Text size
related tags

Ezra Nawi describes himself as "a human rights activists, gay, a Mizrahi Jew who also manages to screw the state. They just don't know how to deal with me."

All the elements of this colorful personality are at the center of an international campaign by Human Rights groups that are pressing the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court not to send Nawi to prison next month. He was convicted in March of disorderly conduct and assaulting police officers.

In recent years Nawi has been helping Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills. He is a plumber, speaks Arabic and likes to help out the weak. He walks children to school, helps ambulances get through roadblocks and hands out cash to poor people.

In February 2007 he helped a Palestinian family whose home was to be razed for having been put up illegally, and he is said to have clashed with the Border Police who had been sent to protect the bulldozers.

According to Judge Ilta Ziskind, in February 2007 he took part in an illegal gathering near the settlement of Carmel. During the incident "Nawi incited people, was unruly and disturbed police officers while doing their duty." He also pushed two Border Policemen, which led to his conviction.

Since the ruling, the Committee for Ezra Nawi has been set up. It is carrying out an international campaign to try to prevent him from being sent to prison. The efforts began with an article by Dr. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University, who wrote in the British daily The Guardian: "Nawi's case is not just about the person. It affects Israel and Israeli society not least because it is possible to learn a great deal about the country and the way it treats human rights activists and fighters for democracy," Gordon says.

Last July, writer/activists Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein called for letters to be sent on Nawi's behalf to Israeli diplomatic missions throughout the world. "Nawi is one of the bravest human rights activists, and without your help he will be sent to prison," they wrote.

Last week, the court heard arguments for the sentencing. A number of academics testified in support of Nawi, but the most surprising character witness was Yehudit Karp, the former deputy attorney general. In the 1980s she headed a committee that examined the rule of law and law enforcement in the territories and found that the situation was terribly distorted in favor of settlers.

In describing the situation 28 years ago, Karp wrote: "This is the start of a dangerous process .... The shortcomings require treatment at the root. They are a symptom of a much deeper problem .... Acts of injustice are being carried out against the Palestinians, and the law is not being enforced."

Karp said the situation in the territories was justification for Nawi's behavior. Nawi will be sentenced on September 21.