Israeli Activist to be Jailed for Caring

Ezra Nawi was ridiculed and arrested for trying to protect people's homes. Only international attention can help him now

Without international intervention, Israeli human rights activist Ezra Nawi will most likely be sent to jail.

Nawi is not a typical rights activist. A member of Ta'ayush
Arab-Jewish Partnership he is a Jewish Israeli of Iraqi descent who
speaks fluent Arabic. He is a gay man in his fifties and a plumber by
trade. Perhaps because he himself comes from the margins, he empathises
with others who have been marginalised - often violently.

"crime" was trying to stop a military bulldozer from destroying the
homes of Palestinian Bedouins from Um El Hir in the South Hebron
region. These Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation for
almost 42 years; they still live without electricity, running water and
other basic services and are continuously harassed by Jewish settlers
and the military - two groups that have united to expropriate
Palestinian land and that clearly have received the government's
blessing to do so.

As chance would have it, the demolition and
the resistance to it were captured on film and broadcast on Israel's
Channel 1. The three-minute film (above) - a must see - shows Nawi, the
man dressed in a green jacket, not only courageously protesting against
the demolition but, after the bulldozer destroys the buildings, also
telling the border policemen what he thinks of their actions. Sitting
handcuffed in a military vehicle following his arrest, he exclaims:
"Yes, I was also a soldier, but I did not demolish houses ... The only
thing that will be left here is hatred."

The film then shows the
police laughing at Nawi. But in dealing with his audacity, they were
not content with mere ridicule and decided also to accuse him of
assaulting a policeman. Notwithstanding the very clear evidence
(captured on film), an Israeli court recently found Nawi guilty of
assault in connection with the incident, which happened in 2007, and
this coming July he will be sent to prison. Unless, perhaps, there is a
public outcry.

Nawi's case is not only about Nawi. It is also
about Israel and Israeli society, if only because one can learn a great
deal about a country from the way it treats its human rights and
pro-democracy activists.

Most people are not really surprised
when they read that human rights activists are routinely arrested,
prosecuted, imprisoned and harassed in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco
and several other Middle Eastern countries. Indeed, it has become
common knowledge that the authoritarian nature of these regimes renders
it dangerous for their citizens to actively fight for human rights.

this sense, Israel is different from most of its neighbours. Unlike
their counterparts in Egypt and Syria, Israeli rights activists,
particularly Jewish ones, have been able to criticise the policies of
their rights-abusive government without fear of incarceration. Up until
now, the undemocratic tendencies of Israeli society manifested
themselves, for the most part, in the state's relation to its
Palestinian citizens, the occupied Palestinian inhabitants and a small
group of Jewish conscientious objectors.

People might assume that Nawi's impending imprisonment as well as other alarming developments (like the recent arrest of New Profile
and Target 21 activists, who are suspected of abetting draft-dodgers)
are due to the establishment of an extreme rightwing government in
Israel. If truth be told, however, the rise of the extreme right merely
reflects the growing presence of proto-fascist elements in Israeli
society, elements that have been gaining ground and legitimacy for many
years now.

Nawi's case, for what it symbolises on both an
individual and societal level, encapsulates the current reality in
Israel. His friends have launched a campaign, and are asking people to write letters to Israeli embassies around the world. At this point, only international attention and intervention can make a difference.

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