The Israeli Government says it plans disciplinary action against a group of air force pilots who have refused to take part in assassination operations in the occupied territories.
Although scores of Israeli ground soldiers have already been jailed or disciplined for refusing to serve in occupied Palestinian territories on grounds of conscience, this week's declaration is the first act of open dissent by air force pilots - the elite of Israel's highly militarised society.
Signed by 27 active and reserve officers, a letter released on Wednesday said: "We, who were raised to love the State of Israel and to contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in air force strikes in civilian population centres.
"We, for whom the Israel Defence Forces and the Israel Air Force are an inseparable part of us, refuse to continue to hurt innocent civilians.
"These acts are illegal and immoral and are a direct result of the ongoing occupation that corrupts all of Israeli society."
The protest has shocked Israel, with the balance of opinion against it. Several commentators said that whatever the rights and wrongs of the occupation, serving officers should not take political stands against obeying orders.
The head of the air force, General Dan Halutz, said only nine of the 27 were on active service and they would be asked to retract their statements or be dismissed. The other signatories are said to be older officers seldom if ever called up for active duty. One, Brigadier General Yiftah Spector, commanded a squadron in the Yom Kippur war 30 years ago.
In media interviews some of the signatories said their protest had its genesis in July when the Government ordered an F-16 jet to drop a one-tonne bomb on a Hamas leader, Salah Shehade, in Gaza at a time of relative quiet in the conflict.
The attack took place in a residential area late at night and nine children were among those killed. It was followed by a renewed wave of terrorist attacks in Israel. Defending the assassination as a strike against terrorism, General Halutz said his pilots could sleep well at night.
"I grew up on the slogan 'The best become pilots'," one of the letter's signatories, identified as Captain Alon, told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
"But when I heard Halutz talking about Shehade's assassination - the worst strike, the biggest stain as I see it, in the history of the Israeli Air Force - something deep broke inside me. I don't sleep well at night. How many more have to be killed until we realise that we are committing crimes?"
Since a suicide bomb on August 19, Israeli aircraft have killed 12 Hamas members and four bystanders in the Gaza Strip and injured scores more.
Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Sept 2003