Details remain murky, with Israeli police sources telling media that Nawi was not the subject of a criminal investigation
A prominent left-wing Israeli activist was arrested on Monday at Tel Aviv’s airport on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a crime, following days of controversy.
Ezra Nawi was detained days after a Channel 2 investigation on Thursday aired recordings of him discussing how he had informed Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces about Palestinians in the West Bank who were selling their land to Israeli settlers with the knowlege that the PA would subsequently kill the Palestinians.
“Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi is heard saying in reference to the PA’s counterintelligence arm. “The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them. But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at Nawi calling him the "true face of the extremists among us, driven crazy by the hatred of the settlements to the point of turning in innocent individuals [leading to their] torture and execution."
Details, however, remain murky with Israel police sources telling Haaretz that Nawi was not the subject of a criminal investigation and that they had no proof that the PA had killed the individuals Nawi informed on.
Legally, the PA endorses capital punishment in these cases, but it has not carried out an execution for more than 10 years, including for very serious crimes. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday stressed that those convicted of selling land to Jews are sentenced to hard labour, not death.
However, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that in recent years several Palestinians deemed to have sold land to settlers have been killed with their murders going unsolved.
It is also unclear whether a case against Nawi can be brought to an Israeli court, Haaretz added.
Channel Two alleges that Nawi and another activist, Nasser Nawajah, a Palestinian working as a field researcher with human rights NGO B’Tselem in the South Hebron Hills posed as fake buyers to entrap people into selling their land. Nawi has denied the allegation, while B’Tselem said that the Uvda programme did not show the full picture.
Some on the Israel left have criticised the documentary, saying that it was politically motivated.
Sergio Yahni, an Israeli activist and journalist, told Middle East Eye that he believed that the allegations were groundless and that the arrest was just part of an ongoing government crackdown which has taken aim at several left-wing Israeli organisations.
"What I am hearing is that the story behind the story is that they [Nawri and the B'Tselem employee] stumbled onto a large scheme to try and get the land and that they managed to unearth something," he told MEE.
"The charges against him are groundless and purely political in nature. The land issue is a very hot topic in Israel right now, especially with the confiscation of land in Gush Etzion [a settler block near Jerusalem which the government is reportedly trying to revive]. They [the government] want to build more homes there and there is a serious attempt to establish new government approved settlements, which did not happen since the 1990s."
"The government is facing a series of very serious challenges that it simply cannot solve. It is having major problems with the international community, and also there are grave economic problems here in Israel. We’re facing a serious economic crisis but very few people are seriously talking about this. Israel has these serious issues but there is no discussion of what is happening at the UN, or with the US – these things are just not seen in the popular media and instead we are seeing all these attacks on these small organisations that have no real power," he added.
In subsequent reports, Channel 2 has accused Nawi of taking money from Breaking the Silence, an NGO that encourages former Israeli soldiers to talk about crimes and violations committed by the army.
Breaking the Silence is one of the NGOs targeted by possible legislation aimed at tightening rules on foreign-backed NGOs. If passed, it will require Israeli NGOs that receive at least half of their funds from foreign governments to identify donors on their financial statements and in official statements to public bodies.
US ambassador Daniel Shapiro said on Monday that he had passed on White House concerns over the proposed legislation.