>> 11 April 2013
Egyptians and Israelis find something to agree on
Maybe it was the first time in Egyptian history that a group of Egyptian citizens protest in Cairo for the freedom of a Jewish Israeli citizen, in the same moment in which they recognize the right of Israel to exist and promote peace with it. Last Tuesday, peace activists of “No to Compulsory Military Service Movements” protested in Talaat Harb square in Cairo, just a few meters from Tahrir Square. The Egyptian Conscientious Objectors Emad Dafrawi and Mohammed Fathi carried posters calling for the freedom of the Israeli Conscientious Objector Natan Blanc.
Natan, for those who don’t know him, is a 19 years old Israeli citizen imprisoned now in Israel for refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Natan has been military-tried 8 times until now and served over 120 days in Detention, and will most likely have his ninth military trial this week on April 15. Natan said in his Objection declaration that he has reached his decision upon Cast Lead Operation in 2008, when he noticed how this war fueled negative feelings in both sides, and induced a wave of militarism in the Israeli society. In a video statement he made a few weeks ago, Natan spoke against the Israeli occupation to west Bank, and said that it’s not democratic to prevent Palestinians from voting in Israeli elections as long as they are living under the Israeli state.
Every Israeli citizen is obligated to serve in the IDF when they reach 18-years of age (three years for males, two years for females). Israel maybe the only country in MEMA region which its laws recognize the right to refuse the military service for reasons related to belief and conscience. But on practice, the Israeli army has been very strict in their interpretation of who qualifies as a conscientious objector, and sends most people that refuse military service to prison for "disobeying military orders." In order to circumvent the army, Israeli youth have managed to find some loopholes by claiming to have psychological troubles (According to New Profile activists, nearly 4% of Israeli youth get exempted from the military service each year by this way). The interesting thing about Natan is that while he could have copied the practices of other abstainers, he refused in order to emphasize his opposition to the practices of the IDF.
In Egypt it may be a bit worse. Egyptian laws don’t recognize the right of Egyptians to refuse military service on basis of belief or conscientious. In 2010 I was the first Egyptian to refuse the military service for contradiction with my morals and principles. The military ignored me for nearly a year, and then in Nov 2010 I was kidnapped by the military police from my house. I was released next day after being exempted from the military service on the grounds that I was suffering from "Acute Personality Disorder" according to them, (A disease that hasn't yet been discovered by psychologists.) After the military took power in Feb 2011, one of the first things the military did, was arresting me again, accusing me of spreading false information that affected the reputation of the army, military trying me, and sentencing me to 3 years in prison. Luckily the international society reacted, and I was released after 10 months and 130 days of Hunger Strike.
In 2012, two other Egyptian activists announced their refusal to serve in the army for contradiction with their conscious. The first was Emad Darawi, the editor of ‘Children of Peace’, an Amateur linguistic and a graduate Journalism collage. He is also a famous peace activist who promoted good relations with Israel for a long time. Emad told the Jerusalem Post last January that the Egyptian dictatorship is responsible for the anti-Israel incitement, and that most of Egyptians don’t have a problem with Israel. The second is Mohammed Fathi, the editor of “All colors”, who was very offended by the violence of the army against civilians after the revolution. As a vegetarian peaceful person, he decided that his conscious can’t accept obeying military orders of such army.
Both Emad and Mohammed continue to live in limbo since the day they refused to report to the military recruitment center. Without documentation from the army saying that they have finished their military service, they are barred from taking part in fundamental aspects of society. They are not allowed to work, and hiring them is punishable by 2 years imprisonment. They are not allowed to travel, or even to have passports. They are not allowed to study at any Egyptian university. And of course the military can arrest them at any moment, military-try them, and send them to jail for long years. The Egyptian authorities, even the constitution guarantees the freedom of belief, have been ignoring all their requests to serve in an alternative civilian service. All the Egyptian Human rights organizations abandoned them because of their peace activism, and until now there not a single Human Rights Lawyer accepted to represent them legally. Even international Human Rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Human Rights Council have never mentioned their cases.
Last week I contacted the Israeli Foreign Ministry considering Natan’s case. Surprisingly, they reacted in the same way as the Egyptian authorities. They just ignored my message in a manner indicative of the Israeli and the Egyptian governments' disregard for human rights criticism, choosing instead to go forward with their policies that make their citizens suffer.
The problem in Middle East is not that we lack peace activists. The problem is that our Governments keep peace activists busy fighting for their basic rights, instead of letting them free to build peace.
This article was published in The Foreign Policy Magazine