Dream of becoming combat pilot ends – for now
Photo: Ronny Schitzer
Air Force rejects Muslim teen's request
Youth says he's not giving up yet
Photo: Gil Nechoshtan
No Arab pilots for now: The IDF's Personnel Directorate has decided to reject the request of an18-year-old Arab Muslim from northern Israel who sought to join the army's prestigious pilot training course, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.
Instead of becoming a pilot, the army offered the teen to volunteer to the paratroopers.
The disappointed youth, who graduated from high school with honors and already holds a civilian pilot's license, is expected to undergo initial tests on Thursday for the IDF's paratroopers unit.
However, the teen's father said the youth plans to appeal the decision to IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, and if needed even take the matter to court, in order to open the pilot course for Arab Muslims as well.
Muslims are not obligated to join the army, and only a few dozens volunteer to the IDF every year. Hence, the Arab teen's unusual request managed to surprise the defense establishment.
IDF Major (res.) Michael, the youth's instructor at the civilian pilot course, who is himself a former combat pilot, even sent a reference letter to the IDF, praised the young pilot's performance and recommended the Air Force welcome him to its ranks, adding that he was convinced his student was "loyal to the State."
The teen's father said Monday that "in the past few days I spoke with a senior official at the IDF's Personnel Directorate who explained to me that the course is closed to the Arab sector for the moment."
"The official made it clear that if the course opens in the next year or two, my son would be able to try and join the course. In the meantime, he will get an opportunity somewhere else," the father added.
The IDF's Personnel Directorate refused to issue an official statement to explain why the teen would not be summoned to the pilot course. However, IDF officials said that apart from the youth's matriculation exam results and his flight abilities, other criteria were also being examined, and it is not certain the teen met all of them.
'My duty is to protect the State'
The youth was very disappointed when he opened the envelope sent to him from the recruiting office and discovered that he was being summoned to the paratroopers' course instead of the pilot course.
"It took the army a long time to answer my request, and I felt that as the days went by my chances of receiving a positive answer were growing," the youth told Yedioth Ahronoth Monday.
"Now I plan to join the paratroopers, but do not intend to give up on my dream to be a pilot. I will try again and again, until the door opens. I was educated to be devoted to the State and asked to join the Air Force because I believe that it is a great privilege and not a duty to serve in the army of the State where I grew up," he said.
"With all modesty, my qualifications allow me to study at any university in the world, but I still told my parents that I decided to join the army – and I am proud of it," he added.
"Of course I am aware of the fact that Israel is still in a state of war with some of the Arab countries, but I see myself as an Israeli in the full sense of the word. My loyalty is to the State of Israel and my duty is to protect it. I will execute any order I receive during my service," he concluded.
The teen's flying instructor also expressed his disappointment following the army's decision.
"There is no other way but to include all the State's citizens in running the State and protecting it. We don’t see them as part of the State today, but a large majority of them do see themselves as part of this country," he said.
"This decision is a mistake. The army missed out on a great opportunity to provide a large sector with a feeling of responsibility and partnership," he added.
Another person who supports a decision to integrate Arabs into the army's pilot course is former Shin Bet Chief Major-General (res.) Ami Ayalon, who said that this is a fundamental issue and that the army should open all its special units to all citizens in accordance with regular security limitations.
The youth's father added that he had high expectations the IDF would support his son's request and accept it.
"Such a decision, if it had been made, would have constituted a breakthrough in terms of integrating Israel's Arab citizens in all areas of life, and especially in the areas closed to us," he said.
"My son will not give up. There is no chance. He wants to be part of the Air Force family," the father concluded.