Israeli Activist is Looking at Jail Time After Blocking a Bulldozer to Prevent the Demolition of a Palestinian Home
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The first time I was ever in the West Bank, I drove with Ezra Nawi in his truck, known to almost everyone in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank. I remember so clearly the scene and how it shocked me: the rickety shacks pieced together from tin and rags where the Palestinians lived, pressed up against the edges of the settlement, with its large houses with red roofs and green lawns (lawns made possible, I learned, by the water stolen from its Palestinian owners).
Most of all, I remember Ezra, who had probably given this terrible tour a hundred times already at least, having the patience to explain to me exactly what was happening, calm but angry. That day we stopped at least five times to help various families with small errands or advice, or just to say hello. His compassion was boundless, equal to his congenital inability to accept the unjust authority of the military occupation. Rather than smiling and waving at the soldiers in order to get through the checkpoints without trouble, Ezra never took the easy way out, always throwing out a comment, usually very funny, that nevertheless reminded every soldier he passed that he was participating in the occupation machine.
Ezra has committed his life to the non-violent pursuit of justice where there is none. On August 16th, at Ezra's sentencing hearing, Jewish Voice for Peace presented the names of 20,000 people around the world who had signed a petition in support of Ezra. The prosecutor worked hard to get the list of names thrown out as evidence, which indicates that it could have a powerful effect. The judge will rule on September 21st.
Ezra is a well known activist with Ta'ayush (www.taayush.org) who has been working for years in partnership with Palestinians in the South Hebron region of the West Bank. As an individual, he is extraordinary. But in reality, he is just one of thousands of Israelis who have painstakingly built relationships with Palestinians as they struggle jointly and non-violently against the occupation. Members of groups such as the Anarchists Against the Wall (www.awalls.org), which works with Popular Committees in various villages against the Separation Wall; the Villages Group (http://villagesgroup.wordpress.com/), which does joint projects in South Hebron and Nablus regions; and the Wadi Hilwah Information Center (http://www.silwanic.net/en/index.php), in Silwan, East Jerusalem, have all created long-term partnerships that include attending weddings and funerals as well as participating together in protests and actions.
The principle of these groups is not dialogue for its own sake, but on solidarity with Palestinian communities, with a clear analysis of the power dynamics of the occupation. Israelis, for example, know that by coming to demonstrations against the Wall, that the risk of lethal fire on the demonstrators by the Army is reduced. These activists are aware of the explicit army directives that value Israeli lives more greatly, and are willing to put themselves in danger in order to decrease the danger to their Palestinian partners.
This is exactly what Ezra was doing on the day in July, 2007, when he was accused of assaulting a police officer while protesting the home demolition of a Palestinian Bedouin shack in the South Hebron hills. Video taken that day, which is available on YouTube, clearly shows Ezra courageously trying to stop the demolition by leaping into the house, and then being led, unresisting, out in handcuffs, after soldiers roughly arrest him. Individuals like Ezra, fewer than would be hoped, but more than would be generally believed, brave the fear and disapproval of the society all around them to quietly build small islands of trust and commitment that model what a joint society, based on equality rather than occupation, could look like.
In recent months, Jewish Israeli activists have been arrested, their homes ransacked, and their computers confiscated. While the level of persecution toward Jewish Israelis does not approach that of Palestinian Israeli activists, which does not approach that of Palestinians beyond the Green Line, it is an indicator that working non-violently for democracy and human rights is seen as a dangerous threat in today's Israel--and perhaps it is, as it presents an alternative to the present paradigm. It's an upside down world when a true hero like Ezra faces jail time. This fight is not over. To participate in the campaign to keep him out of jail, check out www.free.Ezra.org where a support letter written by Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Neve Gordon is being circulated by Jewish Voice for Peace, and www.supportezra.net which has lots of additional information and ways to get involved.