Joseph William Abileah

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Joseph William Abileah (1915-1994) was the first person sentenced for conscientious objection by the Israeli state.

A violinist, Abileah was born in Austria. His father, Ephraim Abileah (born Niswizski; 1881-1953), who was was among the founders of the Society for Jewish Folk Music in St. Petersburg in 1901, was a pacifist during World War I, and left for Palestine in 1923, sending for the rest of his family in 1926.

Being too young to join Brit Shalom during its formative period, Joseph Abileah became an active member at the time of Brit Shalom’s renaissance. This group, which reappeared calling itself Ihud [Consolidation], was convinced that the bi-national solution, a state of both Arabs and Jews ruling jointly, was the only way to avert bloodshed and chaos. Abileah accepted this approach, but he raised the objection that Ihud's program excluded any mention of the fate of Transjordan. He submitted a memorandum on June 11, 1947, stating that from his experience he did not see that bi-nationalism was comprehensive enough, because Transjordan needed access to the sea, and the Zionist movement would one day need further space for immigrants. Then too, the development of the Jordan Valley, the key to the future development of the country, required the cooperation of the peoples living on both sides of the Jordan. While there were those in the Ihud who agreed with him, the majority felt that introducing Transjordan into the deliberations would only complicate matters.

When Abileah refused to withdraw his objection to the Ihud proposal, the other members urged him to submit his own plan to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), which was assembled to determine the fate of the region. Abileah submitted three points in his memorandum to the Committee: Arab-Jewish collaboration; a united Palestine and Trans-Jordan under King Abdullah (Abileah was deeply impressed by the King, whom he met in Amman in 1936); and free immigration. Abileah suggested representatives of all religious communities to join the governmental body. He also thought that there was no question of buying land; in his own words, "there is plenty for all of us; it must only be watered properly".

In August 1948, he was sentenced for refusing to serve in the new Israeli army.

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