Active Duty U.S. Soldiers ‘Appeal for Redress’ to Voice Opposition to America’s Role in Israel’s War in Gaza

Interview with U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Juan Bettancourt, conducted by Scott Harris

As the Israeli military continues its onslaught in Gaza, the death toll of Palestinians now totals more than 37,000, with another 86,000 wounded in the war that began after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7.   In response to U.S. support for Israel’s Gaza war, supplying weapons responsible for thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths, an increasing number of U.S. military and State Department officials have resigned in protest against America’s role in this conflict.

Appeal for Redress v2 is a new campaign initiated by active-duty military members, veterans and G.I. rights groups to allow American service members to tell their elected representatives why they’re opposed to U.S. policy in Gaza. The campaign is modeled after the 2006 Appeal for Redress conducted during the unpopular U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Juan Bettancourt, on active duty with the Air Force while seeking conscientious objector separation. Here he talks about the Appeal for Redress campaign and explains why he’s opposed to U.S. support for Israel in its war in Gaza, declaring it’s “our responsibility to humanity and the principles we hold dear to speak up against these heinous acts and make it known to our elected officials that we will not stand by silently while genocide unfolds.”

JUAN BETTANCOURT: Before I begin, I want to clarify that any views that I express during the interviews are my own and not those of the Air Force or the Department of Defense. So about three months ago, soon after I decided to become a conscious objector and started working for Veterans for Peace and got in contact with Mike Ferner, at the time their director, we began to think about ways in which the organization and other peace movement orgs that are allied with Veterans for Peace can come up with a campaign to help and assist active duty guard members into expressing their frustration, their moral outrage at the ongoing genocidal onslaught in Gaza, which is backed by the United States government.

So it is, in a way, influence and an inspiration from the original 2007, 2006 Appeal for Redress, which was geared towards the highly unpopular invasion of Iraq at the time.

SCOTT HARRIS: Are the goals simply to allow active duty servicemen and women to express their views on U.S. policy when it comes to U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza to speak openly with their congressional or senatorial representatives? Is that the goal here?

JUAN BETTANCOURT: You’re absolutely right. That is the goal. This is protected speech. This is within our rights. It is quite common for active duty members to write to the representatives for a variety of issues, but often military members are frequently used as pawns in a game of American politics, with our beliefs and personal experiences manipulated for agendas, that there’s so little connection to our reality.

But they have historically placed us in peril. So this is an opportunity for members to express that outrage and to, in a way, you know, within the legal boundaries of military code, express that outrage, that dissent, but within legal boundaries.

SCOTT HARRIS: So, as you mentioned here earlier, you no longer wish to serve in the U.S. military due to its role in the Gaza War. And you’re actively now seeking conscientious objector status from the Pentagon. Tell us a little bit about how you reached that decision and what’s happening in Gaza that provoked you to want to leave your U.S. military career in the Air Force?

JUAN BETTANCOURT: So I’ve been apprehensive in my role in the military for quite some time, even predating the genocidale onslaught that began in October. But as last year came to a close, I just could no longer keep quiet about the war crimes being committed by Israeli troops in Gaza with the backing of United States government. And it was the idea of barbaric tactics, the genocidal language of their commanders that just reached unprecedented heights, and we were all witness to what was going on through our through our smartphones and other media reportings.

And I understood then that what lay ahead would be unlike any previous assault on Gaza Strip. And since then, I’ve written dozens of letters to elected officials and even a letter to the White House chief of staff. And I made it clear in this early letters and conversations that if I were assigned a mission that, you know, directly supported Israel in any capacity, I would refuse orders regardless of legal consequences.

So that was really my beginning and dissenting, speaking out against the war crimes being perpetrated in Gaza. And then an important turning point, a catalyst, if you will, was in favor of when Aaron Bushnell self-immolated in front of the Israeli embassy. And his tragic death was a turning point for me because I began to question seriously my participation in the military.

My conscience was developing in a way that made it impossible for me to continue. And it strengthened my resolve to speak out, especially attending his funeral here in Lackland Air Force Base, where we were both stationed. I never met Aaron, by the way.

SCOTT HARRIS: And just a final question before we say goodnight, Airman Bettancourt. And that is, if you had the opportunity to sit down with a member of Congress, either a representative of or a senator, in just a few short words, what would your message be to that representative who has the power to vote for or against U.S. policy when it comes to current U.S. support for Israel and its war in Gaza?

JUAN BETTANCOURT: I would tell them what I’ve been telling my peers, people that I meet in the street, people that have messaged me in support. I would ask them to look deep within their conscience and stand against this unspeakable carnage. I would ask them, what kind of legacy are we leaving for our children and grandchildren? Do we want them to grow up in a world where mass killings are live streamed, and just accept it as normal, where the dehumanization of certain groups is just taken as just a day-to-day action?

Is that the world that we want them to inherit? Is that the legacy that we want to leave behind? I say it’s not, Scott, and this is the moment where we must hold steadfast to our values of humanity and solidarity, both at home and abroad. And we cannot turn away and be complicit in these atrocities.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Juan Bettancourt (13:25) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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