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Rainbow flag covers Israeli separation wall near Ramallah

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A Palestinian artist who painted a portion of Israel’s separation wall rainbow on Monday defended his work, calling it an expression of support for the freedom of the occupied Palestinian people.

“I went and painted the colors of the rainbow (on the wall) as these colors were circulated all over the world,” Ramallah-based visual artist Khaled Jarrar said in a statement. “These colors are ultimately an expression of freedom.”

In recent days, users on social media around the world have uploaded rainbow-colored pictures and logos on to demonstrate support for a recent US Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage across that country.

The images of rainbow-colored flags have also become a common way to express support for LGBT rights and freedom of expression for sexual orientation and gender identity more broadly.

Jarrar said in the statement that he painted the flag in order to highlight the continuing oppression and lack of freedom that Palestinians experience under Israeli occupation.

“My goal is to send out a message to the whole world, which is celebrating freedom, about the oppressed people living under military occupation, mainly embodied in the Qalandiya checkpoint and the Apartheid Wall.”

“This work comes in a purely political context to draw the world’s attention of the Palestinian question, the wall, apartheid, and occupation.

By late Monday, the rainbow flag had drawn local and international attention, with hundreds in Palestine and abroad sharing images of the painting and posting positive comments.

At the same time, some users on social media reacted negatively. Some called the painting of the flag a sign of disrespect to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, as it partially covered nearby graffiti calling for their release.

Others, however, took offense at the flag’s association with gay marriage, and on Monday evening a few men gathered and painted over it.

Painting over the wall.

Painting over the wall. (Photo: Facebook)

The painting over of the flag, however, drew the ire of many Palestinians on social media, who decried the move as “backwards” and “stupid.”

The debate over the flag may reflect the fact that while homosexuality is legal under Palestinian law in the West Bank, open expression of queer identity remains an issue of controversy in many parts of the country.

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In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, the British law prohibiting same-sex relations remains technically in force, though prosecution is rare or nonexistent.

A number of organizations dedicated to queer and trans rights exist within Palestinian society, most prominently Al Qaws and Aswat, and they have pushed for greater social openness around sexuality more broadly.

Activists say that Israel has made their work more difficult, however, by trying to portray itself as a savior of gay Palestinians.

Many have accused the Israeli government of “pinkwashing” the occupation by trying to sell the country as gay-friendly abroad in order to obscure its myriad human rights violations against Palestinians.

Activists argue, however, that queer Palestinians suffer under the occupation just like all other Palestinians, and denounce what they deem a “colonial logic” that is reminiscent of divide-and-conquer tactics.

In 2014, 43 Israeli military intelligence reservists said in a letter that they would refuse to serve any longer because of what they called the “political persecution” of Palestinians, which they said included the blackmailing of LGBTQ Palestinians.

The reservists admitted in the letter that the Israeli military tracked Palestinian sexual preferences and would “make (…) life miserable” for “homosexuals” who happened to know wanted individuals, confirming what Palestinian activists had been saying for years prior.

Alex Shams

Alex Shams is an Iranian-American journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine and a PhD student of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Follow him on twitter @SeyyedReza.

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18 Responses

  1. diasp0ra on June 30, 2015, 10:15 am

    While I applaud Mr. Jarrars intention and solidarity why did he have to paint it over somebody else’s work? The call for freedom for prisoners has been a part of the wall for years, it has become part of the image for liberation.

    Should the wall have the rainbow flag on it? For sure. I just disagree that it had to come at the expense of another artist whose message is no less important than jarrars.

    With that said, since it was already painted it saddens me that it was painted over.

  2. CigarGod on June 30, 2015, 10:34 am

    Isn’t it a street art rule…that eventually…every tag is eventually covered over by another artists tag…over and over, layer upon beautiful layer?

    Not to disagree with you…that It hurts a bit see one disappear.

    • diasp0ra on June 30, 2015, 12:46 pm

      I agree, but this isn’t just normal street art. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have an incredibly high esteem and value in Palestinian society. This just seemed poorly thought out.

      In addition to that, the Marwan Barghouti freedom to prisoners section of the wall has in itself become a landmark.

      There are a lot of sections of the wall that have nothing on them, I don’t understand why he had to cover this area specifically.

      And to be completely honest, it’s not even that great a piece, from an artistic standpoint, compared to what it covered. I know the point is more symbolic, but I wish he chose a different section with a less iconic art piece.

