The Israel Police have opened a criminal investigation into a far-left activist who was shown on an investigative journalism TV program last week boasting about how he helps Palestinian security forces find Palestinians who sell land to Jews.
In the hidden camera footage aired by Channel 2’s Uvda on Thursday night, Ezra Nawi can be seen bragging about how the Palestinian land owners are tortured and later killed, after being taken into custody by the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service.
“Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi is heard saying in reference to the Palestinian Authority’s counterintelligence arm.
“The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them. But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”
The footage was obtained by the Ad Kan organization, which employed a group of Israelis who posed as far-left activists in order to infiltrate Israeli human rights NGOs working in the West Bank.
Nawi can be seen in the footage holding prearranged meetings in his vehicle with prospective land sellers, and handing over their details to authorities. In one part of the televised program, he tells one Palestinian about the land owners, and they try to arrange for the men to meet them in PA territory so they can be arrested.
One of the men seen working with Nawi in the video to ensnare the land dealers is a Palestinian man who is also an activist with B’Tselem.
In the PA, the penal code reserves capital punishment for anyone convicted of selling land to Jews. This law, which Palestinian officials defended as designed to prevent takeovers by settlers, has not been implemented in Palestinian courts, where those who have sold land to Jews are usually sentenced to several years in prison. However, in recent years, several Palestinians have been murdered for selling land. Their murders have remained unsolved.
Nawi was also documented obtaining information from a Palestinian who believed Nawi was a Jew interested in purchasing land. Nawi is seen saying that he intends to give that information to Palestinian security officials as well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Facebook Friday that the report “unmasked radicals among us, whose hatred for settlements has pushed them over the edge to the point of delivering innocents for torture and execution.”
Netanyahu said the report “showed the true face of the extremists among us, whose hatred of settlements drove them out of their minds and brought them to turn in innocent people to be tortured and killed.”
“The investigative report is further proof of the cruel conduct of the Palestinian Authority, which tortures and murders Palestinians whose only ‘crime’ was to sell land to Jews,” he added.
The prime minister said all parts of Israeli society should condemn the behavior seen in the report, reject murder and fight terrorism.
“Those who encourage murder cannot continue to hide behind the hypocritical pretense of concern for human rights,” he added.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he spoke to the British and French ambassadors to Israel and demanded that they “stop transferring funds to the B’Tselem and Ta’ayush organizations that send people to their deaths in order to harm Israel.”
“I am convinced that the citizens of Europe do not want to fund the killing of innocent civilians,” he added.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) wrote on Twitter that the report shows the value of a free press, which must be protected.
Knesset Land of Israel Caucus chairmen Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) released a joint statement, stating that “the extreme left-wing organizations crossed the lines of the law and morality. The caucus will act to ensure that law and defense authorities will bring these organizations and their members to justice.”
MK Avi Dichter (Likud) called for a criminal investigation into B’Tselem and Ta’ayush’s activities, saying that in the last week he was informed about more of their problematic activities not featured in the Uvda report, which he called “the tip of the iceberg.”
Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief, compared B’Tselem and Ta’ayush’s actions to those of former Balad MK Azmi Bishara, who fled the country while under suspicion of giving information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. He commended Ad Kan for “creative and courageous actions.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, who was one of the founders and a former CEO of B’Tselem, criticized Nawi and the Uvda report.
About Nawi, she wrote on Facebook that he “spoke in such an outrageous way, bragging about sending people to torture and death... that he cannot call himself a human rights activist, because he acts against the values that human rights organizations work for day and night. He is not left-wing and does not represent left-wing organizations.”
As for Uvda, Gal-On said their investigation was not serious, because it used material obtained by a rightwing organization.
The Meretz leader also said: “As far as we know, no one has been executed in the Palestinian Authority since 2005. If Uvda wants to claim otherwise, it should bring some kind of proof other than Nawi’s disgusting bragging.”
Gal-On claimed the Uvda report is part of an orchestrated campaign against right-wing organizations and that the Right is lying about B’Tselem and other NGOs. She said she won’t “participate in the Left’s festival of self-flagellation or lower my head because of this mediocre investigative report.”
Right-wing NGO Im Tirzu’s chairman Matan Peleg blamed the New Israel Fund, a left-wing organization started in the US, which has provided funding to B’Tselem.
“The NIF, which funds B’Tselem, has forfeited the blood of dozens of Palestinians whose sole crime was a desire to sell their lands to Jews,” Peleg said. “The NIF and Palestinian foundations, which support this criminal and anarchistic activity, are not just ‘stray weeds’ and certainly are not ‘individuals.’ These rotten trees must be uprooted and the problem must be dealt with, from top to bottom.”
Peleg added: “As a democratic society, we should not settle for only criticism of field activists who carry out this dangerous ideology.”
Im Tirzu has repeatedly campaigned against the NIF in the past.
Since the piece was broadcast on Friday, the editor and host of Uvda, journalist Ilana Dayan, and the show itself have been subject to criticism from many on the Left and in particular in the NGO and human rights community, which accused the program of using the actions of one man – Ezra Nawi – to besmirch an entire movement. They were also accused of producing a piece that would be used as ammunition for the Right.
The NIF responded that the Uvda report “is based on ‘covert’ witnesses who were inserted by right-wing organizations and for three years worked with one goal…to damage human rights activists in Israel. Regarding the main issue, NIF's position has always been that handing over people to places where they are liable to be exposed to torture and physical harm is grave and forbidden, and cannot be defended.”
In addition, the NIF pointed out that it does not support Taayush and has no ties to Ezra Nawi. The NIF statement also said that, after consulting with B’Tselem, it found that in the report, Nawaj’ah was acting independently and not as a B’Tselem activist.
“NIF warns against the continued persecution of human rights organizations and activists, with the aim of harming their brave and important activities against the continuing occupation and the constant incitement. It's also difficult not to see the connection between the program and the public campaigns against them over the last few weeks, which are being led by figures in the government and the Knesset,” the organization added.
B’Tselem said: "Uvda did not bring a shred of evidence to show that a Btselem researcher tried to hand over someone who would be tortured and executed. The meeting that was planned with the land broker took place, and there was no handing over."