I would rather die than be complicit in apartheid

Israel moving tanks into Gaza prior to its December 2008 attack on the area (Photo: Israeli army blog)

Today the hearing resumes of an Israeli conscientious objector appealing a decision to deny him asylum in Britain. Here, in his own words, is why he cannot go back to Israel.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with my identity as a Jew with my presence in the land of Palestine. Others might describe me as an Orthodox Jew, an Ultra-Orthodox Jew or a Haredi Jew. For me, I am just a Jew.

The scriptures teach us that Jews are prohibited from assembling in masses in the Holy Land as a punishment for our disobedience to God, and that it is sinful for us to do so until the coming of the Messiah. Yet, having been born in the nation that calls itself ‘Israel’, I have essentially been conflicted from the moment of my entry into this world. Growing up and witnessing the daily humiliation and oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people at the hands of the Zionist settlers only exacerbated that inner turmoil.

As a Jew with a conscience, I could not stand by and enjoy the privilege of living on the stolen land and misappropriated resources at the expense of the native Palestinian people . I therefore made a conscious decision that I would dedicate my life to opposing Zionism and the apartheid state of Israel in every way I could. That journey I embarked on as a child has led me to the UK where I am currently waiting for an immigration tribunal to decide whether or not I should be granted asylum from Israel.

When I was 17 years old, I was involved in several demonstrations in Jerusalem against the conscription of Yeshiva students into the Israeli military. As a result, I was arrested on numerous
occasions. During the protests and whilst in police custody, I was verbally and physically assaulted by Israeli police officers. On one occasion, I was pushed to the floor and dragged around by the handcuffs, spat at and beaten with a stick and a knuckle-duster. It was around this time that the conscription process also began for me.

I would rather die than be complicit in Zionism, apartheid and the oppression of another people. The Israeli military is a violent, corrupt, and corrupting institution that enforces the apartheid structure which underpins the Israeli state. That it does so in the name of the sacred religion of Judaism is blasphemous. I had no desire to participate in jailing children, humiliating Palestinians at checkpoints, protecting colonial settlers while they persecuted Palestinians and upholding the apartheid Zionist system.

As a result, I left Israel for the UK where I claimed asylum. The Home Secretary accepted that I had been tortured by the Israeli authorities but believes it is safe for me to return there. She also falsely believes that I would be exempt from military service. As a Jew, it is my fundamental duty to oppose Zionism which I would wholeheartedly continue to do so if I was ever returned to Israel. I am fully aware of the consequences of this for my safety but I cannot morally live in Israel without opposing its apartheid system.

With respect to the army, I never answered the call to service and would be treated as a military deserter. Other members of my community who have been in this situation have been incarcerated in military prisons for extended periods of time with the maximum sentence available to the military courts being 15 years. Within these military prisons, Jews from my community are treated in the most appalling manner.

They are requested to obey orders, wear army uniforms and act as soldiers in violation of our core beliefs. Disobedience results in their being sent to solitary confinement where they are subjected to the most horrific forms of abuse and torture. This includes being stripped naked, beaten, strangled, having their heads smashed against the wall, denied access to a toilet until they wet themselves, being dragged through their urine, being sprayed with tear gas, being soaked in cold water and taken outside in very cold temperatures, and being subjected to sexual humiliation. That the army also prevent them from praying and having access to their religious books and artefacts while simultaneously shouting antisemitic abuse at them underlines how removed Zionism and the State of Israel is from the teachings of Judaism. The religion and our identity as Jews have been reduced to a shield to protect them from censure for the crimes they commit in our name.

If I am returned to Israel, I have no doubt that I will face a similar fate and be persecuted for my objection to participating in the crime of apartheid. If this happens, I will have no regrets for my actions and will continue to actively struggle against the racist endeavour that is Zionism which has hijacked my religion to launch wars of aggression against the indigenous civilian population of the Holy Land. I am fully aware that this is likely to lead to a lifetime of persecution but I am a Jew and my religion commands me to stand with the Palestinians against their oppressors.

MF (court anonymity order in place)

Find out more about the case and donate to the cause here. Watch IHRC Chair explain more about the case below.