Friday, June 20, 2014

One man freed, though not a people

FIRST, a piece of good news.  Omar Sa'ad, about whom I blogged,  on May 15,(the day, as it happens, on which, in 1948, David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel) has been freed from having to do military service.

Which for Omar means he will no longer be spending time in jail.

The 18-year-old violist, a member of the Druze minority from the village of Maghar, in Galilee, was sentenced to his first term of imprisonment on December 5, 2013 in the Tiberias induction base. Since then, he was sentenced six more times for a total of 150 days.

Sa’ad first stated his intention to refuse in late 2012, when he sent an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which declared his support for Palestinians under occupation, as well as his opposition to recruitment into the IDF “and any other army for conscience and nationalistic reasons.”

 Unlike Muslim and Christian Arabs with Israeli citizenship, who are exempt from military service,  Druze men are required to serve for three years. (Druze women, are exempt, as are religious Jewish women). Encouraged to see themselves as a separate minority, Druze have been valued as soldiers and provide an important part of the Border Guard, who are a professional unit.

But even ex-officers have still faced discrimination in what the government insists ia a Jewish state.
The 1982 Lebanon war, when the army faced Druze allied to the Palestinians, caused some unease, and so has the continued occupation of the Golan, unilaterally to Israel, though only 10% of its Druze population have opted for Israeli citizenship.

As for those Druze growing up within the Israeli state, whatever its material advantages, they may consider linking their identity to that of the Palestinians or of the 'other Israel' of its embattled peace camp and social justice campaigners.

"Although the Druze are considered to be an ethnic group that has assimilated well in the Israeli community, the voices of refusal have become stronger in recent years, and especially in the wake of Sa’ad’s refusal, " writes Edo Konrad in the online +972 journal.

As he notes,
"Sa’ad’s time in prison was not easy. In early May, he was hospitalized with a liver infection after complaining to his prison guards for three straight days. The guards at Prison 4 allegedly ignored his complaints, thinking he was just pretending or exaggerating. Sa’ad was then transferred to Prison 6, where it was decided to move him to a military medical clinic before a doctor finally decided that he must be transferred the emergency room. Sa’ad eventually recovered.

Upon his release from prison, Sa’ad released a statement thanking his supporters and reiterating his stance against military service:

  " I was sentenced 7 times for a period of 150 days, and 46 days ago between home and hospital, and every time before sending me out to prison, they ask me the same question: “Why you refuse to serve in the IDF?

    My answer was always the same: “I refuse because I am an integral part of the Palestinian Arab people. Refuse because your army is an army of occupation. Refuse because I am the owner of principle and conscience. I make peace with my musical instrument and I refuse to replace it with a weapon that generates death, and does not differentiate between a child , a woman, a man and an old man. So how can you ask me to kill, occupy and arrest my people? my weapon is my musical instrument and will not be replaced by any another weapon. And now some bad news, which you;ve already heard, an interesting sidelight, and some not so bad news which you might not get to hear.

Following the disappearance of three teenage Israeli boys in the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces have carried out massive raids on Palestinian homes, making wide arrests of adults and children, and generally behaving as though not only Hamas, but the entire Palestinian population, must have kidnapped the boys.

The youth's unknown fate has raised not unnatural concern, and a hubbub reaching from Israeli prime minister 'Bibi' Netanyahu through to internet chat groups and the most backward beigel shop customer, even comment from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has not, as far as I know expressed any similar concern over Palestinian youngsters incarcerated by the Israelis.

We don't know what these young Israelis were doing in the West Bank, where settler youth have sometimes gone on the rampage attacking Palestinians and property, but since nothing has been alleged, and no organisation has asserted responsibility, we must assume they are innocent, and hope for their safety.

The interesting sidelight comes from an Israeli officer, who told a religious paper that much of their current operation was planned before the boy's disappearence, and had nothing to do with it. He said this included deploying snipers around Jenin, and hoping local people would be provoked into coming on to the streets, with youths throwing stones, so they could be gunned down by the military. 

And now the one piece of additional good news I promised.
It comes in the shape of an e-mail .
this morning from friends in Gush Shalom, the Peace Bloc, in Tel Aviv.  This is the English version of the message that has gone out in Hebrew and Arabic, and is also on Facebook, I see.

Say no to collective punishment!
Free all political prisoners!
Acts of oppression in no way help bring back the abducted boys!

Demonstrate Saturday, 21.6, 20:30, in front of the Kiria (Ministry of Defence), Kaplan Street, Tel Aviv.

The army, under government instructions, is embarking on hundreds of arrests and detentions, nightly raids on homes, closure of entire regions, arrests of journalists and Palestinian Parliamentarians, the collective punishment of the residents of Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem, Jenin and many other locations, the detention of children and minors, threats of cutting off electricity and phone networks, and further acts of oppression. The true aim of all that is NOT to locate the abducted boys.

We hope with all our hearts that the boys will be found and safely returned to their homes. In practice, though, Netanyahu and his government are cynically using them as a pretext for an all-out offensive. The government  states openly and bluntly that they shall continue with the same tactics, regardless of the current search.

For the Government of
Israel, this is merely an excuse to crack down on Hamas, and break up the Palestinian Unity agreement.

The military budgets were about to be cut - now it's quite obvious that they are going to be increased yet again.

We shall gather, to call for an end to the daily violence and killing. Enough with the abuse and collective punishment of a civil population, living under military occupation!

Saturday, 21.6, 20:30, in front of the Kiria (Ministry of Defense), in Tel Aviv (Kaplan Street).

The demonstration is initiated by grassroots activists, involved in various organizations. We call upon all groups and movements to join in and endorse this initiative. Every day that goes by, is one day of silence too many!

Vardit Goldner

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