Radical Left-wing Activist Ezra Nawi Dies at 69

Nawi, whose activism for the Palestinian cause began during the second intifada, made headlines after an investigative program exposed him boasting of turning Palestinians who sold land to Jews over to the PA

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ezra Nawi speaks to the press at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, July 16, 2019.
Ezra Nawi speaks to the press at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, July 16, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Radical left-wing activist Ezra Nawi, who was active in Palestinian causes and was termed a "public enemy" by circles on the right, died at the age of 69 on Saturday, just a few months after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Nawi, a Jerusalemite by birth and a plumber by profession, viewed himself as a warrior for justice, and had no small share of legal troubles. He died the height of the trial against him, which followed an investigative report by the "Uvda" television program, which claimed that Nawi handed over information to the Palestinian Authority on Palestinians who sold land to Jews. According to the program, Nawi believed that the authority would kill them for doing so.

Nawi was born in Jerusalem in 1951 to a family that emigrated from Iraq. As a teenager, he was active in the youth movement of Israel's communist Maki party. His political activism began during the second intifada, during which he joined the Israeli-Palestinian Ta'ayush organization, which aids Palestinians in the West Bank. His activities included defending Palestinians from settler attacks, helping them during the olive and wheat harvest and helping attain legal aid and media coverage.

In addition to his humanitarian work, Nawi maintained a romantic relationship with a young Palestinian man from the south Hebron hills, who himself was arrested and released multiple times for entering Israel without approval.

Ezra Nawi at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, October 21, 2009.Credit: Emil Salman

Nawi made many enemies due to his political activities, and was no stranger to the courtroom. His many convictions include illegal use of weapons, transporting illegal immigrants, rioting and assaulting police officers. During his time as an activist in the West Bank, he was arrested and released dozens of times. In a 2005 interview with Nir Hasson, he said that he could no longer count how many times he had been arrested, questioned and released for involvement in activities in the south Hebron hills.

One particular stain on his record, which haunted him for the rest of his life, occurred in 1992, when he was convicted of sexual intercourse with a minor – a 15-year-old boy from Jerusalem – and served time in jail. "I understood that I did something that wasn't okay, that was forbidden, I paid the price, even though it was done consensually," he later reflected.

Nawi's name returned to the headlines after the 2016 "Uvda" broadcast, which was based on footage of him obtained via hidden camera by a member of the right-wing Ad Kan organization who had infiltrated Ta'ayush. In the recordings, Nawi can be heard passing information on a Palestinian who tried to sell land to Jews to the Palestinian Preventative Security Force.

"I give their photos and their phone numbers immediately to the [Palestinian] Preventive Security Force," Nawi says in the recording. "The Authority catches them and kills them. But before they kill them they beat them up." In the recording, he also says that he was one of the reasons that another Palestinian, who cooperated with settlers, died after being interrogated by PA forces.

Left-wing groups widely criticized the "Uvda" report, but Nawi was denounced by many – on the right and on the left – as extreme and violent, and there were broad calls, including from politicians, to bring him to justice. Following the broadcast, Nawi was arrested and investigated on suspicion of the most serious crimes, among them attempted murder, contact with a foreign agent and suspected manslaughter.

In the end, he was indicted for cooperation with Palestinian security forces in 2018. His indictment mentions a rare clause – violating a clause of the Oslo Accords, which forbids Israelis to act in the service of the Palestinian armed forces. At the time of his death, Nawi's trial was still ongoing.

Left-wing demonstrators and Ta'ayush members demand that Nawi be freed, January 21, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

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