Many who dedicate their lives to the resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict or fighting the injustice or terrorism that can arise from the conflict sincerely seek to bring peace and security and resolve a conflict which has been ongoing for more than a century, before both even Israel’s birth as a nation and the notion of the Palestinians as a distinct national identity separate from Syrians. That holds true for activists on the left and right who might have honest disagreement as to ultimate blame and the question of specific grievance — such as land dispute — versus ideology and religious intolerance and who also might disagree with the other’s cynical read of the ultimate goal of the other.
Haaretz, a left-of-center Israeli daily widely-read among the elite in Israel and among Arab-Israeli conflict activists in Europe and the United States, today covers a distressing TV report about what happens when activists of either side — in this particular the left — lose their moral grounding. Ezra Nawi, a self-described human rights and anti-settlement activist, was taped collaborating with Palestinian security services to have Palestinians selling land to Israelis tortured and executed:
Footage aired on Channel 2 on Thursday shows a prominent Israeli leftist activist describing how he led to the death of Palestinians who sought to sell West Bank land to Jews. The activist, Ezra Nawi, of the Israeli-Palestinian Taayush group, was secretly recorded saying that he had turned in the land brokers to Palestinian security services, who would then kill them.
The report by the program Uvda looked into left-wing groups which operate in the West Bank. The footage was obtained by right-wing activists who infiltrated these groups in attempt to discredit them. The footage of Nawi was captured by a right-wing activist who reportedly became his close acquaintance. In the footage, Nawi, who is unaware of being recorded, is heard telling of four Palestinian landowners who contacted him, thinking he was also involved in the land trade.
“I give their photos and their phone numbers immediately to the [Palestinian] Preventive Security Force,” Nawi says in the recording. “The Authority catches them and kills them. But before they kill them they beat them up.” In another recording, Nawi is heard telling about a Palestinian who “made deals with the settlers.” The Palestinian, Nawi says, let the settlers till his uncles’ lands in return for farming other lands. Nawi goes on to say that he handed the Palestinian’s name over to the Palestinian security services, and that the Palestinian later “suffered a stroke.”
There’s more, and the scandal also allegedly involved B’Tselem, a frequent interlocutor for the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and a favorite resource of groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Frequent American commentators like Peter Beinart have also served on the B’Tselem advisory board.
Activists and human rights activists can complain about entrapment and the deception that led to the tapes, if accurate, seeing the light of day but there should also be a moral reckoning: Palestinians and Israelis should be encouraged to strike compromises — working out among themselves who farms where and swapping land when necessary. While anti-settlement activists might promote a narrative of illegal Israeli land grabs, much more frequent is commerce — the buying and selling of land and other products. To discourage the selling of land to Jews (or to Muslims or to Christians for that matter) is problematic and to complain about the refusal to sell to members of one religion while facilitating the murder of those who sell to another is hypocritical and morally incomprehensible.
Let us hope that B’Tselem, J-Street, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations who have become deeply involved in monitoring and passing judgment on the dispute between Israel and Palestinians will make clear that Nawi’s actions are unacceptable and cannot be rationalized in any way. Nawi might look at himself as a left-wing human rights activist, but if the report outlined by Ha’aretz is true, he is no different than the terrorist or death squad commander torturing an unarmed farmer or pulling the trigger to murder him in front of his family.