots from all different squadrons of the Israeli air force, attack pilots, rescue pilots like me and others, veterans and active, we sent this letter to our commander and the whole society in Israel telling them that we are no longer willing to obey the orders and be part of this illegal and criminal, immoral, occupation. That’s what started my life as an activist fifteen years ago, on the eve of the Jewish year, Rosh Hashanah.
As a human being,and confident about activists. calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions because we believe it’s for the benefit of Palestinians and Jews.
Of course, the Zionist society in Israel doesn’t like it. So you pay the [little] price of being a dissenter in an apartheid state. You lose some of your privileges but overall I’m still able to lead a relatively comfortable life.
Slowly, the apartheid system is making it harder and harder and more difficult on us. But again, when I look and compare my life to the life of a Palestinian or a refugee in Israel, or even a non-white Ashkenazi Israeli I’m quite comfortable. Many in Parliament are trying o make apartheid in Israel more official. So different laws will make it even harder for us to still be free to still act.
It’s just important to remember that Israel claims to be a democracy. It is not. It’s an apartheid state led by a group of fascist Jewish supremacists , prime minister, and ministers. But if you’re a Zionist Jew, you can feel great democracy. If you are not a Zionist, and if you’re not a Jew, you’re living in apartheid.
The first time I tried to break the blockade of Gaza with a group of activists on the Freedom Flotilla was 2010. three months after what happened on the Mavi Marmara, where the Israeli army shot and killed about 10 activists from Turkey, The helicopter that landed, the soldiers that killed and massacred those people were helicopters from the squadron I used to fly in, this Blackhawk squadron in the Israeli air force
I then decided that I must participate in the second boat that will try to break the blockade. It happened in September 2010. We were very small, and we were intercepted by many warships I got the better treatment of a Taser gun in my heart. Maybe they thought that they will resuscitate my Zionist behavior but instead it just made me more clear about my decision and confident about the need to struggle against apartheid and this illegal crime of ghettoization of two million people in Gaza
The second attempt was 2011 on a crew of The Audacity of Hope a big American boat, and we were part of the second flotilla trying to leave from the Piraeus in Greece. Unfortunately, the Greek government was co-opted by Israel and the U.S., and with different pressure they obeyed Bibi Netanyahu. We had a big sign saying, who’s your commander, Netanyahu or Poseidon? Who is the god of the sea. Is it Israel, or the Greek Poseidon? We were stopped by gunpoint by the Greek coast guard a few minutes after leaving the port,
And the third attempt was 2012 with the Ship to Gaza, the Swedish group and many international organizations, We had other Israelis on board and we were also stopped about 40 miles from, from the Gaza shore. This time it was a big operation. I guess they used it as a manoeuvre for training their forces, because they knew that we are not posing any military threat,
There were hundreds, maybe thousands of soldiers participating. about 15 warships, big and small and also one Blackhawk helicopter same as I used to fly. They again arrested us, tasered us, and took us to the Navy base of Ashdod, and we spent a few days arrested.
You ask about hope. Well gives me hope is not the governments and the system that controls us in our countries.hypocrisy is everywhere What gives me hope is to see the popular struggle of Palestinians showing incredible bravery similar to stories I grew up on like the Warsaw Ghetto. We see in Gaza people walking int the fence, of the biggest prison in the world without bearing any arms. trying to protest this siege. Here the mighty power of the Israeli military collapses, when we have thousands and thousands of Palestinians that are uniting, holding hands and standing in front of the Israeli snipers.
That gives me hope. That means that it’s not going to be able to last forever. It’s quite clear that this symbolic struggle of the Palestinians for freedom will be won at some point. And our job is to not be deterred.
We need you in Canada, or in the U.S., or in Europe, to join this struggle. for justice for Palestine.