    • ckg on June 30, 2015, 8:16 pm

      I think this is perhaps the most prominent–at least for Palestinians–of all Wall locations. It is just inside the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank on the road from Al Quds (Jerusalem) to Ramallah. The rainbow art seems to have covered up an artistically insignificant giant heart near imprisoned national hero Marwan Barghouti. Artistically it does indeed distract and detract from Barghouti. But unfortunately the protestors of the rainbow art seem to have more concerns–see the linked AP article below–than the notion that it is disrespectful. Perhaps a less prominent, and less hallowed, location on the wall would have been more prudent for Jarrar.

      • CigarGod on June 30, 2015, 8:53 pm

        I love it when things dont work out perfectly. Thats when i learn something.

  3. just on June 30, 2015, 11:34 am

    Since the Palestinians have so much to say, too little space to say it in, and far too few freedoms overall then far be it from me to criticize their expressions/actions on the illegal wall.

    Thanks, Alex!

    • CigarGod on June 30, 2015, 11:47 am

      I would love to see every Palestinian get a Rainbow Tattoo.
      Great PR, hard to ignore.

  4. a blah chick on June 30, 2015, 11:42 am

    I have no doubt that the painting over of the rainbow flag will be seen and presented, by anti-Arab types, as another example of how backward and socially repressive Palestinian culture is. If Bill Maher does not mention it on his show I’ll be very surprised, since he’s already discussed how awful Arab men treat their women. I don’t know how many times I have heard Zionist or pro-Israel types wag their fingers and say “you Palestinians really need to liberate your Gay folk before you start complaining about any repression Israel commits.” This is stupid; how can the Palestinian LGBTQ community attain any sort of real freedom when they will still be repressed as non-Jews? And are Palestinian attitudes towards their LGBTQ people out of line with Jewsh Israeli attitudes? Given that most of the Jews in Israel hail from Arab countries I would be very surprised if this was the case.

    The African American community during the civil rights era did not have to deal with any pressures to “liberate” their Gay community because back then everyone was still in the closet. Few in America at that time were championing the rights of the LGBTQ community and Black America was no different. One has only to look at the treatment of Bayard Rustin to see these attitudes at play. Nevermind the enormous contributions he made during the civil rights era, in the end he was pushed aside because his homosexuality was seen as a liability. The civil rights leadership felt, with justification, that the way to get white America on their side was to show that they were not dangerous radicals trying to overturn society but respectable folk who were demanding their constitutional rights and a share of the pie. And though I think things have gotten better there is still too much homophobia in the black community.

    I think it would be really great if Mondoweiss could get someone from the LGBTQ Palestinian community to write somewhat more in depth about the pressures this group faces, not just from other Palestinians but from the Israeli government. In the meantime I will ignore any criticisms offered by said government or its die hard supporters. Since no one on that side is demanding that the blackmailing of LGBTQ people by be stopped I can only think they see nothing wrong with it.

    • SQ Debris on June 30, 2015, 10:17 pm

      Ziopinkwashers can kvell all they want about Israeli tolerance, but one thing’z fursure, there won’t be gay marriage in Israel. And American gay marriages won’t be recognized by the state. Hell you can’t even marry a hetero goy legally in Israel.

      • Mikhael on June 30, 2015, 11:35 pm

        SQ Debris June 30, 2015, 10:17 pm
        American gay marriages won’t be recognized by the state,

        The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has recognized same-sex marriages performed abroad since 2006 and such couples are registered as married.
        Same-sex couples (as well as hetero couples) can also register as common law couples, which extends most of the protections of marriage.

        Hell you can’t even marry a hetero goy legally in Israel.

        Marriage between Jews and non-Jews in Israel is not illegal and is recognized by the state if the wedding ceremony is solemnized abroad. However, there is no such thing as civil marriage in Israel, only religious ceremonies. (This also prevents non-Jewish couples from different confessional communities from marrying in Israel; for example, a Druze cannot marry a Christian in Israel either but if the couple goes to Cyrpus or another country with civil marriage, the state will subsequently recognize their marriage.) In addition, people from different religious communities can also enter into common-law marriages in Israel.

        Israel is not unique in this regard, our neighbors have the same practice of only recognizing religious marriage– this is a relic of the Ottoman millet system. Lebanon has recently allowed civil marriages for people who prove that they are not members of any sect –Israel started doing this in 2010.

