An Unlikely Activist

BY Michael Luongo

January 13 2011 3:15 PM ET

EZRA MAWI CAMP X390 (MICHAEL LUONGO) | ADVOCATE.COM

We enter a haunting, timeless land — rock-strewn Mediterranean hills,
sheep chewing on the scrub, thick, heaving olive trees scattered into
the distance. We’ve driven into the Bible. Israelis make a land claim
based on the ancient text, but Palestinian life most closely resembles
it.

Ezra points out the differences between Palestinian farms and
Israeli settlements, explaining, “Israelis are very neat and tight; it
is modern. The Palestinians, it is families, small pieces, more
traditional.” To my right I see dozens of stone enclosures, each with a
tiny stone house, like something from The Flintstones, where shepherds
stay. In contrast, the settlers’ land is green with machine-tilled rows,
greenhouses abutting the roadway.

The pastoral view is disturbed by
the constant ringing of Ezra’s two phones. He balances calls in English,
Arabic, and Hebrew, telling me he comes out “six, two, four times a
week, whatever is needed.”

Once in Yatta, Ezra notices my fascination
with young men on the street. “There are a lot of studs,” he laughs,
using a vulgar Hebrew expression, throwing me off guard. It’s what makes
Ezra intriguing: a constant switch from serious to silly. He adds that
his varied background — being a gay Arab Jew — lets him work in different
communities and help Palestinians. “Every minority should have sympathy
with other minorities.”

As we exit the jeep, locals shout “Ezra,
Ezra,” like he’s a rock star, but soon socializing gives way to work, as
we head to the metal shop constructing the windmill.

Here, two
young men in their early 20s, Saber and Saad, swarm over thick, crude
metal pipes. The men’s hands aren’t just work-worn but literally cut
down, random fingers missing from industrial accidents. One lifts his
shirt to show me a gash. This safety record is why Ezra wanted to
supervise moving the windmill, but he has been hands-off with other
aspects of the project.

“They had never done such a technical thing,”
Ezra tells me. The thick pipes can also serve as rocket launchers and
are blocked for import into Palestine by Israel. Ezra says, “We could
have bought it in Israel, but we wanted to have them do it to learn it,”
adding a month to the timeline.

We head from Yatta to the remote
refugee camp where the windmill will go. Here Palestinians live in caves
and tents, some having only recently won back their land in Israeli
courts. As I look around at the contrast between the living conditions
and the intense, ancient biblical landscape, Jordan in the distance,
Elad comments, “It really looks like history vomited them back onto the
mountain.” Cold gusts billow from the valley, and I understand how
important wind power could become.

Tiny camp children run to Ezra,
grabbing his hand. He lifts them like a proud grandfather, talking
gently, moving them slowly around, as if comforting them that one day
all that they see will be theirs. But it’s a shaky proposition. Elad
points out young Europeans living in the camp protecting them from
attacks from Jewish settlements.

Ezra prefers to focus on the
positive, saying that when he and Elad visit, “It is nice that they see
this side of Israel, they are not afraid. For most children, all they
know of Israel are settlers and soldiers. I am good PR for Israel.”

Not
everyone agrees. What I witness is very different from Citizen Nawi,
where Ezra is followed by Israeli settlers calling him “pervert” and
“faggot,” claiming he molests little boys and girls, and Israeli
soldiers accuse him of trying to touch them sexually. Ezra tells me
Israeli soldiers spread rumors he had AIDS and that his project’s secret
name was “Project Homo,” a plot to turn Arab men gay.

Tags: Politicians

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