Druze anti-conscription activist Anan Shaheen holds up an official exemption from Israeli authorities after declaring his refusal to serve in the military.(Patrick O. Strickland)
Anan Shaheen refused to serve in Israel’s military when he arrived for a compulsory registration appointment yesterday. Expecting to be imprisoned like many Palestinian conscientious objectors from the Druze religious community before him, military registration officers nonetheless gave the eighteen-year-old an exemption on the spot.
Most Palestinian citizens of Israel are not required to serve in Israel’s military, which has for decades occupied Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian land in violation of international law. Yet unlike their Christian and Muslim compatriots, most Palestinian Druze males have been required to complete three years of military service since 1956, when the Israeli government struck a deal with a minority of Druze religious leaders acting without popular consent.
An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians hold Israeli citizenship and live in cities, towns and villages across present-day Israel. Muslims, Christians and Druze alike face more than fifty discriminatory laws that restrict their political expression and limit their access to state resources, according to the Haifa-based Adalah Legal Center.
Conscripting Druze is part of Israel’s broader colonial strategy of sowing divisions among Palestinians, as well as categorizing Palestinians by the types of identification cards and their geographical locations (such as the West Bank or the Gaza Strip).
Druze who declare their refusal either do so openly and risk imprisonment or by intentionally failing a mental aptitude test, known as a “Profile 21.”
Shaheen is from Shefa Amr, a Palestinian city in the Galilee region of present-day Israel. A vocal member of Refuse – Your People Will Protect You, a campaign group that provides both legal and moral support to Druze conscientious objectors, he refused military service and was inexplicably granted an exemption.
Maisan Hamdan, 23, a Haifa-based student activist, has been active in the movement against Druze military conscription since 2010 and is a founding member of Refuse. “I believe that the Israeli occupation is frightened by conscientious objectors who refuse in a very public way,” she told The Electronic Intifada following Shaheen’s refusal on Sunday.
Shaheen first declared his refusal two months ago at an anti-conscription conference in Sakhnin, where he tore up his compulsory military service papers and said: “I will not serve in the army that occupies my people.”
Maisan Hamdan (center) and other members of Refuse protest outside Israel’s Atlit Military Prison, where conscientious object Omar Saad was held. Photo courtesy of Maisan Hamdan)
Hamdan added: “Anan is an example for any Druze youth who wants to refuse. He was vocal in the media about his refusal leading up till now. We ask now: where are the people who perpetuate the lie that conscientious objectors will ruin their futures by refusing to serve in the occupation military?”
Hamdan believes that the Israeli authorities’ decision to not imprison Shaheen partially stems from the international media attention on Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip. Had Shaheen not refused, Hamdan notes that he might have been stationed in or near Gaza, where Israel’s four-week-long military campaign has resulted so far in the deaths of more than 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
“My homeland will be free”
Refuse last night issued an Arabic-language statement about Shaheen’s objection. The group announced that it will begin to provide scholarships for Druze conscientious objectors starting next year. Because Druze Palestinians live in the same neglected villages and towns as other Palestinian citizens of Israel, many have historically depended on military service to open doors to education and work opportunities.
The following is The Electronic Intifada’s translation of that statement:
The conscientious objector and hero Anan Shaheen obtained an exemption from conscription today (Sunday), after he went to the military recruitment office in the city of Haifa. Accompanied by several fellow activists from the movement Refuse — Your People will Protect You, he declared his definite refusal to submit to the compulsory military recruitment order unjustly imposed on young Druze men.
Anan — a son of the rebellious city of Shefa Amr — left the military recruitment office waving in his hand the piece of paper with the exemption decision on it. He said, “Do you see, this is the result of my definite public refusal to the conscription order. I came today ready to go to military prison, and here, I got the exemption without even an hour in prison, and now it is time to go to college.” He went on to sing, “My homeland will be free, my occupier will leave.”
Here is proof that our young Druze men are able to choose their own path and refuse to submit to the unjust conscription orders without having to pay a high price, or any price at all, and that we in the movement worked on creating alternatives for the young men and we are offering university and college scholarships for conscientious objectors from the beginning of the next school year.
Congratulations to the conscientious objector, hero and comrade Anan Shaheen.
Little mainstream coverage
The recent successes of Refuse and other anti-conscription campaigners come at a time when Israel is also increasing its efforts to enlist Palestinian citizens of Israel from the Christian community, a policy denounced roundly by Palestinian civil society in Israel.
Though Jewish Israelis who declare themselves as conscientious objectors have in the past received favorable coverage in mainstream news outlets, media have paid little attention to Druze Palestinians who stand up against compulsory service and Israel’s occupation.
See The Electronic Intifada’s past coverage to learn more about the growing conscientious objector movement among Palestinian Druze:
- Palestinians in Israel find consensus against army enlistment
- Rights group calls on Israel to free Druze army refuser
- Israel jails Druze conscientious objector for sixth time
- “Israel tried to brainwash us,” says Druze pioneer who refused army service
- Druze youth in military prison for refusing Israeli military draft
- Growing numbers of Druze refuse to serve in Israel’s army
With thanks to Hanan Darawshe for help with translation from Arabic.