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Hebrew University
HUJ Religions & Classics] David Shulman's & Amiel Vardi's association with the convicted rapist Ezra Nawi


Robin Hood to some, a convicted rapist to others

By John Costello

Thursday August 04 2011


EZRA NAWI has been described as a Robin Hood-figure for the Palestinian people, but to others he is simply a convicted rapist and criminal.

The stocky plumber, known more for his enthusiastic physical presence in the West Bank rather than his intellectual finesse, can usually be found wearing loose khaki military-style clothes while on the Hebron hills supporting the marginalised Palestinians and Bedouin.

The openly gay 60-year-old Arab Jew born to Iraqi immigrants, who says his rugged good looks often remind foreigners of Sean Connery, has previous convictions involving weapons, drugs and assault.

However, until Senator David Norris's presidential campaign was derailed, his six-month prison sentence in 1997 for sodomy of a minor was relatively unknown in Israel.

Nawi has only gained both national and international recognition for his activism over the last number of years and the reporting of the case was restricted due to the involvement of a minor.

It is believed he first met David Norris when he was part of one of Jerusalem's first gay rights groups, Apple, in the late 1970s.

His profile in Israel as a left-wing activist rapidly grew when he joined the Jewish Arab activist group Ta'ayush in 2000 after being introduced to the group by his then Palestinian boyfriend.

According to Ta'ayush founding member Amiel Vardi, his fellow activists only became aware of Nawi's conviction for rape when coverage of Mr Norris's political crisis was published in Israel's Haaretz newspaper last week.

Even now, Vardi claims Nawi has not spoken about the matter and members of the group are still unaware of the specific details.

As the controversy surrounding his conviction for statutory rape of a minor resurfaced, Nawi refused to speak to the media and left his home in Jerusalem on Monday to go abroad. But as Nawi goes to ground it is unlikely Mr Norris will be the only high-profile personality tainted by association. His supporters include many darlings of the left, such as Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky.

In 2009, Yehudit Karp, Israel's former deputy attorney general, likened him to Robin Hood while acting as a character witness for him in court when convicted of attacking policemen.

"Ezra is seen as a law breaker, while the state itself breaks the law and fails to uphold its basic obligations," said Karp.

"Ezra is the saviour of these people. He blocks with his body settlers who stop the farmers from working on their land. You could call him Robin Hood of the Wild West."

But his relationship with an educated, wealthy and highly respected member of Irish society has come as a shock to many locals.

His convictions and frequent run-ins with the authorities have meant his plumbing business is in somewhat of a shambles. He has also accused the police of trying to scare away his Palestinian supporters by telling them he is gay and has AIDS.

Although an avowed pacifist, he served one month in prison in July 2010 after being convicted by an Israeli court for assaulting a policeman when Israeli soldiers were sent to tear down an Arab home in the West Bank in 2007. He still strongly denies the charge.

While a 2008 documentary on his life, 'Citizen Nawi', focused on his activism, his relationships also took a central role. At the time Nawi's long-term partner was the handsome and much younger Palestinian Fuad Mussa. However, the relationship suffered as Mussa was constantly getting arrested and spending time in jail for being in Jerusalem without a permit.

Nawi then took up with another younger Palestinian, called Nimmer.

However, in the documentary he confesses he doesn't love him as much as he loves Mussa.

Nawi's close associate and supporter Professor David Shulman, of the Hebrew University, has described him as "a tough-minded, soft-hearted plumber".

When asked if he knew of his previous convictions for sodomy and drug abuse, Shulman replied: "This is an old thing which happened a long time ago and is therefore irrelevant. People change in life, including Nawi."

However, it seems for Senator David Norris at least, Nawi's past has become very relevant indeed.

- John Costello

Irish Independent

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