An online petition to prevent a gay Israeli peace campaigner being jailed has gathered 19,000 signatures but more people are being asked to pledge their support.

Ezra Nawi, a plumber from Jerusalem in his fifties, may be imprisoned for up to 18 months. He has opposed the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and has also worked to help Palestinian farmers defend their land for the last eight years.

In March, he was convicted of taking part in a riot and assaulting a police officer. Nawi, who is staunchly anti-violence, denied the assault charge but was found guilty over the 2007 incident, which happened when the Israeli military tried to demolish Palestinian homes close to Hebron.

He is expected to be sentenced in the coming weeks.

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who is leading the campaign to save Nawi from jail, is urging more people to sign the petition.

He said: ““Ezra Nawi is a human rights defender of conscience and courage.

“By supporting the human rights of the Palestinian people as an out gay man, Ezra is probably doing more than anyone else to undermine homophobia in Palestine. He is a bridge-builder. His life shows the possibility of unity, solidarity and respect between gays and straights in Palestine and Israel.”

Those who want to support Nawi have only two days left to sign the petition, which can be found here www.freeezra.org

Nawi credits his campaigning work to his homosexuality, saying: “Being gay has made me understand what it is like to be a despised minority.”

However, he has frequently been a target of homophobic abuse and says his opponents even spread rumours he was suffering from AIDS around the Palestinians he helps.