Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Eilata Ziskind, who convicted peace activist Ezra Nawi in March of participating in a riot and assaulting a police officer, on Sunday heard character witnesses presented by the defense and prosecution in preparation for sentencing on September 21. According to the law, he could serve up to two years in jail. The prosecution has made clear that it is not asking for the maximum sentence but is insistent that Nawi go to jail. Nawi has become almost a legendary figure among the Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills, left-wing Israeli activists and international opponents of Israel's presence in the West Bank. During the hearing, the Jewish Voices for Peace group presented the court with a petition signed by 20,000 supporters abroad, asking it not to send Nawi to jail. Nawi told The Jerusalem Post afterwards that he found it hard to hear the state's allegations that he was involved in criminal activities 20 or 30 years ago, but said he was touched by the testimonies in his favor and by the 50 supporters who had come to the hearing. He added that he did not attack policeman during the protest which took place on February 14, 2007, against the demolition of a tin shack built by Beduin in Umm El-Heir and that the trial had revealed the state's "culture of lies." Two policemen accused Nawi of attacking them when they tried to remove him from the shack just before a bulldozer was set to destroy it. Nawi is a plumber by trade. He is a Jew who lives and works in Jerusalem but has been active among poor Palestinian villagers, including some who still live in caves, for the past 10 years or so. He is represented in the case by attorneys Lea Tzemel and Avichai Sharon. Among the witnesses who testified on his behalf were Yehudit Karp, a former deputy attorney-general, Hebrew University professors Galit Hazan-Rokem and David Shulman and a close friend of Nawi who is a social worker in Jerusalem. According to Sharon, some of the witnesses explained to the court that Nawi's actions in trying to stop the demolition of the Beduin's tin shack had to be understood against the backdrop of the entire political and military situation in the area, the poverty of the people and other factors. Nawi tries to help the villagers, gives them money, clothing and other essentials and tries to protect them. The defense also presented the court with dozens of letters in support of the defendant. Nawi said he was proud of the backing he had received from linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky and others. "Maybe some Israelis aren't happy about the support I get from Chomsky, but I can tell you that the police officers who lie all the time are 1,000 times more dangerous than Chomsky, who isn't dangerous at all."

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