A gay Israeli man who has opposed the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank has escaped jail for now.

Ezra Nawi will now be sentenced on September 21st.

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.

Previously Nawi expected up to 18 months in prison. It is now thought the prosecution will seek a lesser sentence, although it maintains he must receive a custodial sentence.

A petition urging authorities not to jail him has reached 20,000 signatures, although more are needed.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who is helping to co-ordinate efforts to keep Nawi out of jail, said: “At yesterday’s court hearing, the judge was swamped by character witnesses, letters and an online petition with 20,000 signatures from the UK, US and all over the world, urging the court to not jail Ezra.

“Among the witnesses who testified in court yesterday on Ezra’s behalf were Yehudit Karp, a former deputy attorney-general of Israel, and Hebrew University professors Galit Hazan-Rokem and David Shulman.

“Several of the witnesses explained to the court that Ezra’s actions in trying to stop Israel’s bulldozing of Palestinian homes had to be understood in the context of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, aggressive Israeli settlers trying to force the Palestinians off their land, and the extreme poverty of the displaced Palestinian families. “

Those who want to support Nawi can still sign the petition, which can be found here www.freeezra.org. It has been organised by the Jewish Voices for Peace campaign group

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.