Roughly around the same time Walt Staton, a former UA student, was convicted by a Tucson federal court this June for providing humanitarian aid to migrants in the Sonoran desert, another human rights activist 7,500 miles away in the Negev desert of Palestine is being legally persecuted in a similar way, for comparable ""crimes"" of compassion.
Ezra Nawi's very name means ""help"" in Hebrew. And his government is punishing him for living up to his name, as he attempts to uphold basic human rights standards routinely denied by his government upon Nawi's Palestinian neighbors.
Nawi, a plumber by trade, has been praised by the New York Times as the ""Robin Hood of the South Hebron hills, an Israeli Jew helping poor locals who love him, and thwarting settlers and soldiers who view him with contempt.""
""Being gay has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority,"" Nawi told the Times.
And he has committed his life to humanitarian work in occupied Palestinian territories, rife with settlements and a military force, both of which a 2004 United Nations International Court of Justice ruling deemed illegal.
In the criminal case against him, two policemen accuse Nawi of attacking them during a the demolition of a ""tin shack"" house in a Palestinian-Arab Bedouin community, but a video of the incident which took place on Feb 14, 2007, has made its way onto YouTube.com and is quickly disparaging the policemen's claims as laughable.
As reported by The Jerusalem Post on Aug. 16, the American activist group Jewish Voice for Peace led an international campaign of support for Nawi at his sentencing hearing on Aug. 16, admitting into the court 20,000 signatures from people all around the world demanding he not be jailed. In the judge's own words, reported by representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace, who were present during the trial, Nawi is guilty of ""… rebuking the police, … (of) … lying in front of the bulldozer with others, and … breaking into the shack that had been evicted after the bulldozer had already started the demolition.""
Human rights advocates, like B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, cite a higher law, however, finding that the very demolition policy presupposed by the judge is flagrantly criminal in the first place.
The concluding statement of a Feb. 2002 human rights report by B'Tselem finds that ""Israel's policy flagrantly violates international humanitarian law. … The demolition of houses and the destruction of agricultural land causes extensive damage to the civilian population, which will bear the consequences for many years to come.""
It notes further: ""Injury of this kind to the civilian population cannot be justified on the grounds of ‘pressing military necessity,' as Israeli officials contend.""
B'Tselem's ""about"" statement indicates transparently that the group ""… acts primarily to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and ensure that its government protects the human rights of residents there and complies with its obligations under international law.""
According to the Jerusalem Post, the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Palestine Center for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Public Committee Against Torture and others all corroborate B'Tselem's findings. These groups regard the occupation of Palestine as illegal, particularly the house demolitions.
Meanwhile, Israel is bitterly concerned over one of its own citizens who dared to upset its destructive policy. Eilata Ziskind, the Israeli judge who convicted Nawi, concluded, ""the acts and behavior of (Nawi) constitute serious interferences that were meant to disturb the peace.""
But, there is no peace.
Israel, with crucial material support from the United States, is responsible. The widely destructive use of U.S.-made Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers, which is the Israeli army's ""strategic weapon"" of choice (army Chief of Staff quoted by the Israeli journal Ha'aretz, Dec. 28, 2000) is not a peaceful act. It is an act of war.
The destruction of civilian homes, crops and infrastructure is an act of criminal aggression disguised as ""defense"". What really threatens the Israeli government in this case is not that Nawi was ""disturbing the peace,"" but rather that he was disturbing Israel's daily crimes.
Nawi so blatantly interfered in the maintenance of the criminal atrocities of a 42-year ongoing military assault directed against Palestinian civilians who, in the words of President Barack Obama, ""endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation"" (Speech, Cairo University, June 4, 2009). It is obscene of the Israeli court system to suggest that Nawi was disturbing the ""peace"" of the bulldozer, piloted by army personnel, as it annihilated poor people's tin shack homes. But such is the depraved logic of an openly outlaw government that flouts international law.
In the greater conflict Nawi doesn't pretend to speculate over debates of which ""side"" is more or less legitimate, Israel or Palestine.
""I don't consider my work political,"" Nawi told the New York Times. ""I don't have a solution to this dispute. I just know what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It's about decency.""
It is through this brave brand of decency that groups like B'Tselem and individuals like Ezra Nawi continue their work undeterred in the face of extreme hostility and legalized injustice.
Despite that they haven't either guns or bombs, nor any traditional forms of power, they have the moral weight of universally recognized principles of human rights and humanitarian law to which Israel is an obliged signatory, along with the United States.
In a land disheveled by war, these people and institutions of courage that honor the standards of international human rights laws, are the stuff upon which justice, truth and the pursuit of an earnest and honorable peace are upheld.
—Gabriel Schivone is a junior majoring in art, literature and media studies. He can be reached at letters @wildcat.arizona.edu.
Related Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysIaQUJWBdk