Jerusalem Magistrate Judge Eilata Ziskind has announced that a final decision on sentencing Palestinian human rights defender Ezra Nawi – an openly gay Israeli Jew – will now take place on 21 September.
“At yesterday’s court hearing, the judge was swamped by character witnesses, letters and an online petition with 20,000 signatures from the UK, US and all over the world, urging the court to not jail Ezra,” reports human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
“The online petition – http://www.freeezra.org – was organised and coordinated by the Jewish Voices for Peace campaign group.
“Ezra faces imprisonment over an alleged riot during his attempts to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli army and over an alleged assault on a police officer during his arrest – charges that Ezra, a well known pacifist, strongly denies.
“Among the witnesses who testified in court yesterday on Ezra’s behalf were Yehudit Karp, a former deputy attorney-general of Israel, and Hebrew University professors Galit Hazan-Rokem and David Shulman.
“Several of the witnesses explained to the court that Ezra’s actions in trying to stop Israel’s bulldozing of Palestinian homes had to be understood in the context of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, aggressive Israeli settlers trying to force the Palestinians off their land, and the extreme poverty of the displaced Palestinian families.
“In an apparent response to the global outpouring of support for Ezra Nawi, the prosecution has indicated that it is now not asking for the maximum sentence of 18 months to two years imprisonment; although it remains insistent that he should still serve a custodial sentence.
“Ezra has become a legendary figure among the Palestinians in South Hebron, left-wing and pro-peace Israeli activists, LGBT campaigners and international opponents of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“Being an out gay man is mostly easy in London or New York. But in the Middle East, it takes real guts, especially when there are fundamentalists on both sides who want to kill gay people.
“By supporting the human rights of the Palestinian people as an out gay man, Ezra is probably doing more than anyone else to undermine the homophobia that undoubtedly exists in sections of Palestinian society. His acceptance by growing numbers of Palestinians illustrates that homophobia can be overcome, even in very traditional communities. It refutes the common stereotype that all Arabs and Muslims are anti-gay.
“Ezra’s exemplary life shows the possibility of unity, solidarity and respect between gays and straights and between Palestinians and Israelis. It suggests that prejudice and division can be conquered; that a kinder, gentler, fairer future can be won for all the people of the Middle East,” said Mr Tatchell.
“Being gay has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority,” explained Ezra.
Speaking of the harsh anti-Palestinian policies of the Israeli authorities, he laments:
“They can steal their land, demolish their homes, steal their water, imprison them for no reason and at times even kill them.”
“I’m here to change reality. 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,” he said.
“Several years ago, Ezra had a relationship with a gay Palestinian refugee, Fuad Mussa. Fuad fled the West Bank, fearing ‘honour killing’ because of his homosexuality. Ezra was convicted on charges of allowing his partner to live illegally in Israel. Fuad was jailed by the Israelis,” added Mr Tatchell.
“Because of Ezra’s human rights work, Israeli settlers, police and soldiers have subjected him to a torrent of homophobic abuse.”
“They did not hesitate to out me as a gay man; indeed, they spread rumours among the Palestinians with whom I work that I have AIDS,” reported Ezra.
You can watch a film of the protest that led to Ezra’s arrest and charges. Broadcast on Israel’s Channel 1, it shows only passive resistance:
It is not too late to help Ezra Nawi. He will not now be sentenced until 21 September. Between now and then we want to get even more signatures for the online petition. Please email your friends and ask them to sign the petition against Ezra being jailed http://www.freeezra.org
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This post was written by Peter Tatchell