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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.

His "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
– 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.

In 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

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.


Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University. Read about his book
Israel’s Occupation @ israelsoccupation.info