a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Ezra Nawi and the laughing soldiers

Posted by Thomas Nephew on August 11th, 2009

I admire people like Ezra Nawi, people with the cussedness and determination and confidence to just keep doing simple right things. In Nawi’s case, that means being an Israeli yet sticking up for Palestinians on the West Bank near Hebron — people who are being viciously and criminally (they’re really the only words that will do) harassed by nearby Israeli settlers.

To the right is a short video of the incident that has led to Nawi’s conviction for “assaulting” an Israeli officer. (Nawi is in the green jacket as the video begins.) As you’ll see, I think, if there was an assault it was pretty hard to spot. Be that as it may, the first point of this post is to ask you to go to and add your name to a petition asking the Israeli justice system to forego jailing Mr. Nawi.

But the real point is what was happening to the Palestinians. Writing for Ha’aretz in mid-June, David Shulman (who says he knows Nawi and is certain the charge is untrue) explains:

On February 14, 2007, the Israeli authorities sent army bulldozers to demolish several Palestinian shacks in a tiny place called Umm al-Kheir, 25 kilometers southeast of Hebron. Umm al-Kheir embodies the everyday reality of the Israeli occupation like no place else: The 100 or so impoverished Bedouin who call it their home, eking out a livelihood by grazing goats and sheep on the dry, stony hills, live in rickety structures of canvas, tin and stone. The land is theirs: Originally refugees from Tel Arad in the Negev in 1948, they bought it for good money from its Palestinian owners in the early 1950s. Israel, however, has put up a large settlement called Carmel right next to Umm al-Kheir, and like all settlements, Carmel (founded in 1981) is constantly expanding, encroaching on the lands of its Palestinian neighbors. As documented in detail in police records in Kiryat Arba, settlers also regularly attack these neighbors, whom they would like to remove altogether from this area.

House demolitions in the Palestinian territories are routine, and there have been several at Umm al-Kheir, too. The legal justification is always that the houses were built without a permit. But Palestinians living in Area C in the territories have almost no hope of getting a building permit. (To give some idea: on average, in all of Area C, only one building permit is granted to Palestinians each month, whereas some 60 demolitions orders are issued, of which 20 are carried out. Fewer than 5 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C are approved.)

You may have skimmed past the “settlers also regularly attack these neighbors” part above, or imagined a shouting match or some scuffles.  Wrong.   Nir Rosem, writing about Nawi for Ha’aretz in 2005, reported nearby Israeli “settlers” poisoned livestock, destroyed olive orchards, plowed up fields, committed arson, and beat the Palestinian village children and foreign volunteers accompanying them to school badly enough that several needed hospitalization.

I don’t really know that much about the lay of the land over there.  So I wouldn’t usually have a feeling for whether what’s happening or happened in and around Umm al-Kheir is an outlier, or whether it’s as everyday as Shulman says it is.

Except for that video.  Because the worst thing about it isn’t the soldiers breaking in to the metal shack, it isn’t even the bulldozer demolishing the old house next to it while villagers cry and curse.  The worst thing was that the IDF soldiers laughed when they were done. Like it was no big deal at all.

You can also visit for ongoing news about the case and the cause.

3 Responses to “Ezra Nawi and the laughing soldiers”

  1. dutchmarbel Says:

    I read the bog IBN Ezra ( ) for human stories and I follow the Peace Now website (

  2. Nell Says:

    My understanding is that the Hebron settlers are the worst of the worst, but only in terms of their active hatred and violence.

    Relentless expansion, house demolitions, water stealing, orchard razing are all part of all the settlements, “legal” and “illegal”, whether populated by aggressive ideologues as in Hebron or recent young immigrant couples with few resources.

  3. Thomas Nephew Says:

    The Ibn Ezra blog is very good and very interesting, lots of on the scene reporting. He has a special “Southern Hebron Hills” category, so I guess that area stands out for him too.

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