Israel's F-16 and Black Hawk refuseniks say why they could not obey illegal orders and kill innocent Palestinians
For two months, a rebel group of Israeli Black Hawk helicopter and F-16 fighter pilots has been denounced as traitors for saying they will no longer bomb Palestinian cities.
Until now they have maintained a resolute silence on their motives, preferring to limit their criticism of Ariel Sharon's war to a letter signed by 27 reserve and active duty pilots refusing to carry out what they described as illegal orders, and denouncing the occupation as eating at the moral fabric of Israel.
Now, having been thrown out of the air force, they are talking publicly about what brought members of the most revered branch of the Israeli military to make an unprecedented challenge to the handling of the conflict with the Palestinians.
"I served more than seven years as a pilot," said Captain Alon R, who, like all the younger pilots, hopes to return to combat flying and so declines to use his full name in order to retain his security clearance. "In the beginning, we were pilots who believed our country would do all it could to achieve peace. We believed in the purity of our arms and that we did all we could to prevent unnecessary loss of life.
"Somewhere in the last few years it became harder and harder to believe that is the case."
The line was crossed for most of the pilots with the dropping of the one-tonne bomb last year on the home of a Hamas military leader, Salah Shehade, killing him and 14 of his family, mostly children.
One captain described the bombing as deliberate killing, murder even. Another called it state terrorism, though some colleagues swiftly stomped on that interpretation. But they all agreed that the attack sowed the doubts that resulted a year later in the letter that sent shockwaves through the Israeli military.
"The Shehade incident was a red light for us, a final warning," said Capt Alon R. "With Shehade I began to re-evaluate my beliefs. We killed 14 innocent people, nine of them children. After my commander gave an interview in which he said he sleeps well at night and his men can do the same. Well, I can't. We refused to see it as an innocent mistake."