Global Independent Analytics
Joshua Tartakovsky
Joshua Tartakovsky

Location: USA

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

The Limits of Israeli Liberalism: The Case of Ezra Nawi

A pro-Palestinian Iraqi Jewish homosexual activist exposes the limits of leftist solidarity

Photo by Amir Bitan

Ezra Nawi is a peculiar figure in the landscape of Israel-Palestine. As he told me once in a conversation, he feels neither at home among the Palestinians in Ramallah, nor at home among Israelis in Jerusalem. Of Iraqi origin, Jewish, a citizen of Israel and a homosexual, he is a pro-Palestinian activist. Only that he is not the typical pro-Palestinian liberal activist. He is a socialist, a fan of Hugo Chavez, speaks perfect Arabic, and dresses as one in the area of South Hebron Hills in the West Bank in which he works. He is cunning, street-smart, likes to mingle with the locals, and being a plumber, he is also a simple man who does not fancy theoretical conversations.  Rather than engaging in endless talk about “human rights” from the cafes of Tel Aviv,  he goes every day to the South Hebron Hills where the Bedouin and the poorest Palestinians reside in tents. The South Hebron Hills are the favela of the West Bank. The residents there who raise their sheep and live in primitive structures, are neglected by the Palestinian Authority while the Israeli military regime in the West Bank frequently seeks to confiscate their land, rob them of ranching areas, seal their water sources and generally harass them to no end. In the mean time, Israeli settlements composed of Jews who wish to live in the Holy Land in its biblical conditions, are located near by, frequently on land which the Palestinians there claim as their own. The settlers dump their sewage in the Palestinian areas.  Ezra installed solar plates in the area thanks to the contribution of a German foundation and brought residents, on a daily basis, logistical goods they needed in order to continue to survive. Ezra’s name means “help” in Hebrew.

Every Saturday, Nawi, with a bunch of activists of his organization Ta’ayush, go to the South Hebron Hills and accompany Palestinian shepherd who seek to herd on their land. Only that the land in which they are used to take their sheep to is frequently declared a closed military area by the Israeli army. Ezra and his friends confront the soldiers and film whatever takes place. He was arrested more than once, and was once placed on trial for cursing out a commander who destroyed a Palestinian home.

Photo by Amir Bitan

Ezra Nawi, however, was often widely respected by the Israeli military commanders in the area. They could see that he is not an arrogant leftist, nor an Ashkenazi (European Jewish) snob. He is an Iraqi Jew who truly cares about his Arab friends. While he did face trouble by soldiers who were new to the area, the old-time cops and commanders generally held him in high esteem. However, it is precisely the Israeli liberals, those who call for a two state solution and for an end to the Israeli occupation, who found him difficult to digest. After all, he is difficult to place. He is neither a typical Israeli nor is he Palestinian. He does not view Palestinians from a distance but mingled with them. For this reason, he was largely ignored. His modus operandi and way of mingling was too difficult for the leftists, for in his actions he exposed them of their hypocrisy and silent inaction.

Needless to say, the Israeli settlers largely hated him as they saw him as a traitor. The Palestinian community, however, admired him and gave him much love, seeing him as one of their own. This, despite the fact that homosexuality is a taboo in traditional Palestinian society. The Israeli right-wing jumped on one incident, where he had relations with a Palestinian minor. Nawi claimed that the minor lied to him about his age, but for the settlers this was the final proof they needed to convince themselves that he is a pervert, and that his moral case has no value.

It is only natural that after living and mingling with the Arabs for years, he became one of them. After seeing much injustice and the inhumane treatment that they were subjected to, a treatment which he often tried to prevent with his own body, and after many incidents of being beaten and arrested, he crossed the boundary separating Israelis and Palestinians. He chose a side, the side of those he deemed oppressed. And as a true idealist and one who believes in his cause, all actions are legitimate in a time of war or revolution.

A short while ago, an Israeli right-wing group which seeks to sabotage and expose pro-Palestinian activity, managed to infiltrate into Nawi’s organization. With a hidden camera in his belonging, an Israeli guy became quite friendly with Ezra, who embraced him and took him around with his mini-truck, with which he navigates through the dusty hills of the South Hebron region.

In a program recently depicted on Israeli TV which gained wide attention, Nawi was filmed by the pro-Israeli guy, saying some things which perhaps should have not been voiced to the camera. The guy asked Ezra what does he do to Palestinians who sell their homes to Israeli settlers for the sake of money.  Ezra did not mince words. We turn them over to the Palestinian secret service, he said. And what do they do? asked the Israeli.  Well, they torture them and kill them, said Ezra. It happened more than once, he said.

Photo by Amir Bitan

The program depicted Ezra as a murderer. How dare he, liberals Zionists wondered, speak of human rights while he is responsible for actions in which Palestinians, whose sole crime is selling a home to a Jewish person, will be tortured and killed. Apparently, they have suddenly discovered that Palestinian lives have value. For the Israeli right-wing this was the final proof that he is nuts. They were mad with indignation. The Israeli press and leading Israeli figures went wild.

However, it was from the Israeli liberals who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause that the most bizarre response came.  In an article titled “Human rights groups smeared over actions of one man”, pro-Palestinian Israeli writer Edo Konrad distanced himself from Nawi and bemoaned “Nawi’s indefensible actions” while complaining that Israeli leaders used this exposure “to attack and smear the entire spectrum of left-leaning and human rights organizations.” Nawi’s “unjustifiable” statements do not represent a majority of NGOs which should care for human life, he explained. Konrad also argued that there is no evidence anyone was killed as a result of Nawi, forgetting that he accused him of “indefensible actions” in the same article.

But as usual, the pro-Palestinian Israeli liberals missed the point. First of all, Nawi is a league of his own, and did more for the Palestinians than Israeli “human rights” NGOs, operating in air-conditioned offices, or visiting the West Bank once in a blue moon, ever did. Secondly, such a statement can only be expected from Nawi.  He gives his time, energy, money and very existence to Palestinians every day. He is deeply involved in their struggle, and got injured more than once. For him, this is a real war, and in war, tough actions are taken.  A Palestinian who sells his home to an Israeli in a situation where some people are colonized and others are free, in the deeply unequal relationship which defines the reality on the ground - is a traitor.

Photo by Amir Bitan

Ezra Nawi is currently in Israeli prison, arrested by surprise at the airport on Monday, although there is no proof of his involvement in any action, nor has he done anything illegal. The Israeli state itself recognized the Palestinian Authority as in charge of security matters in the West Bank and collaborates with its secret service. There have been reports that he is forbidden from having contact with anyone. It remains to be seen what will happen to him.

 

 

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