Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Sad State for Gay Palestinians

A great article by Brian Whitaker just appeared in the Jewish Quarterly. It's well-documented, brings in other news sources, and is hard to dispute. It points out how Israel is generally a great place for gay people, but not for gay Palestinians. It documents how gay Palestinians are abused in Israel, and abused worse in Palestine. Here's a good bit:

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.

‘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.
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.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps post a link to the article on the gsa_lj livejournal community? If you don't frame it carefully, you might wind up with a tedious flamewar on your hands (some people do not handle complexity well, and the situation of gay Palestinians does not easily boil down to anything that falls within pro-Israel or pro-Palestine narratives), but I think this is precisely the sort of thing that people would be interested in reading. Usually, when it's reported on at all, it's usually some useless piece of pro-Israel hagiography, or carping from moral equivalence types. This is neither, and I think they'd like to read it.

August 02, 2006 2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello. I am not gay, but I ran into your blog from the Lebanese blog aggregator ran by rampurple. I am an American, living in Northern California, and it hurts me to think that there are entire communities out there that force people into such an existence based solely on their orientation. Over here, we do not differentiate between people based on that, although in some American states they do. My heart goes out to people who suffer this abuse for no reason other than their sexual orientation. By the way, a person who was an example to me and a source of great support when I needed it was a gay Palestinian guy who lives in my city.

Perhaps one day these people could find a community that neither favors nor oppresses gay people, but merely lets them live their lives the way they choose. California (at least the North) is such a community.

August 02, 2006 5:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are parallels here with Britain in the 1950s and 1960s

In United States history, as well. It was no coincidence that a considerable number of people targeted in the 1950s Red Scare were known or suspected homosexuals.

August 02, 2006 7:05 PM  
Blogger Natalia said...

Oh my gosh! My boyfriend and I were talking about the gay scene in Nablus last night, and now I stumble onto your blog! I had no clue it was so bad for the gay Palestinian community. Yikes! Keep up the good work, the Middle East needs more people like you, people who are not afraid to talk about these issues.

August 03, 2006 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will tell you more about recruiting gay men by the israeli police. as I am a ay palestinian and I'm scared that if the israelis knew about my sexuaity they will try to recruite me. well ide rather die than work for them.
basically they threaten you of telling everyone about your sexuality. and you know how it is in arabic countries usually they wont b out to anyone, and if they are itll b only close friends and probably parents. or theill drug them take pornographic pictures of them and threaten them to make posters of them and put them all around the city etc... so people have no choice either work with them, or have everyone know about it not they you wanted to happen, be shunned by the whole community losing your friends your parents etc... and the israelis wont leave you. they will probably arrest a couple of times to try and get you to wprk with them again, they will probably prohinit you from leaving the country untill you collaborate with them. if it happens to me i guess i'll take the easy way and commit suicide as there is no way on earth i will help the israelis and i wouldnt fancy being an outcast in my own country

April 16, 2007 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Snippersnap said...

Okay, you won't help Israel because...?? ...you're dedicated to upholding what your Muslim kinsmen say about homosexuality? ...you maintain some remote hope of being accepted for who you are in your native country? ...you don't believe in serving the country (Israel) which enables you to have the right to be who you are? ...you would rather that Jewish gays go out and fight against the people who don't accept you for who you are? Or, is it still because of the fact that it is Jews - also indigenous to the Middle East - who are now running a country which was previously ruled by those who do not accept you for who you are? Is it a "Jewish" thing??

February 11, 2010 4:25 AM  
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