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Druze youth likely headed to prison for conscientious objection

Omar Sa’ad reports to Israeli army induction base and announces his refusal to enlist. He is expected to be sentenced to prison. Sa’ad has declared his refusal to be ‘both nationally and conscientiously motivated.’

Omar Sa’ad enters the Tiberias induction base where he is likely to be sentenced to prison (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

“I was raised first and foremost as a human being, and as such I feel that I cannot possibly aim an assault weapon at any other human being, be it Arab, Jewish or whomever, and so it has always been clear to me that I will not be able to join the army,” says Omar Sa’ad, a young Druze viola player from the village of Maghar.

Sa’ad is now expected to be sentenced in a disciplinary proceeding to a period of up to one month in military prison for refusing conscription after reporting to an Israeli induction base Wednesday morning. [Update, 6.12: Sa’ad has been sentenced to a first period of 20 days in prison]

While Muslim and Christian Arabs with Israeli citizenship are exempt from military service, Druze men are required to serve for three years.(Druze women, however, are exempt, as are religious Jewish women.)

Sa’ad was accompanied to the Tiberias induction base, where he was ordered to report, by activists from the Communist party (Hadash), of which he is a member, including MK Mohammad Barakeh. He was also joined by activists from New Profile and Yesh Gvul, along with other young conscientious objectors. Supporters held a small vigil and concert at the gates of the induction center. One person was detained at the end of the vigil.

Sa'ad, friends and supporters at a vigil and concert outside induction base. Sa'ad on the viola (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Sa’ad, friends and supporters at a vigil and concert outside induction base. Sa’ad on the viola (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

As is the case with most conscientious objectors, Sa’ad is likely to be sentenced, imprisoned and then called for service on the day after his release from prison, whereupon his renewed refusal would lead him back behind bars in a cycle of imprisonment that can go on for an unlimited period of time. Natan Blanc, the last outspoken conscientious objector, had to go through 10 incarcerations and spend half a year in jail before being exempted from military service.

It is known that authorities tend to be harsher with Druze objectors than with Jewish ones. “I know I’m going to prison, and I know there’s no way of telling how long it’ll be, but I am willing to endure this and not be a part of their army,” Sa’ad told +972 on the evening before reporting to refuse duty. His conscientious objection is derived from both a pacifist and humanist agenda, as well as a Palestinian national identity, he explained.

It was over a year ago when Sa’ad was first approached by military authorities and required to report for physical examinations and personal interviews. While Jewish objectors usually show up for these tests and announce their refusal there, it is customary amongst Druze objectors to refuse any kind of cooperation with the army. Such was the case with Sa’ad—instead of showing up he sent the defense minister and prime minister the following letter:

I refuse [the draft] because I am a man of peace who despises violence of all sorts; I think the military is based on both physical and mental violence. Since I got the draft order my life has changed, I became more nervous, my thoughts have become distracted, I remembered thousands of dreadful images, and I couldn’t imagine myself wearing military uniform and participating in the suppression of my Palestinian people or fighting my Arab brothers.

I oppose recruitment to the IDF and any other army for conscience and nationalistic reasons. I despise injustice and oppose occupation; I loathe intolerance and restriction of freedoms. I hate those who detain children, the elderly and women.I am a musician, I play the viola, I have preformed in many places and I have musician friends in Ramallah, Jericho, Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Jenin, Shfa’amr, Eilabun, Rome, Athens, Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Oslo, and we all play for freedom, humanity and peace, our weapon is the music and we shall not have any other weapon.

I belong to a sect that suffers discrimination by law. How could I fight those who are closest to us, our family members in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon? How could I hold a weapon against my siblings and countrymen in Palestine? How could I be a soldier at Qalandia or any other checkpoint stopping a Ramallah man from entering his city of Jerusalem when I myself have experienced the wrongs of checkpoints? How could I protect the racist separation fence? How could I be a jailer to my own people when I know that most prisoners are prisoners of justice and freedom?

I play music of joy, of freedom and of a just peace that is based on the cessation of settlements, an exit of occupiers from Palestine and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, a release of prisoners and a return of refugees to their homes.

Many in our sect obey the law and enlist—but what has that gotten us? Discrimination on all fronts, poverty in our villages, our lands’ confiscation, a lack of industry. Our villages suffer the lowest rates of university and the highest rates of unemployment. The Security Service Act has detached us from our Arab roots….

I will not be fuel to your fire of war and not a soldier in your army.”

Army regulations allow for conscientious objector status only when a candidate to military service declares that he or she is a “complete and utter pacifist” who resists all kinds of violence and not solely the occupation.

Although Sa’ad’s declaration could qualify under these conditions, he was not summoned to the army’s conscientious committee. The only answer he received to the above initial statement of refusal was a letter saying that it “will be taken into consideration.”

The following is a video of Sa’ad speaking with Social TV earlier this year:

IDF to release conscientious objector after 177 days in prison
Egyptians, Israelis make joint call to free conscientious objectors 

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    1. Joel

      Self-absorbed musician who can’t separate from his ‘muse’ for 2 years.

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        I think his point is more about the act of shooting a bullet from a rifle into the flesh of his his fellow man. Even highly trained soldiers have to have something in their mind that overcomes basic human compassion and says it’s ok to shoot this guy because (_some reason_). Usually we see that reason for Israeli soldiers is a combination of racial profiling and a mania of maintaining the militarist identity of their country. That’s just my opinion of course.

        Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Silly remark from someone who doesn’t know
        a) that playing an instrument is like sport: you don’t practice, you lose your fitness;
        b) that violist Omar Sa’ad says he’s willing to lose those two years despite that, in an effort to protest and change the fact that in Israel, the right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized in the case of men.

        “Saad describes himself as a musician and a man of peace, adding that he would not serve in any army in the world.

        “I was raised to be part of the Arab, Palestinian people,” he told The Media Line. “To serve in the army was always out of the question, the debate between me and my family was about the way to avoid [service].”


        Reply to Comment
    2. BaladiAkka48

      In the second photo Omar Sa’ad is playing with his brothers Mustafa, 15, and Ghandi, 13, and his sister Tibah, 14 (Galilee String Quartet).
      In August Omar, Ghandi and Mustafa performed with Nigel Kennedy and the Palestinian Strings at the Royal Albert Hall,London.
      Mustafa Sa’ad playing Four Seasons:

      Reply to Comment
      • That was a great video. Thanks for linking it.

        Reply to Comment