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Westminster and Bayswater Group promoted Israeli Conscientious Objector and classical musician Omar Sa'ad to give seven UK concerts in September and October 2014

Amnesty International is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. It was founded on 28 May 1961. Our local group has long tradition which goes back to 1976. Fleur Brennan, who was one of the founding members, remembers a particular series of events the group organised in 2014 with the Galilee Quartet. 

Here is Omar Sa'ad talking about why, as a Palestinian Druze, he went to prison rather then serve in the Israeli army. 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/1UJDV-Clsyk

‘How could I carry a gun rather than my viola?’ asked Omar. 

Omar, then an 18-year-old Druze teenager and citizen of Israel, gained international prominence  after refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Together with his two violinist brothers, Mostafa and Ghandi, and their cellist sister Tibah, they made up the Galilee Quartet, a classical string quartet from the Galilee village of Maghar in northern Israel. 

Omar and Mostafa had performed with Nigel Kennedy at the Royal Albert Hall in the 2013 Proms, and the Bayswater and Westminster tour was his first performances after he was released from various prison terms for his opposition to joining the Israel Defense Forces. During his imprisonment, our group members had campaigned tirelessly for him as a prisoner of conscience, making repeated representations for his release to the Israeli authorities.

The Sa’ad family are from the Druze minority in Israel, and though Arab citizens of Israel are exempt from compulsory service in the Israeli military, Druze Arabs and Circassians are not. Over the years, many young Druze have refused to serve in the Israeli military on conscientious grounds.

Omar said: 

I am a musician. I play for peace and justice. How could I carry a gun rather than my viola?

“I refuse to take an assault rifle and point it at another human being. I abhor this violence and everything connected to violence.

“I don’t want to be part of the Israeli army because the Israeli government is responsible for the occupation [of the Palestinian Territories]. As an Arab Druze I consider myself part of the Palestinian people - so how can I be part of the army that occupies my people? I won’t sell all my beliefs and my identity to anyone.

Before the concert at AI Human Rights Action Centre on October 8th, 2014, Amnesty International UK Campaigns Manager Kristyan Benedict said:

“So-called ‘refuseniks’ like Omar are bravely taking a stand for peace in a region which has seen far too much violence.

“He should be congratulated for his stance, not persecuted.

“We’re very pleased to be able to support this excellent tour from four fine musicians.” 

The quartet appeared in Cambridge, Evesham, Reading, Worcester, Brighton, Sutton and London,  promoting  peace in the Middle East and to support other conscientious objectors, both Druze and non-Druze,  in prison in Israel.  They ended their concert with this song to a poem by Samih al-Qasim:

I am walking tall

I walk with my head held high

I carry an olive branch  in my hand

And my corpse on my shoulders

As I walk and walk

 

My heart is a red moon

My heart is a garden

Full of boxthorn and basil

My lips are a sky that rains fire sometimes and sometimes love

There’s an olive branch in my hand

And my corpse is on my shoulders

As I walk and walk

 

The Human Rights Centre was packed for the concert, and the question and answer session after, which covered 

 

The Druze in Israel and conscience objection

Arab citizens of Israel - with the exception of Druze Arabs and Circassians - are exempt from compulsory service in the Israeli military and are mostly discouraged from even volunteering for service. However, the Druze are not. Over the years, many Druze have refused to serve in the Israeli military on the grounds that it would amount to fighting a war against their own people. While Israeli law allows for pacifists to be exempted, individuals are required to argue their case before a “conscience committee”, made up of military judicial officers who invariably reject their cases. The right to object to military service on grounds of conscience is protected under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party.

 (Fleur Brennan)

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