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Saturday 20 October 2018

Plumber Nawi became an ardent campaigner for Palestinian rights

Breda Heffernan

Working-class Jewish Israeli plumber Ezra Yizhak Nawi, and David Norris, a distinguished university scholar and senator, may not have seemed a likely pairing at first.

However, as openly gay men, they struggled against discrimination throughout their early lives, while they also shared a passion for human rights. They first crossed paths in Dublin in December 1975, and soon began a relationship that would last for 10 years.

They ultimately separated over Nawi's refusal to fully commit to Mr Norris.

Despite this, the two men remained friends and frequently visited each other.

Nawi (59) was born into an Iraqi Jewish family and speaks both Hebrew and Arabic.

As a gay man and one who actively supported the Palestinian struggle, he was not a popular figure among conservatives in Jerusalem, particularly when, at one point, he moved a Palestinian boyfriend into his home. "Being gay has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority," he once said.

He is a member of Ta'ayush, an Arab and Jewish activist group that campaigns for the ending of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. He has spent years campaigning for the rights of Palestinian villagers living in the Hebron hills in the south of the occupied West Bank.

He has been jailed several times for his activities, including as recently as last year.

However it was his arrest in 2007 for protesting against the demolition of a Palestinian settlement in Um el-Hir that garnered most attention.

He was accused of assaulting two police officers as he tried to prevent a number of tin shacks from being bulldozed.

At his trial two years later, he was convicted of assault and sentenced to one month in jail and three years probation.

His supporters claimed 100,000 people had signed a petition in his defence.

It was during this trial that news first reached the public about Nawi's 1997 conviction for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy. He had began a sexual relationship with the teenager in 1992 and, when the boy's parents learned of it, they contacted the authorities.

During his trial, his old friend Mr Norris agreed to supply the court with a character reference in which he described Nawi as "a man of the highest integrity". Despite this, Nawi was convicted.

The Irish Independent attempted to contact Nawi at his home in Jerusalem yesterday but was told he was out. Later phone calls went unanswered.

Irish Independent

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