Today: Ezra Nawi, a Jewish man who confronts the Israeli government on behalf of voiceless Palestinians.
In the scorching heat of the desert sun, a group of Palestinians gather to peacefully protest yet another illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank area lands they own. But often their protests fall on deaf ears.
For the Israeli government encourages Jews to build new communities in the West Bank, thus they believe, spreading Jewish control. This is similar to what the U.S. government did for white settlers a century and half ago in encouraging them to homestead on Indian lands.
But on this day in 2009 in the West Bank, something unusual took place. The protest leader is not a Palestinian but a Jew, 57-year-old Ezra Nawi.
When The New York Times asked him why he did this he replied, “I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency.”
To many of the Jews who settle these communities, it is about their biblical heritage. To them this is holy land despite whatever claims the Palestinians make for their property rights.
But this land was purchased long ago by the Palestinians, many of whom today live in poverty. Their jobs and much of their food, medicine and even the schooling of their children is under the control of the Israelis, and understandably, tensions run high.
Protected by the Israeli military, settlers have attacked Palestinians. In turn, Palestinians have beaten and even killed settlers. In settling disputes, the Israeli courts often side with the settlers.
“The settlers keep the Palestinian farmers from their land by harassing them,” Ezra told The Times, “and then after several years they say the land has not been farmed so by law, it is no longer theirs. We are only here to stop that from happening.”
“He is a troublemaker,” stated a spokesman for the area’s Jewish settler communities. “It’s true that from time to time there is a problem of some settlers coming out of their communities to cause problems.
“But people like Nawi don’t want a solution. Their whole aim is to cause trouble.”
Settlers and soldiers view Ezra with anger and he gets little support from the Israeli people. Even his mother doesn’t support him in this cause.
Yet that doesn’t stop Ezra, a plumber by trade, from raising his voice on behalf of those who have no voice and sometimes leading their demonstrations.
What motivates him to do this thankless job? It is in part because he is gay. “Being gay has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority,” Ezra told The Times.
In response to his support for the Palestinians the Israeli government has pressured him. They’ve audited his plumbing business, which is costly and time consuming for him and given him a giant tax bill. They also monitor his phone calls as part of the government spying on him.
These tactics were used by U.S. President Richard Nixon against some of his enemies during the Watergate era of the 1970s.
It can be intimidating. Many people keep their distance, fearful that associating with someone the government is after could cause the government to come after them.
Because of his activist activities, over the years Ezra has been briefly jailed on several occasions. Now he faces worse.
In 2007 when Ezra confronted Israeli police during an attempted demolition of Palestinian homes on disputed West Bank land, he was charged with hitting a police officer, although a tape taken at the time does not substantiate that claim. Yet subsequently, an Israeli judge convicted him of this charge.
Over 100,000 letters of support from all over the world flooded the judge and although Ezra faced a long prison sentence, he was given only 30 days, which began May 23, 2010. But he was also sentenced to another six months should he participate in further demonstrations.
He won’t be silenced. “I’m here to change reality,” Ezra told The Times in 2009. “The only Israelis these people know are settlers and soldiers. Through me they know a different Israeli.
“And I’ll keep coming until I know that the farmers here can work their fields.”
Dear Reader: As a Jewish man, why should I share a story with you that makes Israel look bad? Because what Israel is doing is bad and because it takes great courage to do what Ezra is doing, peacefully offering a voice to poor and voiceless Palestinian men, women and children.
But throughout history, people like Ezra have had the courage to peacefully speak for the down trodden. Whether it was Gandhi in South Africa and then India or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the U.S. or Nelson Mandela in South Africa or others elsewhere, there have always been voices of conscience and reason.
Sometimes these individuals are killed or jailed and the news of their activities is often censored. But it doesn’t stop them as they or others in their place continue the cause until what history and humanity tells us is right prevails.
Success Tip of the Week:
On principle, Ezra is committed to a cause in which he has no stake for he is neither a settler nor a Palestinian. Is there a cause you believe in, in which you see people victimized and voiceless? If so, this week, will you speak up on their behalf?
If you would like to read the New York Times article from which Ezra was quoted, please see “Unlikely Ally For Residents Of West Bank: Israeli Draws Criticism For Aiding Palestinians".
If you would like to see a 3 1/3 minute tape of the 2007 incident in which Ezra was convicted of hitting a police officer or read a personal letter from him, please see http://www.supportezra.net/.
In the next KazanToday:
How a street performer became a billionaire.