An Orthodox Jewish young man, who fears for his life after refusing to take part in the Israeli army, is seeking asylum in the UK.
The man, whose name was not revealed at the instructions of the court, got his asylum application rejected in December 2020 in the UK. The court will decide on his appeal on Monday.
The 21-year-old man, who is pursuing formal training to become a rabbi, talked to Anadolu Agency about his views on Zionism and the legitimacy of the state of Israel, as well as his stance against the compulsory military service and the ordeal he went through.
“Zionism is an affront to Judaism. According to Jewish scripture, the Jewish people are prohibited by God from assembling in masses in the Holy Land as a punishment for our sins and this punishment will only be lifted with the return of the Messiah,” he said, adding” “this was the overwhelming opinion of global Jewry for decades prior to the Holocaust.”
He said that Zionism is a political project that exploits Jewish suffering and the Jewish people in general for its own agenda.
“In the process, it has forcibly displaced the indigenous Palestinian people and stolen their land. The Zionists have engaged in theft and mass killing to create their Zionist state which racially discriminates against the Arabs. They have rebelled against God in the gravest way,” he added.
Explaining his reasons for opposing the existence of Israel, he said: “It is an affront to Judaism and has put in place a system that subjugates the indigenous Palestinian people by stealing their land, displacing the people, slaughtering them and denying them all rights.”
Responding to a question on why he refused to serve in the military, he said: “It would have gone against everything that I stand for. I oppose Zionism and the legitimacy of the State of Israel and could not, therefore, participate in protecting the state. Furthermore, the State of Israel practices apartheid and is routinely involved in war crimes against the Palestinian people.”
“I cannot serve in such an immoral army that carries out such atrocities on a daily basis,” he added.
He said that he was arrested in 2015 during a protest against compulsory military service, when he was 17.
“I was arrested and taken into police custody. I was handcuffed and pushed to the floor and then dragged by my handcuffs. I was sworn at, spat upon, and beaten with a stick. It was a very humiliating and painful experience,” he said.
He said that he fears he will be persecuted if his asylum is rejected and has to return to Israel.
“I have been persecuted by the State of Israel in the past for my religious beliefs and political opinions. I am unwilling to change those beliefs and opinions as they are a fundamental aspect of my identity,” he explained.
“I will always actively oppose Zionism and fear that I will be persecuted as a result. I am afraid of being conscripted into an army that practices apartheid and engages in war crimes. As a military deserter, I fear that they will send me to prison for up to 15 years and torture me for refusing to serve,” he added.
‘He can be imprisoned for up to 15 years, tortured’
Also speaking to Anadolu Agency, the young man’s lawyer Fahad Ansari said his client can be imprisoned for up to 15 years and tortured in case of return to Israel.
He said that his client is a Rabbinical student and when he was in Israel, he was arrested for protesting against the forcible conscription of yeshiva students.
He was beaten, abused, spat upon, hit with a stick when he was in police custody, Ansari said, adding that his client then fled the country and came to the UK to seek asylum.
Ansari said that his client’s fear of going back to Israel is based on two premises.
“Firstly, he's afraid that if he goes back, he's going to be treated like a military deserter. And as a result, go to prison for up to 15 years, during which time it is likely that he will be tortured as well,” he said.
“And secondly, he feels that the fundamental aspect of his identity is that he has to protest against the state of Israel ... And if he does, so, he's likely to be picked up and tortured again,” he added.
Ansari said that the Home Office rejected his client’s application because he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and that he will be exempt from military service.
However, he said that his client will not be “automatically” exempted from the military service on mental health grounds and that since he has already left the country, he is going to be treated like a deserter.
Ansari said: “It’s an asylum case. Now, we believe that he will be persecuted on the basis of his religious and political opinions, religious opinions. Obviously, he's a Jew, and he's an Orthodox Jew. And according to his beliefs, the State of Israel should not even exist, and Zionism must be opposed at all costs.”
The lawyer said that he has not had a case like this before or heard anything like this.
“We haven't been able to find a precedent for it. And we think this is unprecedented,” he said, adding he is confident that they have enough evidence to convince the judge.
“It would be quite incredible for the court to refuse his appeal and to dismiss his appeal. Of course, if that was to happen. We're ready to take this to the next stage and appeal it to further up,” he added.
Ansari went on to say that his client should be a role model.
“He always says, this is not about me … I'm doing this for the Palestinians. And as I said to another colleague that this young man, as a Jew living in Israel, he could have lived the most privileged life. He has chosen to sacrifice all of that, not for his own sake, but for his principles and for the interests of the Palestinians and that should be admired, that should be applauded. And, if anything, this young man should be commended as a role model for young people around the world,” he said.
“And I think we need to take lessons from his courage and bravery and his resilience. And we should be supporting him anywhere we can,” he added.
Female sentenced to 3 months in prison
Sahar Vardi, an Israeli female activist who was sentenced to three months in prison for opposing the compulsory military service in her country in 2008, also told Anadolu Agency that she refused to join the military when she turned 18 and the main reason was "occupation".
“My reasons were mainly the occupation; I don't want to be part of the occupation of the Palestinian people. And so, I spent about two months in prison and three months in detention, five months in total, before I was sent for military service, and that's usually the case,” she said.
Vardi pointed out that there are different groups that reject the military service in Israel and that the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews refuse to join the military.
“(Ultra-Orthodox) People spend quite a lot of time in prison for refusing (to join the military), mainly for religious reasons. Their protests … are far bigger. The biggest one that I remember was (attended by) half a million people, which is huge. The police reaction to them is usually very violent,” she said.