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LGBTIQ activists: ‘What we witnessed was devastating and created a sense of urgency around doing our part to end this occupation’

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A few days ago, a group of activists, scholars and artists released “An Open Letter to LGBTIQ Communities and Allies on the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.” The letter is a statement produced by the participants of the one-week delegation. The group witnessed “devastating” effects of the Israeli occupation:

We saw with our own eyes the walls—literally and metaphorically—separating villages, families and land. From this, we gained a profound appreciation for how deeply embedded and far reaching this occupation is through every aspect of Palestinian daily life.

Katherine Franke
Katherine Franke. (Photo: Columbia University)

Participants also wrote blog responses. Excerpts below include scholar Katherine Franke, and Brooklyn-based artist and activist Darnell Moore. Their posts are a more textured look into the delegation then the full official statement.

Katherine Franke, Columbia law professor and Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law chronicles her participation:

I return from a two-week visit to the West Bank wrestling with the complexities of solidarity in this region. The first half of my trip was as part of a delegation of 16 academics, journalists, artists, and activists who sought to better understand the relationship of Israeli occupation to Palestinian freedom and identity, particularly sexual freedom and identity. The group and its members identified as lesbian, gay, queer and/ or transgender. I stayed on for another week after the delegation concluded to begin work on an EU-funded project to enhance the role of women lawyers in the Palestinian Bar Association and in the legal profession more generally. Week One surfaced sexuality while admitting no interest in gender, while Week Two illuminated gender while leaving sexuality in the shadows. Of course the one cannot be fully understood apart from the other, but in practice it is difficult to keep both in view.

This is true everywhere, but Israeli occupation adds its own unique valence to the challenge of thinking identity complexly. The state of Israeli has financed a campaign to re-brand itself as a gay-friendly, modern, human-right loving place (in contrast with its purportedly more homophobic Arab neighbors) so as to distract attention from the dehumanization and violence of Palestinian occupation. “Surely all Palestinian homosexuals dream to flee to Tel Aviv and its gay bars, leaving behind the homophobia of their culture” the argument goes. This renders invisible the rich lives and incredible work of Palestinian LGBTQ activists who have a complex analysis of national and sexual self-determination and freedom. At the same time foreign support for the Palestinians in the form of money, aid workers and teams of “experts” (myself included) pour into Palestine seeking to improve the lives of women. Millions of dollars, euros or yen are easily available so long as gender-rights frame the “scope of work”. But by “gender” the donors really mean “women”. Just as with gays, Palestinian culture is understood as toxic and dangerous. Thus, Israel traffics in gay rights to “pink-wash” its international reputation, while the donor community “estrogen-washes” virtually all of its work in Palestine. In both cases the “backwardness” of Palestinian culture and tradition justifies the intervention of others to save its women and gays. When issues of sexuality and gender in Palestine are occupied by the agendas of outsiders, solidarity is tough if you want to avoid the traps of identity set by others.

Darnell moore
Darnell Moore. (Photo: NYU)

Writer, poet and activist, and currently a visiting scholar at New York University, Darnell L. Moore reflects on the trip:

I arrived back in the United States very aware of my freedom of mobility. Most Palestinians experience the opposite, restriction. Remember that word.

I am left to consider the many ways that division manifests in Israel/Palestine: Israel’s massive separation wall, differentiated roadways, fences, and checkpoints…forced separations, military-enacted displacements, demolitions and seizures. The extraordinary state-sponsored mechanisms—barriers, boundaries, separations, and disunion—that are normativized and function as ordinary features in the lives of many are imprinted on my mind.

I am left to consider the occupation of Palestinian land and the refusal of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, as a state-sponsored project—US supported regime—of colonization. A project that seeks to disappear indigenous knowledges: reordering maps such that Palestinian villages no longer exist; changing the names of towns in ways that re-routes travel and memories; and creating histories that mute the voices of the oppressed and makes audible the discourse of the colonizer.

I am left to consider: What’s queer about the Palestinian struggle for liberation? And, answer: Every(damn)thing is queer about the Palestinian struggle for liberation! A queer politic of liberation desires the dismantling of state sanctioned “walls”, barriers, partitions, labels, practices that turns apartheid systems into mundane and accepted ways of life.