  5. ckg on June 30, 2015, 1:40 pm

    The Associated Press has already picked up on this story. In the wire story “Angry protesters whitewash rainbow flag on West Bank barrier”, Israel’s attitude is contrasted with its neighbors’.

    Israel, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations recently, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East where gay culture is not tolerated and gays are persecuted and even killed. Earlier this month, over 100,000 people attended a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv.

    Very disheartening.

    • just on June 30, 2015, 1:45 pm

      Yeah, I read the article and stomped around for awhile, ckg.

      It also contains a bit about the prohibition of ssm in Israel and, of course, the obligatory Western slam toward primarily Muslim countries:

      “Officially there is still no same-sex marriage in Israel, primarily because there is no civil marriage of any kind – all Jewish weddings must be conducted through the rabbinate, which considers homosexuality a sin and a violation of Jewish law. But the state recognises same-sex couples who marry abroad.

      Same-sex relations are punishable by death in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.”

      • a blah chick on June 30, 2015, 2:30 pm

        Yep, I knew this would happen.

        Contrast the MSM’s “concern” for oppressed gays in the Middle East with the silence about Unit 8200’s reservists protesting the policy of blackmailing gays for information.

      • ckg on June 30, 2015, 3:07 pm

        The AP report did not mention that last year the State of Palestine ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. From wikipedia: Article 17 mandates the right of privacy. This provision, specifically article 17(1) protects private adult consensual sexual activity, thereby nullifying prohibitions on homosexual behaviour..

        Neverthless, public attitudes have a long way to improve, I think.

      • ckg on June 30, 2015, 7:35 pm

        Advocating for both Palestinian rights and LGBT rights can be an interesting journey. It tends to whittle down your friends.

  6. JLewisDickerson on June 30, 2015, 2:11 pm

    RE: “[LBGT] Activists say that Israel has made their work more difficult, however, by trying to portray itself as a savior of gay Palestinians. ~ Alex Sham

    SEE: “Israel’s Treatment of Gay Palestinian Asylum Seekers” ~ by Caroline Esser, The Washington Note, 6/06/11

    [EXCERPTS]. . . The newest way to sell Israel to Americans: LGBT rights. Search gay rights on the Anti-Defamation League’s website and what do you find? A ready-to-print and available for order poster that reads, “Which of the Middle East nations protects the legal rights, safety & freedom of the LGBT communities? Only Israel.” . . .
    . . . In their 2008 study, “Nowhere to Run: Gay Palestinian Asylum-Seekers in Israel,” Michael Kagan and Anat Ben-Dor describe in detail Israel’s unsympathetic and unbending policy towards gay Palestinians. . .
    . . .In pursuit of protection and the ability to openly express their sexuality, there have been at least ten cases in which gay Palestinians have sought refuge in Israel. However, despite their desperation, Israel refuses to even review gay Palestinian applications for asylum (those who have successfully received asylum have had to submit their cases directly to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva). Moreover, gay Palestinians who have illegally entered Israel have been arrested and promptly deported–returned to the very environments in which their lives were at risk and in which they will now face further danger as they are questioned not only for their sexuality but for their choice to spend time in Israel. . .


  7. just on July 2, 2015, 5:17 pm

    Khaled Jarrar:

    “Why I painted a rainbow flag on Israel’s apartheid wall

    Earlier this week, I painted a section of the Israeli apartheid wall near Qalandiya checkpoint in the occupied West Bank with the colors of the rainbow flag. Later that night, some people from the community painted it over.

    As an artist, I usually prefer that my work speak for itself. But I feel that my intentions have been hijacked and manipulated, including by the Associated Press, whose report on the ensuing controversy was carried in publications all over the world, such as The Guardian and Haaretz.

    So I felt it was time for me to address what happened in my own words. I painted the mural — which I titled “Through the Spectrum” — in broad daylight. Israeli occupation forces were not far away and Palestinians crossing back and forth through the checkpoint were all around.

    In other words, life was “normal” in occupied Palestine, and the painting was executed in full view of passersby and local residents. Later the same day, news of my mural blew up on social media, and several Palestinians including a journalist seized on my action to encourage others to, ironically, go and save the racist Israeli wall from the “shame” I had brought on it. …”

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