Peter Tatchell: Help save Ezra Nawi, for the sake of freedom in the Middle East

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The Independent Online

He is gay, Israeli, Jewish and a defender of Palestinian human rights. On 16 August he faces jail for opposing Israel's illegal demolition of Arab homes. Ezra Nawi is building bridges across the sectarian divide of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He's a 57-year old Israeli Jewish, working-class plumber who speaks fluent Arabic and defends Palestinian human rights. He's also openly gay in a region where Islamist and Judaist fundamentalists are violently homophobic.

Next week he will be sentenced by an Israeli court. He is facing up to 18 months in prison for non-violently resisting Israel's illegal demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and for peacefully defending Palestinian famers who are being driven off their land by Israeli settlers.

A campaign has been launched to save him from imprisonment. Being an "out" gay man is mostly easy in London or New York. But in the Middle East? No. It takes guts, especially when there are "fundis" on both sides who want to kill you.

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.

But his acceptance by some Palestinians illustrates that homophobia can be overcome, even in very traditional communities. It refutes the common stereotype that all Arabs are anti-gay.

Ezra's exemplary life shows the possibility of unity, solidarity and respect between gays and straights in Palestine and Israel. 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.

"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."

This is an extract from Peter Tatchell's blog at Independent Minds. You can read more at , and start your own blog at