Uriel Ferera, a 19-year-old Haredi from Be’er Sheva, was raised on the values of social justice and peace. Now, the IDF has announced it will jail him for an undetermined period of time for refusing to serve.
By Daniel Beller
When Uriel Ferera was born in Argentina 19 years ago, democracy in the South American country was an established fact, and no one was being jailed for having left-wing views, not to mention being a pacifist. On April 27th, in Israel – a country that likes to call itself “The only democracy in the Middle East” – he will be jailed for refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Uriel, who comes from an ultra-Orthodox family from Be’er Sheva and was one of the first to sign the latest refusenik letter, says that he objects to serving in the IDF on the grounds that military service in any role contributes to enforcing the occupation.
“People may see a Haredi Jew (a stream of Judaism characterized by the rejection of modern, secular culture, D.B.) and think ‘he’s lazy, hence he doesn’t want to serve the country’ and that’s not the case. I want to do national service, just as my sister Yael did. But the IDF has decided that I will go to jail for being a pacifist.”
Uriel is a brilliant student who has excelled in both secular and religious studies. Since a very young age he has accompanied his photographer mother, Ruty, to rallies for social justice in the Negev (one of Israel’s poorest areas ) as well as for protests for the Negev Bedouin, who time and time again are expelled from their villages, most of which have no electricity or running water. Moreover, Uriel helps his mother document the dramatic situation of public housing in his city and takes part in local actions.
“I can do my part and have a meaningful national service, in education or community work. I appealed to the IDF committee that deals with conscientious objectors, explained my situation, but they told me that they are determined to send me to jail.”
“That’s what I don’t understand,” adds Uriel, “Instead of allowing me to do national service, doing my part for the country, I’m going to jail, wasting tax payer money and doing nothing. I’m going to be jailed for an undetermined period of time – not because I committed a crime, but because of my peaceful convictions.”
WATCH: Ferera explains why he has refused to serve in the Israeli army
This week has been very tense for the Ferera family. “I’m not as afraid for myself as I am for my mother. Knowing that her son is going to jail because of the education he received at home – one that is based on peace and human rights – is very hard for her.”
Ruty emigrated to Israel when Uriel was six. She wanted her children to be raised according to her values, and chose Be’er Sheva – the biblical city of Abraham – as the right place for a Haredi family to live. Now she sees her dreams shattered, as her own country jails her son for advocating for peace and human rights.
It has been more than 30 years since Argentinians went to jail for pacifism. In Israel of 2014, it is still considered a crime.
Daniel Beller is a journalist, blogger and radio broadcaster based in Be’er Sheva.