Police block court release of detained Palestinian activist

Authorities reveal names of three activists — two Israelis and one Palestinian — arrested after controversial TV report aired

Undated photo of Palestinian activist Nasser Nawaj’ah (Leif Magne Helgesen, File)
Undated photo of Palestinian activist Nasser Nawaj’ah (Leif Magne Helgesen, File)

The Jerusalem District Court granted an unconditional release Thursday to a Palestinian arrested as part of an investigation into far-left activists accused of “turning in” Arabs who sell West Bank land to Jews, but the police asked to delay setting Nasser Nawaj’ah free in order to appeal the decision.

The court ruled that Israel does not have authority to handle Nawaj’ah’s case because he is a Palestinian, and police have until 10:00 a.m. Friday morning to file the appeal, the Walla news site reported.

Police told the lawyer for B’Tselem field worker Nawaj’ah that he was transferred to Ofer military prison, where he was remanded in custody.

“The court accepted our position that my client’s arrest was a false arrest, since Israeli courts have no jurisdiction in the matter,” attorney Gaby Lasky said in a statement posted to B’Tselem’s website. “This is the second instance that has ordered his unconditional release. The police are intent on continuing the pressure on human rights activists under arrest.”

Earlier police named Ezra Nawi as a hitherto unnamed high-profile far-left activist arrested last week at Ben-Gurion airport as he tried to leave the country, following an investigative report in which he was recorded saying he helps Palestinian authorities track down Arabs who attempted to sell land to Jews.

The identities of Nawaj’ah and another arrested activist, Israeli national Guy Butavia, were also released for publication Thursday.

Batavia, like Nawi an Israeli activist from the Ta’ayush organization, was remanded in custody until Sunday.

A prominent campaigner for Palestinian rights, Nawi featured in a television investigation earlier this month in which he was recorded saying that he helps Palestinian authorities find Palestinians who sell land to Jews and are then killed for the crime.

Nawi’s name, along with other details of the investigation, had been under gag order since the arrest.

Left-wing Israeli activist Ezra Nawi, seen at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on January 20, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left-wing Israeli activist Ezra Nawi, seen at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on January 20, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police had previously confirmed they arrested a left-wing activist but declined to give his name, though it was carried in several media reports and revealed publicly by two lawmakers not bound by secrecy rules.

Following a request from the police, the Jerusalem District court extended Nawi’s remand on Thursday for an additional three days.

He is reportedly being questioned on suspicion of conspiracy in attempted murder as well as several other offenses, including accessory to manslaughter and passing information to a foreign agent.

In the investigative report, aired by Channel 2’s Uvda program, Nawi can be heard speaking about four Palestinian real estate sellers, whom Nawi said mistook him for a Jew interested in buying their property.

“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 broadcast sparked a political storm, with right-wing politicians and activists pointing to it as proof that left-wing groups are not necessarily interested in human rights.

In the Palestinian Authority, the penal code calls for 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 sellers of land to Jews are usually sentenced to several years in prison.

A number of murders in recent years have been rumored to be related to the sale of land to Israelis, though the cases have remained unsolved.

The recordings and footage were collected by right-wing activists who secretly recorded Nawi.

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