A queer politic of liberation sees colonization for what it is: a racist, capitalist, imperialist project of control and ordering. And, order is an important word choice here because it is a rhetorical stand-in for security and normalcy: a way of life that the Israeli government goes about its project of occupation to maintain. But, the colonizer’s humane order is the source of the Palestinian people’s experiences of dehumanizing disorder. A queer politic of liberation pushes us to call out and resist the kinds of order that restricts people and limits freedom.

The Palestinian quest for self-determination is a queer fight. And, I stand in solidarity with Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters who are on that quest.

The intersectional reflections of Franke and Moore’s post, reflect the LGBTIQ open letter demands, which fully endorse boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and reject pinkwashing, citing:

Like the Palestinian activists we met, we view heterosexism and sexism as colonial projects and, therefore, see both as interrelated and interconnected regimes that must end.

Endorse the full statement of solidarity here.

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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9 Responses

  1. MLE
    January 27, 2012, 7:41 pm

    I shall give a State of the Union style standing ovation for this.

    Did all the Hasbraists trolls go away? I haven’t seen a lot of the regulars lately. Maybe I’m not reading the comments of the right threads.

  2. American
    January 27, 2012, 8:20 pm

    This is good. The truth is spreading. The LGBT’s have a fire in their belly from their own struggles for their rights. They are good group to take up the cause.

  3. mudder
    January 27, 2012, 8:46 pm

    Nice article, Allison!

    I have mentioned before on MW that my wife is Palestinian-American, and I am from Oklahoma Baptist stock. One of our children is actively transgendering, with our full acceptance and support. Nothing is “out” yet, but it will be interesting, and hopefully not too painful, to observe our families’ understanding. I think it will hit the fan soon.

    One hope I have is that Palestinian-Americans are mindful of the need for tolerance in family and society, as they fully know they are victims of the lack of it. I have less hope for my side of the family.

  4. mudder
    January 27, 2012, 9:41 pm

    Sometimes I wonder when Santorum or Gingrich shows up in town, do I want to wear in protest a Palestinian keffiyeh or rainbow scarf.

    • RoHa
      January 27, 2012, 10:38 pm

      A rainbow keffiyah would do the job.

      And could the sharp operator who starts selling them please send me a few dollars for the idea?

      • tokyobk
        January 28, 2012, 7:24 am

        And who would wear this rainbow keffiyeh? Palstinians? Or, western activists that need to identify their movement, in this case queer rights, with the Palestinan cause?

        By all means, bust Israel for pink washing.

        But as long as groups like this insist on deluding themselves that “Hamas is part of the global left” to quote another well known gay leftist, Judith Butler, there will be no meaningful contribution.

        Bust Israel for pink washing and bust the rest of the middle east for the lack of pink. Without any doubt Israel uses gay rights as a convenience. But gay rights in Tel Aviv are also a fact in embarrassing contrast to other ME cities. Embarrasing to western liberals, that is, for whom Israel must be the source of all that is wrong.

        The fact that the head of a gender studies group at a major western institution criticizes the concern For gender rights as “estrogen washing” says all that is twisted about this inability to hold a simple moral standard for all.

        If the wall and occupation is I moral, it matters not one bit if Palestinians (or Native Americans, Africans etc…) meet the standard of small liberal arts college PC values.

      • mudder
        January 28, 2012, 12:52 pm

        My teenage Palestinian-American daughter, formerly my son, identifies both with Palestinians and with the LGBT community. It is difficult to imagine her ever wanting to live in either Tel Aviv or Hebron today. Ann Arbor or Detroit is her best option. Discrimination is discrimination. Hostility is hostility. One thing I admire about MW is its overriding commitment to liberal values and the negation of nationalistic values–whether Israeli or Palestinian–and their inherent intolerance of “others”. That is why the democratic one-state solution is popular here. It requires society to accept diversity and tolerance.

  5. MLE
    January 28, 2012, 1:00 am

    But but but, Tel Aviv was named best gay city! They must be self-hating gays.

  6. pabelmont
    January 28, 2012, 12:06 pm

    I surely hope that Palestinians will join pro-gay, etc., action, if only because they are themselves victims.

    However, here’s an anecdote possibly tending to dash that hope: in the 1980s I was a Jesse Jackson delegate at Massachusetts demo convention and tried, with others, to get a pro-Palestine vote. (We failed miserably). But before the voting I wandered among booths and came to a Gay-Rights booth where I talked to the booth-guy and asked his support for pro-Palestine, arguing that the gay-world had known persecution and should sympathize. NO WAY. The gay-guy was also Jewish and Zionist.

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