Creating people's geographies
UN questions Israeli fighter pilots
AM (ABC, Australia) – Wednesday 9 August , 2006 08:04:00
Reporter: David Hardaker
TONY EASTLEY: The United Nations is to hold a special session this week, over Israel’s alleged violation of human rights in its four-week assault on Lebanon.
Already the Lebanese Government says more than 1,000 of its civilians have been killed by Israeli air strikes and ground attacks.
Today, Israel’s Air Force agreed to answer questions about its methods, giving an insight into the minds of its fighter pilots.
Middle East Correspondent David Hardaker reports.
(Sound of aircraft)
DAVID HARDAKER: This is the sound of an F-16 fighter jet, taking off from Hatzor Airbase in central Israel. From here, Israel has launched more than 1,000 sorties in Lebanon, to hit what it says are Hezbollah targets.
It’s a massive firepower – the very symbol of Israel’s military might. But the killing of hundreds of civilians has damaged Israel’s international reputation and has threatened its support.
Today, the man in charge of this base came to defend the Air Force’s actions.
COLONEL A: I’m very happy to have you here. I’m the base commander here.
DAVID HARDAKER: For security reasons, Israel insists that he be called Colonel A.
COLONEL A: For the last, almost four weeks, here in the base, we are in 24 hours, seven days, around the clock, war.
DAVID HARDAKER: Colonel A played Israeli Air Force video pictures of its hits on suspected Hezbollah targets.
COLONEL A: If you pay attention here, you will see the rockets that are being launched, and the launch area is here between those two houses.
Do you let this launcher keep launching, or do you hit it? And this is one of the things that our… my pilots have to deal with in real time. And I told them that if they see something like this, our civilians that are under attack should be protected by hitting this launcher.
DAVID HARDAKER: A pilot, he said, was instructed by headquarters on where to hit. The pilot had about three minutes to make the decision, and could refuse to if it appeared the target was wrong.
But Israel’s mistaken bombing of a building in the southern Lebanon town of Qana has become a turning point for international, and especially Arab opinion.
Almost 30 civilians were killed, mainly women and children. Arab satellite network, Al Jazeera, played the images for days.
But what effect does it have for the pilot in the hot seat? The answer explains a great deal about how Israel’s military deal with the vexed question of killing innocent civilians.
COLONEL A: I encourage my people to talk about their feelings, and we talk about the consequences of the thing that we… now, the case of Qana, for example, I personally. when I saw on the television, those photos of children and old people, I felt like it’s hurting myself, like it’s hurting… I immediately thought about my kids.
But I felt the same when I saw the guys from Haifa, and from… that were buried under the building two nights ago. We are often those civilians.
DAVID HARDAKER: Let me just ask, you’ve had to stop yourself there from almost crying. Why… is that what you have to do in real life?
COLONEL A: No, I don’t know why you think that I had to stop myself from crying.
DAVID HARDAKER: Well, you certainly looked like it.
COLONEL A: Okay. No, we are professional pilots, okay? But we are human. I want to tell you something. My mother, she is a Holocaust survivor. She was born in Poland and she lost all her family in the Holocaust. She was a child.
So I understand my mission. And in other times in history, we didn’t have military power to protect our people.
Now, Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad are saying, all over the world, that their purpose is to eliminate the state of Israel. This is their purpose.
So when your enemy has a purpose to eliminate your country, it’s very clear to you that you are protecting first and foremost, your own people. This is your mission.
TONY EASTLEY: Israeli pilot, Colonel A speaking to there with our Middle East Correspondent David Hardaker.