Eighteen-year-old Omar Saad was recently handed down a sixth prison sentence for his ongoing refusal to serve in Israel’s occupation army.
“I declare that I will refuse to serve in the army even if I’m jailed sixty times,” Saad stated in Arabic on his Facebook page on 23 March.
The anti-militarization group New Profile is encouraging letters of support to Omar Saad, as well as letters to the Israeli authorities calling for Saad’s release, and letters to the media to bring attention to Saad’s imprisonment (see here for more details).
Saad, a violist, was first jailed in early December last year after he and his siblings performed a musical protest outside of an Israeli military induction center in the Galilee, where the majority of Palestinians in present-day Israel reside. He has since been handed down six consecutive sentences of twenty days’ imprisonment.
The Israeli authorities also denied visiting rights to Saad’s attorneys until these arbitrary restrictions were successfully challenged by Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
Saad is a member of the Druze religious minority, which, unlike the majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel, are required to serve in the military.
Before he was first jailed last year, Saad told Amnesty International: “I don’t want to be part of the Israeli army because the Israeli government is responsible for the occupation [of the Palestinian Territories]. As an Arab Druze I consider myself part of the Palestinian people — so how can I be part of the army that occupies my people? I won’t sell all my beliefs and my identity to anyone.”
Divide and rule
Not only are growing numbers of Druze youth refusing to serve in the Israeli army, they are also calling for the abolishment of compulsory service for the Druze community. Members of the community across generations state their opposition to conscription in this video:
As Jonathan Cook reported for The Electronic Intifada in 2013: “The Druze community … has been conscripted into the army since the 1950s. As a consequence, Israel designated the Druze a national group distinct from the rest of the Palestinian minority, and created a separate education system to inculcate ‘Zionist values.’”
Now Israel is undertaking new efforts to enlist youth from the Palestinian Christian community, numbering 125,000 persons or approximately nine percent of the Palestinian population with Israeli citizenship, into the army. Like it did with the Druze community, Cook writes, Israel is attempting to exploit sectarian differences to isolate Christians from the rest of Palestinian society and break Palestinian communal solidarity.
Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna: the Association for Arab Youth, wrote for The Electronic Intifada last week:
Many from the 1948 community (Palestinian citizens of Israel) see that preserving our Palestinian identity is our main struggle. Unfortunately, as in neighboring countries, the Palestinian community has not been immune to the phenomenon of sectarianism.
Sectarianism is further provoked by the “divide and rule” policies of the state which refuse to recognize us as a single Palestinian minority, avoid police intervention in cases of violence against Arabs and consistently discriminates against us in many other ways.
Participating in a military that commits egregious crimes against our own people in Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel, will not improve the circumstance of Palestinians. Participating in the military apparatus fractures our identity and contributes to an immoral system that abuses the rights of our own people.