2 LGBT views of Israel-Palestine hostilities

In Israel, gay Palestinians are unwelcome. In the Gaza Strip, they face the possibility of up to 10 years in prison for sexual acts between men. On the West Bank, they face social stigma, but not criminal prosecution. Here are two perspectives on those problems.

First, excerpts from the recent Daily Beast article by on these “Invisible Men.”

Second, excerpts from the Electronic Intifada article “Eight questions Palestinian queers are tired of hearing.”

DAILY BEAST — Gay Palestinians In Israel: The ‘Invisible Men’ 

On the run from their Palestinian families, living illegally in Israel—treated by both sides as the enemy—gays from the Palestinian territories can’t go home again.

Palestinian gays in Israel (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)
Palestinian gays in Israel (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

On January 26, 2010, Rawashda was picked up by the Palestinian secret police in the middle of the night. Cops had gone through his friend’s cellphone, where they found text messages sent from Rawashda that made it clear they were both gay. Next thing he knew, he was in an interrogation room being accused of collaborating with Israel. “I’d never even been to Israel before. But anyone who’s gay is immediately accused of spying for the enemy.”

For the next 16 hours, Rawashda was brutally beaten and tortured. Twelve thugs in uniform dunked his head in a toilet, trying to get him to sign a confession. “It was the worst night of my life. I don’t like talking about it.” When Rawashda refused, they picked up the phone, at 5 a.m., called his dad and told him his son was gay.

“They knew it was my biggest fear. They wanted to punish me.” His mom told him over the phone not to return home because his father and brother were going to come after him. “I had ‘dishonored’ the family.”

With the help of some friends, Rawashda escaped to Jordan, then Israel. He was in awe of Tel Aviv, a gay-friendly city with Pride parades rivaling those in Berlin and Amsterdam. As we chat about his life in Israel, Rawashda tells me to pan the camera so he could see the street behind me. “How is Tel Aviv?” he asks. “I miss it.”

Less than two weeks after finally making it to safety, Rawashda was picked up again, this time by the Tel Aviv PD. “Something was going down, and they were checking people’s IDs.” Rawashda, an undocumented Palestinian in Israel illegally, was taken into custody. Fearing deportation, he appealed to the officer’s sense of compassion. “I cried. I told him if they send me back, my life would be in danger.”

Instead, he was offered a deal: permission to stay, if he became an informant. The irony wasn’t lost on him. “I was almost killed by my own people who accused me of being an informant for Israel, and now Israelis were trying to get me to do it. Everyone just wanted to use me.”

When he refused, Israeli security forces escorted him to the checkpoint. But Rawashda managed to return, time and time again. He’d get caught, cops would send him across the border, and Rawashda would find a way back: a dangerous Sisyphean game he played with Israeli security people for more than two months. …

So far no gay Palestinian has ever been granted asylum in Israel. In fact Palestinians, gay or straight, are barred from even applying for refugee status in Israel.

Rawashda’s story has a happy-ish ending. Thanks to Israeli lawyers and NGOs, he was granted asylum in a small town in Norway, population 20,000. “I left my country and gave up everything so that I could be gay. Only there were no gay people there. I missed my home, the weather, the language. I was very depressed.”

Eventually, Rawashda moved to Oslo, one of the most progressive cities in the world. He has a boyfriend now, a job, and a tiny, yet homey, place in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. His relationship with his family is “fine.”

He’s not a fan of Israel. In fact, Rawashda blames the occupation for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s treatment of gays, “you need to liberate the people so they can liberate themselves,” he told me, even though the PA’s views are consistent with other Arab countries who have never been under Israeli occupation. But he’s thankful for those Israelis, most of them gay, who took him in and saved his life. “I watch the news now. There is so much fighting back home,” he said with sadness. “If gay people ran that region, on both sides, there would be no war.”

ELECTRONIC INTIFADA — “Eight questions Palestinian queers are tired of hearing.”

Graffiti in Ramallah reads “Queers passed through here.” (Photo courtesy of Al-Qaws and Electronic Intifada)
Graffiti in Ramallah reads “Queers passed through here.” (Photo courtesy of Al-Qaws and Electronic Intifada)

Aren’t all Palestinians homophobic?

Are all Americans homophobic? Of course not. Unfortunately, Western representations of Palestinians, particularly lesbian, gay, transgender or queer Palestinians, tend to ignore diversity in Palestinian society.

That being said, Palestinians are living under a decades-long military occupation. The occupation amplifies the diverse forms of oppression that are experienced in every society.

However, homophobia is not the way we contextualize our struggle. This is a notion comes from specific type of activism in the global north.

How can we single out homophobia from a complex oppressive system (patriarchy) that oppresses women, and gender non-conforming people? …

Are there any out Palestinians?

I’m glad you asked that question. We have great Palestinian gay carpenters who build such amazing closets for queers with all the Western comforts you can dream of — we never want to leave.

Once again the notion of coming out — or the politics of visibility — is a strategy that has been adopted by some LGBT activists in the global north, due to specific circumstances. Imposing this strategy on the rest of the world, without understanding context, is a colonial project.

Ask us instead what social change strategies apply to our context, and whether the notion of coming out even makes sense. …

I saw this film about gay Palestinians (Invisible Men/Bubble/Out In The Dark, etc.) and I feel I learned a lot about your struggle

You mean the films that were made by privileged Israeli or Jewish filmmakers portraying white Israelis as saviors and Palestinians as victims that needed saving?

These films strip the voice and agency of Palestinian queers, portraying them as victims that need saving from their own society.

Moreover, these films rely on racist tropes of Arab men as volatile and dangerous. These films are simply pinkwashing propaganda, funded by the Israeli government, with a poignant oppressed/oppressor love story the glitter on top.

If you want to learn about the reality of our community and our struggle, try listening to what queer Palestinians have to say, at the Al-Qaws or Palestinian Queers for BDS websites.

For more information, read the full Daily Beast article, “Gay Palestinians In Israel: The ‘Invisible Men.’ “ and the full Electronic Intifada article, “Eight questions Palestinian queers are tired of hearing.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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