Kafka may have been on to something: there is something surreal about most political trials. An Israeli court last week sentenced the Israeli peace activist Ezra Nawi to a month in prison on charges that are widely believed to be fabricated. Another part of the sentence condemns Nawi to a further six-month term in prison if he is caught in violation of the law in the occupied territories over the course of the next three years.
Though Nawi has been a life-long advocate of nonviolent resistance to the occupation, earlier this year he was convicted by a court that held him guilty of assaulting two police officers. Thousands of letters – some say as many as 140,000 – in support of Nawi were supposed to have been delivered to Israeli officials at the Ministry of Justice, and sentencing was delayed for two months. After sentencing was passed on him last week, Nawi again spoke up: “The court has been permitting the occupation for years, they are trying to stop me at all costs. The judge doesn’t scare me, and neither does the 30-day sentence. This is testimonium paupertatis [testimony to the paucity of evidence; tacit admission of ignorance] to the court, I tried to stop criminal activity, and I ended up having to pay two officers who acted brutally. This is the Israeli reality.”
Nawi has described well the ugly reality of Israel’s brutalization of the occupied territories. Nawi was protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home in Um El Hir, in the southern part of the West Bank, and the video of the demolition and Nawi’s dignified protest is a haunting reminder of what the peace activist is up against in Palestine. As the bulldozer comes knocking down a home, Nawi is taken into custody and his hands are tied together. I too was a soldier in Russia, he tells the young Israeli soldiers, “but I didn’t demolish houses.” As he is hauled into a truck, Nawi is heard telling the laughing soldiers, “The only thing that will be left here is hatred.” Why, he asks the young men, should they find the plight of children who are left without a roof over their head funny?
In the last phase of the US presidential race in 2008, ‘Joe the Plumber’ surfaced to redirect attention to John McCain’s supposed affinities with the ‘common man’. ‘Joe the Plumber’ was never quite the plumber, but the same cannot be said of Nawi: he makes his living as a plumber and has, one might say, dignified not only his profession but the Israeli peace activist who comes from a Mizrahi Jewish working-class background. The Mizrahi Jew, from the point of view of the (Ashkenazi) elites of the Israeli state, is not quite an authentic specimen of the Jewish religion. If the Muslim of the Indian sub-continent is held by the purists to have been contaminated by the close proximity to Hindus over centuries, so the Mizrahi Jew is believed to have been contaminated by his Middle East or Central Asian origins in Muslim-majority lands. Though Nawi is fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Judge Eilata Ziskind ordered a translator to be present at Nawi’s sentencing – as though Nawi could not understand Hebrew. Humans are wonderfully inventive in inflicting humiliation upon others and insinuating orders of hierarchy.
The trial, conviction, and sentencing of Nawi illustrate the depth of the moral corruption in the state of Israel. The policemen who accused him of assaulting them are, Nawi states, “lying, [and] lying has become common within the Israeli police force, military and among the Jewish settlers.” One cannot say when the guns will be silenced, the bulldozers put to rest: but if and when that occurs, Israel will find the rot to have spread far and wide into the veins of its society. It takes a plumber to say that.