My Lunch with Yonatan Shapira

Had the pleasure of meeting Yonatan Shapira for lunch in Evanston yesterday.  If you’ve never heard of him, Yonatan was an officer in the Israeli Air Force and flew hundreds of missions over the territories in a Blackhawk helicopter squadron during the course of his eleven year career. Following a targeted bomb assassination of a Hamas leader that killed fourteen civilians in Gaza, he became a prominent Israeli “refusenik,” authoring the Pilot’s Letter – a 2003 statement signed by 27 Israeli pilots who publicly refused to fly missions over the Occupied Territories.

Since that time, Yonatan has gone on to co-found “Combatants for Peace” a prominent organization in the growing Israeli Refusenik movement. A few years ago he gained some more notoriety for writing and performing “Numu, Numu,” a powerful protest song written in the form of an ironic “Lullaby to Pilots.”   (More recently, he’s become the object of a pop love song that’s currently making the rounds on Israeli radio – Richard Silverstein has the story on that in Tikun Olam).

I had known of Yonatan’s refusenik activism, but during our lunch conversation I was surprised to learn that he is also very active in supporting non-violent Palestinian actions in Sheikh Jarrah, Bi’ilin and throughout the Occupied Territories. (He was, in fact, arrested last January at a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah.) He told me that this work has been transformative for him, explaining that as an IDF officer and even as a leader in the Israeli peace movement he has always been socialized to step forward and lead the way. He said he’s come to realize that the most important way he can serve now is to “stand behind” Palestinians in their non-violent campaign for liberation.

He told me numerous stories about his experiences at demonstrations. He mentioned that the IDF is increasing their crackdown on protesters, that they hire infiltrators to throw stones at the army to given soldiers the a pretext to open fire. None of it succeeds, of course: quite the opposite. The Palestinian non-violence movement is growing steadily – a “White Intifada” that  Yonatan believes has already begun. As a IDF officer himself, he explained the Israeli military mentality – that army commanders truly believe they have the power to “outlaw” these protests through the sheer force of their military might.

Yonatan also mentioned that as part of his support of non-violent Palestinian activism, he has also signed on to the internal Israeli movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) known as “Boycott from Within.”   Now that is the new definition of bravery: a high ranking Israeli Air Force veteran who comes from a military family (his father was a fighter pilot during the Six Day War) has now firmly put himself on the front lines of a global non-violence campaign initiated by the very people he himself had once been trained to attack.

I assumed that Yonatan would be made a virtual pariah for his public stands. He replied that as a military man he understands how soldiers think and generally knows how to engage them in dialogue even when they strongly disagree with him.  He also mentioned that his family is supportive of his work – his father “is not quite there yet” but respects his activism and his mother is “the most active of them all.”

Click below for Yonatan’s “Lullaby for Pilots:”

13 thoughts on “My Lunch with Yonatan Shapira

  1. Cotton Fite

    Hope is never lost with people like Yonatan about. He offers a new definition of integrity and courage.

    1. Beth Harris

      I wonder if someone could translate into English the lyrics and written portions of this video.

  2. Miriam

    Thank you for posting this. It’s so great to read about how Israelis are involved in the peace movement. So often in America, we American Jews have been painted the picture of soldiers as the strong and tough ‘sabra.’ Certainly Yonatan is incredibly strong and tough, but has chosen to follow his heart for truth and justice. He is another example of someone who is leading and modeling ‘Jewish’ values of peace and justice. Hopefully the Israeli government will someday follow his lead.

  3. Stewart Mills

    A true hero Jonatan Shapira. Here are some youtube clips of Yonatan and other heroes for peace:

    See also Iftach Spector’s autobiography

    Iftach was the highest ranking airmen who signed the Pilot’s letter in 2003. Try and get this book at your local library so that other people can read his story.

  4. Josh

    Yonatan may be following his heart, but Yonatan is wrong.

    I don’t disagree that many things that the Palestinians must live through is hard, much harder than Israelis lives, but they have brought it upon themselves.

    The truth of the matter is that if all the Arabs were to put down their weapons tomorrow, we would have peace, and be on our way to a real two-state solution. Where as on the other hand, if the Israelis were to put down their weapons tomorrow, they would cease to exist very quickly.

  5. Pingback: Why we sailed to Gaza « Rabbibrian's Blog

  6. Mike

    Josh’s comments above clearly show how deep the ignorance of this conflict really runs. Josh seems to be a victim of the very effective propaganda put out by Israel and the United States.

    If you objectively study the history of this conflict, you see Israel as the aggressor, an occupying power, and the real cause of the continuation of the conflict.
    I encourage Josh to do a little independent research from real Israeli historians in order to see the truth of this conflict.

  7. monka blanke

    I hope that Yonatan will have many followers – then there will be peace. More and more people gather that the settlements are wrong, so there is hope…

  8. Barbara Williams

    Bless all the “Brave Hearts” for they understand, no matter our differences, “We” must find some common ground so the abuses of war are far behind. If not now? When?

  9. Reuben G

    Yonatan relates some good fictional propoganda. There is no non-violent Palestinian movement. The so called “White Intifada” has no members.


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