A Sad State for Gay Palestinians
For gay Palestinians who feel persecuted at home, the obvious escape route is to Israel, but because of the political conflict this can be fraught with difficulties. As far as most Palestinians are concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal of their cause, while gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under suspicion.The quote is from the end, which is definitely better than the beginning, for in typical Whitaker style, the article jumps from topic to topic, often throwing in details that distract from the flow of his articles. This especially pertains to Britain. Whitaker can't resist mentioning Britain, even when it's not very germane. Is it a remnant of imperialism, national pride, or unrestrained blabbering? Who knows.
‘In the West Bank and Gaza, it is common knowledge that if you are homosexual you are necessarily a collaborator with Israel,’ said Shaul Gonen, of the Israeli Society for the Protection of Personal Rights (‘“Death Threat” to Palestinian Gays’, BBC, 3 March 2003). Bassim Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, explained:In the Arab mindset, a person who has committed a moral offence is often assumed to be guilty of others, and it radiates out to the family and community. As homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature, it is not hard to link it to collaboration – a crime against nation (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways Survive on Israeli Streets’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).Regarding gay men as politically treacherous is not unique to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. There are parallels here with Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, when gay men engaged in secret government work were treated as a particular security risk. In the popular imagination, this may well have been seen as an intrinsic part of their psychological make-up, although the fact that their sexual activities were illegal did expose them to the possibility of blackmail by Soviet agents.
Equating homosexuality with collaboration makes it extremely dangerous for Palestinians to return home after fleeing to Israel. One man told Halevi in the New Republic of a friend in the Palestinian police who ran away to Tel Aviv but later went back to Nablus, where he was arrested and accused of being a collaborator:They put him in a pit. It was the fast of Ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. They denied him food and water until he died in that hole.There is little doubt that some – though by no means all – gay Palestinians are forced by their precarious existence to work for Israeli intelligence in exchange for money or administrative favours such as the right of residence; both Eid and Gonen said they knew of several. Others, meanwhile, are coerced into undercover work for the Palestinian authorities; one 19-year-old runaway stated in an interview with Israeli television that he had been pressurized by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to become a suicide bomber in order to ‘purge his moral guilt’, though he had refused (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).
Estimates of the number of gay Palestinians who have quietly – and usually illegally – taken refuge in Israel range from 300 to 600. Although Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and recognizes same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes, it does not welcome gay Palestinians – mainly because of security fears. This often leaves them trapped in an administrative no-man’s-land with little hope of finding a proper job and constantly at risk of being arrested and deported. Some try to disguise themselves by wearing fake military dog-tags and even Star of David medallions.
‘The Palestinians say if you are gay, you must be a collaborator, while the Israelis treat you as a security threat,’ Gonen told a news programme (‘Palestinian Gays Flee to Israel’, BBC, 22 October 2003). But even if they are neither collaborators nor a security threat, they can easily become targets for exploitation by Israeli men. ‘They work as prostitutes, selling their bodies unwillingly because they have to survive,’ Gonen said:Sometimes the Israeli secret police try to recruit them, sometimes the Palestinian police try to recruit them. In the end they find themselves falling between all chairs. Nobody wants to help them, everybody wants to use them.
One thing I did notice: Whitaker mentions that the Israeli police try to recruit gay Palestinians, but didn't go into it. I would have liked to know more.