Helping the young Druze who refuse to serve in Israeli army

Helping the young Druze who refuse to serve in Israeli army

Helping the young Druze who refuse to serve in Israeli army
Young members of the Palestinian Druze community are forced to serve in the Israeli army due to a controversial law. (AFP)
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A sad incident that stemmed from a fatal accident in Jenin and the snatching of a body of a Palestinian citizen of Israel has exposed the unreported case of a community whose young men are forced into military conscription.

Young members of the Palestinian Druze community, which numbers a little under 150,000, are forced to serve in the Israeli army due to a controversial law dating back to 1956. Since then, hundreds of soldiers from the Druze community have died in action.

On Nov. 23, Tiran Faro and a friend drove to the city of Jenin, where they were involved in a fatal crash. The body of Faro was transported to the local hospital but was snatched by masked Palestinians belonging to the Islamic Jihad movement. They wanted to trade his body for those of 17 Palestinians that Israel is holding. The Palestinian resisters wrongly assumed that the 17-year-old was a soldier in the Israeli army. Conscription in Israel starts at the age of 18. Under pressure, the Palestinians gave up the body, but Israel continues to hold the bodies of tens of Palestinians.

However, the unreported issue in this case is the fact that, while military service is mandatory for Druze men — except for students of the religion — hundreds are refusing to serve.

With help from regional nongovernmental organization Ahel, which focuses on using the methodology of community organization and harnessing the power of the people most affected by the cause, a group of young Druze men and women are leading a movement to help support and encourage members of the community to refuse the obligatory army service.

The campaign, called “Refuse — your people will protect you,” provides comprehensive help for 18-year-olds who are convinced that they want to refuse to serve in the Israeli army. Leaders of the campaign provide information, legal support and ideas about how to get away from serving in an army that occupies their fellow Palestinians.

Palestinian lawyers who are citizens of Israel stay with the youths from day one of their refusal to serve. They prepare them, coach them and work out various strategies with them. The movement has an annual target of helping 100 Druze conscripts to refuse to serve. Activists from the campaign work especially closely with mothers to ensure that they can withstand pressure from their families and even persuade their relatives to be supportive.

The campaign is spreading from village to village, with more and more youths taking the courageous step

Daoud Kuttab

Druze conscripts who refuse to show up for army service are imprisoned multiple times for unspecified periods, usually about a month. Campaign organizers have come up with a number of ideas to help them. One is having activists gather outside the prison they are held in and sing songs. Refusers have later said that the songs have been a major source of encouragement.

A much longer-term strategy has also been introduced to find lasting solutions. One clever idea is to help high school graduates who refuse to be conscripted to attend universities in the West Bank. For example, refusers have been admitted to Birzeit University on a scholarship provided to them.

Such support and practical solutions have resulted in the campaign spreading from village to village, with more and more youths taking the courageous step of refusing to serve.

The continued Israeli repression in the Occupied Territories has also increased the number of refuseniks. The case of Sheikh Jarrah and the bombings of Gaza have been reported as two major incidents that caused indignation in the Druze community, especially as Israel has often used Druze soldiers in places like Sheikh Jarrah, thus exposing them to the reality on the ground and pushing many to opt out of service.

Israel’s passing of the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law in 2018 has also had a huge effect on members of the Druze community, who, like all other non-Jewish citizens, are excluded from the benefits and legal superiority given to the Jewish citizens of Israel. Older Druze family members who have been urging loyalty to the state of Israel are unable to justify to their youth such legislation, which legally discriminates against all non-Jews.

The actions of the Israeli occupation force, which depends on a lot of Arabic-speaking Druze conscripts, and the passing of the Basic Law have increased the number of 18-year-olds in the community refusing to serve. The presence of a supportive group of lawyers and activists has gone a long way in preventing those who courageously refuse to be part of an occupation army from giving in to pressure and changing their mind.

With a new far-right government being set up, with the racist Itamar Ben-Gvir set to take over as minister of police, supervising the border patrol units that most Druze are inducted into, the clash between the Palestinian Druze community and the state of Israel is only going to escalate. More and more young Druze are refusing to serve in an occupying army that is falsely labeled as the Israel Defense Forces.

• Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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