Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Israeli Activist, Ezra Nawi, to BeJailed for
Unless the World Protests
By Neve Gordon
Redress, May 10, 2009
Neve Gordon highlights the case of an Israeli human rights
activist, Ezra Nawi, who is set to go to prison for protesting peacefully
against the demolition of Palestinian homes – unless an international public
outcry saves him.
Without international intervention, Israeli human
rights activist Ezra Nawi will most likely be sent to jail.
not a typical rights activist. A member of the
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 empathizes with others who have been marginalized – often
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.
Ezra Nawi’s "crime" was to try to stop a military bulldozer from destroying
the homes of Palestinian Bedouins
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 (see video on the right) – 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 criticize 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 symbolizes 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
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,