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Israeli F-16s in Alberta Draw Fire From Civilians

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May 24, 2005

Israeli F-16s in Alberta Draw Fire From Civilians

by Dru Oja Jay

A September 6, 2004 attack by an Israeli F-16 in Gaza City. The bombing was an attempt to assassinate Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the religious leader of Hamas. Yassin survived the attack with light injuries, but was later assassinated by missiles from an Israeli helicopter gunship while exiting a Mosque in his wheelchair. The Israeli Air Force regularly bombs houses and civilian infrastructure in heavily populated areas. photo: Palestine Diaries
From mid May to late June, Israeli F-16 pilots will participate for the first time in the annual "Maple Flag" military exercises in northern Alberta, which includes pilots and observers -- over 5,000 personnel in total -- from 18 countries. Critics have raised concerns about Israel's invitation to the war games, citing the Israeli Air Force's (IAF) use of overwhelming force in fighting their war and occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

"We don't support this Canadian initiative," a Canadian Press article quoted Issam Alyamani of the Toronto-based Palestine House as saying at an educational and cultural centre in Toronto. "The Israeli air force was used to destroy Palestinian houses, and it was used against civilians in Gaza and the West Bank."

Over 3,600 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) since September 2000. According to Amesty International (AI), the Israeli Air Force (IAF) "routinely use F16 fighter jets, helicopter gunships and tanks to bomb and shell densely populated Palestinian residential areas." Over 150 Palestinians have been killed in targeted state assassinations.

Another recent change in the war games, which take place over an area of over 11,000 square kilometres, has been a move from air-to-air "dog fights" to "counterinsurgency" operations. "What we're seeing now is much more complex, much more of a counter-insurgency type battle fighting guerrilla warfare on the ground," Canadian Colonel CS "Duff" Sullivan told a National Post reporter.

Recent changes in Canadian foreign policy have emphasized developing capacity to "fight insurgents" on foreign soil. At a recent address at McGill University, Defence Minister Bill Graham explained that contemporary soldiers "may find themselves fighting insurgents in one area, patrolling the streets and keeping the peace in another, and providing humanitarian relief in a third."

Occupied populations, Graham continued, "must perceive the use of force in their neighbourhood, and the civilian casualties that are suffered, as being for their greater good and not just the repressive measures of a foreign occupying force."

An Israeli F-16.
Independent journalist Jon Elmer says that "the Israelis are using advanced jet-fighters on a largely unarmed civilian population defended by a series of popular militias." Elmer, who runs the web site FromOccupiedPalestine.org, lived in the Occupied West Bank for three months in 2003.

"The 'terror infrastructure' that I witnessed being targeted was civic and state infrastructure including police stations, schools, community centres, jungle-gyms, key sewage and waste management facilities, major roads and electrical grids, as well as civilian homes in densely populated centres."

AI has reported that "the IDF has destroyed more than 3,000 homes and damaged thousands more," as well as targeting "large areas of agricultural land and other public and private properties, and water and electricity infrastructure."

In 2003, over 30 pilots of Israeli F-16s and Black Hawk helicopters stated their refusal to fly missions in the Occupied Territories, citing orders to conduct "illegal" attacks. According to the pilots, the line was crossed when a one-tonne bomb was dropped on the home of Hamas leader Salah Shehade, killing him and 14 others, mostly children. The pilots were concerned that Israel's credibility was harmed by attacks carried out in contravention of international law.

The Canadian military originally began the exercises in 1977 to address the heavy losses of US fighter planes in Vietnam by providing "more realistic" combat training. During the same year, President Jimmy Carter refused to apologize for US actions in Vietnam, saying "the destruction was mutual."

During the Vietnam war, an estimated 3 million Vietnamese lost their lives, along with more than 58,000 American soldiers. US forces dropped 6.5 million tonnes of bombs and 11.2 million gallons of Agent Orange on the country, destroying more than 10,000 hamlets and 25 million acres of forest.

» Canadian Press: Israeli air force to take part in Alberta war games; Palestinians opposed

» F-16.net: Israeli F-16s to participate at Maple Flag XXXVIII

» Amnesty International: Israel and the Occupied Territories: An ongoing human rights crisis

» Department of National Defence: Speaking Notes for The Honourable Bill Graham, P.C., M.P. Minister of National Defence at the Annual Conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada

» Guardian: 'We're air force pilots, not mafia. We don't take revenge'

» FromOccupiedPalestine.org

» The Courier Newspaper: Canada's Air Force Hosts Exercise MAPLE FLAG 38

» Baltimore Sun: 25 Years After End Of Vietnam War: Myths Keep Us From Coming To Terms With Vietnam

» The Dominion: Israelis Criticizing Israel

» The Dominion: Day to Day: Life in Occupied Palestine

» Palestinian Red Crescent: Table of Figures, Palestinian Casualty Database

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