Israel Police Suspect Left-wing Activist of Conspiring to Kill Palestinian Land Dealer

Investigation of Ezra Nawi was sparked by TV report which found he disclosed information about a land swap between land dealer and settler, but Nawi's lawyers say dealer died in bed of natural causes.

Ezra Nawi in court, Jerusalem, January 21, 2016.
Emil Salman

A Jerusalem Magistrate's Court judge extended on Thursday the remand of Ezra Nawi, a left-wing activist arrested 10 days ago, after police said they suspect him of conspiring to cause the death of a Palestinian land dealer.

The remand extension was meant to allow time for an investigative action, the nature of which was classified. Nawi's lawyers claimed in court that the Palestinian in question died in his bed of natural causes.

The police investigation against Nawi, which was sparked by a report on the investigative television program “Uvda,” found that about 18 months ago, he disclosed information about a land swap between a Palestinian resident of the South Hebron Hills, referred to in court documents as Abu Khalil, and a settler referred to as Yonatan. The information was given to a relative of Abu Khalil’s who was liable to be harmed by the deal, but as far as is known, it was never given to the Palestinian Authority.  Shortly thereafter, Abu Khalil died. 

In court hearings, police have suggested that Nawi broke the law by divulging the information, and also that he might have indirectly contributed to Abu Khalil’s death. Nawi's lawyers claimed otherwise.

"Abu Khalil died in his bed of an illness, and there is no connection between the defendant and his death," Nawi's lawyer, Eytan Peleg, said at the hearing. "The police know this and must know it. The death certificate can show a person's cause of death, and it doesn't warrant dozens of investigative measures." 

In his decision, Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Yoad Cohen wrote that all the allegations against the suspects – indirectly contributing to Abu Khalil’s death, giving information to the PA about other Palestinians who sold land to Jews and contact with a foreign agent – “are liable to be legally controversial.” Nevertheless, he added, the police’s interpretation of the information they have gathered isn’t unreasonable, even though other reasonable interpretations are certainly possible.

In addition, Nawi is suspected of contact with a foreign agent. But the foreign agents in question were apparently members of the Palestinian security services. Since Israeli defense officials are in contact with members of the PA security services on a regular basis, it’s not clear what legal grounds there could be for such a charge.

Even more puzzling, however, is the fact that the Palestinian suspect in the case, B’Tselem researcher Nasser Nawa’jah, is also suspected of contact with a foreign agent, even though he is a resident of the Palestinian Authority and not an Israeli citizen. 

“For a resident of the territories, meeting with members of the Palestinian security services isn’t a crime; quite the contrary,” his attorney, Gabi Lasky, told the court. “In this case, his obligation as a Palestinian was to give the information to the authorized body in the Palestinian Authority.”

Nawi’s attorneys, Lea Tsemel and Eytan Peleg, charged in court that the Palestinian land dealer who appeared in the “Uvda” report was actually an imposter sent by a right-wing organization to entrap Nawi. Nawi reacted as he did, they continued, because though he suspected the man was a fake, he thought the man had been sent to entrap him into saying something that would paint him as an agent of the settlers to his Palestinian friends.

Nawi’s lawyer, attorney Lea Tsemel, and attorney Peled argued in court that the land broker seen in the investigative report was an impersonator planted by the right wing organization that aimed at incriminating Nawi. According to the attorneys, Nawi suspected right from the start that the approach to him was aimed at incriminating him as a collaborator with the settlers, in the minds of his friends and his Palestinian partners in the struggle. 

“A person who has the danger of death hanging over his head, who is a plant and I don’t even know if he is an Arab, says he has lands in settlements for sale. The very fact of these statements aroused the respondent’s suspicion,” said Tsemel in court. According to her, this is also why Nawi hastened to tell Palestinian contacts about being approached by the man – so they would not suspect him of collaborating on matters of land sales. 

In addition, Nawi is suspected of a series of minor offenses, among them possessing a knife, transporting a Palestinian within Israeli territory without a permit and possessing narcotics for his personal use.

As for the third person who was arrested, Guy Butavia, on Thursday evening Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit rejected the request for an appeal filed by attorneys Michal Pomeranz and Anu Luski, who are representing him. On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled that he should be released. The Jerusalem District Court partially accepted the police request and ordered his remand extended until Sunday.

In the appeal request it was stated that here is deep concern about Butavia’s mental state in the context of the harsh conditions of his arrest and that the police did not act in accordance with the magistrate's court, which ordered that the suspect be “confronted with all the evidence and suspicions against him in order to give him an opportunity to present a version on his behalf.” According to Butavia he has not yet been confronted with the evidence. In the deliberation on Thursday, Butavia addressed the judge and said that he was suffering from harassment by his cellmates in the jail, who he said blow cigarette smoke in his face and prevent him from sleeping.

On Thursday evening, about 200 leftist activists demonstrated in front of the jail in the Russian Compound in support of the suspects. After the demonstration, the demonstrators set out on a procession in the streets of downtown Jerusalem, chanting slogans against the occupation.

In response to Tsemel’s arguments, the Ad Kan organization has cited the remarks Uvda producer Matan Gez published on the Mako site concerning the meeting with the lands broker that was shown in the investigative report: “There is such a person,” wrote Gez. “He is real. He is not a plant by Ad Kan, for those who are worried. He is now standing in a corner of a gas station on the outskirts of a city in the south, trembling with tension, looking around in every direction and smoking cigarette after cigarette. I did not think he would come to our appointment. Initially he really did refuse. After all, to engage in selling Palestinian lands to Jews is a dangerous occupation.”