Conscientious objector Omar Saad has been sentenced to prison seven times since December 4, 2013, all because he announced his refusal to serve in the Israel Defense Forces after receiving his first draft notice in October 2012. On Wednesday, Amira Hass and Jack Khoury reported in Haaretz that he had been hospitalized last Friday in critical condition, with a severe infection. Saad is now out of danger, but regardless of his medical status the IDF should have freed him from jail long ago.
Saad, a musician from the town of Maghar, sent a letter to the defense minister before he was drafted. “I refuse to present myself for tests in accordance with the Security Service Law, which is imposed on the Druze community,” he wrote. “I refuse because I am a man who seeks peace, and violence in all its forms is abhorrent to me ... How could I fight against my relatives, members of our family who live in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon? How could I bear arms against my brothers and my people in Palestine?”
Saad’s repeated prison sentences recall the campaign of harassment to which another conscientious objector, Natan Blank, was subjected. Blank was jailed 10 times before being discharged in June 2013 as unfit for service. It’s reasonable to assume that Saad, too, will eventually receive a military discharge, since objectors generally end up being declared unfit for service. Therefore, it’s not clear why the IDF insists on continuing its confrontation with Saad, especially since his case involves additional sensitivities: the problem of national identity, which he noted in his letter, and fears that he will receive discriminatory treatment even in comparison to Jewish conscientious objectors.
The IDF should have listened to the voice of conscience springing from Saad’s throat. The army has sufficient enlistees to allow for the refusal of service by young men of conscience such as Blank and Saad, who could have avoided serving by means of “gray evasion” – avoiding the draft on pretexts other than conscientious objection – but chose instead to take the route of fighting for their principles. The attempt to break Saad with one jail sentence after another won’t change his views and won’t help the IDF; it will only harm Israel’s image.