A clutch of Israeli Air Force pilots raised eyebrows when they signed a letter this fall refusing to participate in attacks on Palestinian militants hiding in populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Such "targeted eliminations," they argued, are "illegal and immoral" because they often cause civilian casualties. Israeli officials countered that pilots take pains to avoid injuring civilians, and the air force discharged the 27 dissenters, some of whom are decorated officers. Now the pilots are demanding they be reinstated. If the air force doesn't comply, they say, they will take their case to the Supreme Court.
That is something Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government does not welcome. The pilots' lawyer, Michael Sfard, tells TIME that any such case would test the legality of targeted eliminations themselves. The pilots were dismissed because they threatened to disobey orders, but Israeli law permits soldiers to disobey clearly illegal commands. So the court would be forced to decide whether the pilots are right to call the targeted eliminations illegal. "We're fighting to keep Israel moral, democratic and strong," says Captain Assaf, a dissenting reserve F-15 pilot, whose last name can't be disclosed owing to military restrictions.
It is not the first time this policy has been challenged. The human-rights group Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has also petitioned the Supreme Court to declare targeted eliminations illegal, but the case hasn't moved much since January of last year. This time, though, the court would be required to hear the case quickly because it concerns the pilots' livelihood. That's just what Sfard wants: "We need to hasten this decision, because all the time the guns are firing and the assassinations go on."