Israeli musician Omar Saad has been in prison seven times. He is eighteen years old.
As a Druze, Saad is required to serve in Israel’s army the IDF – unlike other Israeli Arabs.
But the viola player, who is currently touring Britain with his three siblings as the Galilee Quartet, told i100 he considers himself Palestinian which is why he did not want to serve. “I have friends in the West Bank and Gaza. I play music there, I have musical family there.” He went on: “I don’t want to be part of the army of institute that takes part in occupation, or human rights abuses.”
While some Israelis dodge conscription in Israel by feigning physical or mental illness, Saad said he never wanted to lie.
“Why should I pretend that I’m crazy just to have a normal life? I’m completely normal. I have dreams, I have music, but I don’t want to be in an army that occupies my own people”, he said.
” The night I turned 18 years old, the army called and they told me my conscription date would be 4 December 2013. I told them I would be there to declare that I would refuse to go. So on 4 December 2013 I presented myself and declared my refusal and then they put me in prison. I’ve been in prison seven times, everytime for 20 days except the last time I got 40 days.
When I graduated I saw my friends in college. I saw myself in prison.”
After that 40 days in which he developed severe liver problems Saad’s time in prison is over. But that’s not the end of his story.
Saad’s cause was taken up by several campaigners including Amnesty International while he was incarcerated. He is now on a seven-date tour of the UK with the Galiee quartet. His two brothers Mostafa and Ghandi play violin while his sister Tibah plays cello.
All three are younger than him and he says they will make their own decisions about whether to serve in the army when they turn 18. For now, Saad is focusing on music after a traumatic year.
“I can’t image myself without music”, he said. “When I hear music I hear and feel something special. People are different but I think there’s music in all human beings. When we hear music we simply connect to each other. For me, I think that music is the most powerful way to deliver the most strong and even human message to a bigger audience. To all the world.”