Ezra Nawi is a veteran activist who is facing jail time for protecting the livelihood of Palestinians in the southern West Bank and standing up to the army. To say that Ezra Nawi is a caring individual is an understatement. He exudes a tender and warm spirit that I have not seen in many people. He has been an important fixture of Israeli activism against the Occupation for decades and, as a result, the Israeli government would love to see him out of commission.
Ezra has lived his whole life in Jerusalem and knows it well. His complex love for the city is evident to anyone who has ridden with him in his old Nissan truck, winding through its streets as he reminisces about the city before 1967. Being of Iraqi descent, he speaks fluent Arabic and is the connection point between Israeli activists and Palestinians in the southern West Bank.
Ezra is a raw and open human being. He is patient and tranquil but on occasion will give the authorities a piece of his mind. After so many years of working against an Occupation that only gets stronger, and in dealing with the insults of the police and settlers, I understand his frustration. Last Friday, as we were leaving the city of Hebron after being forced out, a police officer that harbors a unique hatred for Ezra stopped us. This officer has on numerous occasions used vicious homophobic insults against him. On this day, Ezra had had enough and called the officer ‘stupid’. This offense, of course, wound Ezra up in jail for the afternoon.
I have been with Ezra on many excursions in the West Bank and have appreciated his ability to ease tense situations. A couple of weeks ago in the village of Safa, the IDF invaded using tear gas and live ammunition. Members of Ta’ayush came face to face with the IDF, documenting the violence. This was my first confrontation with extreme violence from the IDF. Ezra could sense my anxiety and approached me, slapped me on the back three times and smiling, said, “quite an adventure you are experiencing!” His presence cut the tension in the air, including, I think, the tension of the soldiers surrounding us.
The Israeli government knows that if Ezra was put in jail Israeli activists would not be able to function as well in the West Bank. I believe this is the motive behind their efforts to incarcerate him for an offense that he has told me he did not commit. Neve Gordon has recently written a piece in the Guardian about Ezra. His “crime”, writes Gordon, was trying to stop a military bulldozer from destroying the home of Palestinian Bedouins from Um El Hir who have been living under direct Israeli control for 42 years. He is accused of assaulting an IDF soldier while standing inside the house just before it was demolished. Ezra has mentioned to me that the lawyers have offered him a plea bargain that would largely diminish his sentence, but he insists he cannot admit to something he has not done.
Ezra is an example of those activists in Israel that refuse to conform to the notion that Israelis and Palestinians cannot forge and maintain friendships and work together. The government is trying to make him an example by throwing him in jail, to send the message that Israelis shall be punished for attempting to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians. As Ezra has said, if these types of actions continue, only hatred will be left in this land. I feel privileged to count Ezra as one of my friends and am honored that he refers to me as “Yosef HaZadik.”
Joseph Dana is a member of Ta’ayush and maintains the blog ibnezra.wordpress.com