When I visited Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem in February, Mohammed al-Azraq gave us an overview of life in the camp and also shared a bit of his personal story.
Mohammed, 27, is the Director of Activities at Lajee Center, an organization that receives MCC support. Lajee provides cultural, social and artistic opportunities for young people in Aida Camp.
When Mohammed shared his story, he told us that he had been shot twice, once as a teenager, and arrested twice. But, he said, all Palestinian families have stories like his and he was quick to note that “my story is nothing compared to other people.”
Just over a month after our conversation, Mohammed was arrested again in his home by Israeli security forces. No charges against Mohammed have been announced, but he is being detained at an interrogation center known for its brutal tactics.
Palestinian young people like Mohammed routinely face the dramatic effects of military occupation, such as arrests, beatings, detention without trial and even death. In a recent and alarming example, on May 15, two teenagers were killed by the Israeli military in the West Bank.
The impact on young Israelis is more subtle but nonetheless dehumanizing. Israeli law requires men and women to join the military at age 18. While many serve without question, some resist conscription because they cannot support Israel’s actions as an occupying power. Others join but drop out early.
Another MCC partner organization, New Profile, seeks to provide support to these conscientious objectors. One of these, Uriel Ferera, is currently in Israeli jail because of his refusal to serve. Now 19, his family moved to Israel when he was six. He says he is a pacifist and does not want to enforce the military occupation.
Another conscientious objector is Omar Sa’ad. Omar, 18, is a musician from the Druze community. In his refusal letter, Omar wrote, “I refuse because I am a man of peace and I hate all forms of violence.” He has been in and out of prison since December as a result of his refusal.
In the Middle East, nearly one-third of the population is between ages 15 and 29 (Brookings Institution). Many of these young people face difficult choices, as a result of political environments not of their own making. But Mohammed, Uriel, Omar and many others are working courageously for a more just and nonviolent future and need our support.
Today take time to sign a petition in support of Omar, Uriel and all conscientious objectors in Israel and urge Congress to make clear that the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian areas must end.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.