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LGBTQ Palestinians: Israel uses Pride celebrations to ‘normalize and justify occupation’

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When Ali*, a member of the LGBTQ community in occupied East Jerusalem, saw images from Tel Aviv’s pride week inundating his social media earlier this month, he felt angered.

“I feel used when I see all of these people flooding the streets of Tel Aviv. It’s irritating seeing all of these fellow queers who share some of my experiences being used by Israel to pinkwash settler colonialism,” the 22-year-old said.

The term “pinkwashing” is used by activists to describe Israel’s practice of promoting itself as a “gay haven” in the Middle East in order to distract attention from its human rights abuses, which have defined its 70-year-long colonization of historic Palestine and more than half-century occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

On June 8, when some 250,000 people attended the pride march in Tel Aviv, just some 44 miles away Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip faced Israeli snipers.

Depending on which news channel you decided to turn on, you could be faced with images of colorful outfits and rainbow flags overflowing the streets of Tel Aviv, or injured Palestinians being rushed to an ambulance after being shot by the Israeli army.

During the pride march in Tel Aviv, Israel simultaneously shot dead at least four unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, including a 15-year-old. The small Palestinian territory has been held under a devastating Israeli air, land, and sea blockade for more than a decade.

Since the Great March of Return began in Gaza on March 30 to demand the right of Palestinians to return to their lands and homes they were expelled from during the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, Israeli snipers have killed at least 131 protesters and have injured tens of thousands.

For LGBTQ Palestinians, Tel Aviv’s pride week is a source of pain and anger each year.

Pride is “used as a tool to normalize and justify occupation,” 20-year-old Omar told Mondoweiss. “Israelis oppress Palestinians, Palestinian women, Palestinian children, LGBT Palestinians. Anyone who is not Israeli Jewish, they oppress.”

“You cannot be accepting to one minority while oppressing so many other minorities, including a minority you allegedly say you advocate for and support,” said Omar, who is also a resident of East Jerusalem.

‘I see daily violence’

LGBTQ Palestinians have long pointed out that their experiences under Israeli occupation do not differ from other Palestinians, despite Israel attempting to paint its image as a haven for LGBTQ peoples.

“To Israel, you are just Palestinian. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, straight or queer. You’re Palestinian so you will be subjected to all forms of oppression and discrimination and violence that Israel subjects all Palestinians to,” Omar said.

Israel occupied and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, a move which was not recognized by the international community until US President Donald Trump’s official recognition of the city as Israel’s capital last year.

Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem do not hold citizenship in Israel or the Palestinian territory and instead were issued temporary Jerusalem residency IDs, which can be revoked by the Israeli state for a variety of reasons.

Israel has expelled nearly 15,000 Palestinians from the city since 1967, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), while hundreds have been evicted from their homes owing to the Israeli settler movement.

While Palestinians in East Jerusalem are subject to Israeli civil law — as opposed to Israeli military law like Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza — they face routine discrimination and violence by Israeli forces.

In East Jerusalem, Palestinians are constantly subjected to harassment and arrest. As of April, 432 Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem were being held in Israeli prison, according to Palestinian prisoners’ right group Addameer.

“I see daily violence here,” Ali said. “When you walk on the streets, everywhere I go I see an [Israeli] settler with a rifle over the shoulder, or I see soldiers and policemen.”

‘If they see you have darker skin or if they see that you are wearing something with Arabic writing on it — or even if you have an Arabic tattoo. If they see any signs that you are Palestinian, they will stop you, search you and interrogate you.”

According to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the youth are the main target of harassment and arrest by Israeli forces, particularly since the 2015 uprising in which many young Palestinians carried out lone-wolf attacks on Israelis, resulting in hundreds of Palestinians being killed as Israel was accused of practicing a “shoot-to-kill” policy.

“Everything is militarized in East Jerusalem,” Ali told Mondoweiss. “It’s violent and they wonder why the youth are sad and they have all this anger within them.”

Palestinians have to constantly fear for their safety, as one wrong move could result in prison or even death.

“If we plan for a picnic, we cannot even bring a knife to cut the vegetables and fruit,” Ali explained. “If the soldiers stop you, no matter how much time you would spend explaining to them that the knife is being used to cut vegetables, they will not believe you.”

“You will always be viewed as a potential terrorist.”

But Tel Aviv’s pride is part of Israel’s entertainment industry, meant to distract people from its routine violation of Palestinian rights, Ali said. “When they are dancing at pride, they are not seeing the everyday violence we [Palestinians] are subjected to.”

“All of these things are used to create this idea that Israel is introducing the world to Israeli culture,” Ali told Mondoweiss. “It’s mainstreaming Israeli entertainment in order to attract people to the state.”

In 2005, Israel launched “Brand Israel” — a marketing strategy meant to “rebrand the country’s image to appear relevant and modern.” Much of this strategy has been focused on promoting cultural events and entertainment in order to recreate Israel as a destination having “a productive, vibrant and cutting-edge culture,” according to American writer Sarah Schulman.

An intricate part of this rebranding was promoting Israel as a “world gay destination” and improving “Israel’s image through the gay community in Israel.”

‘I felt totally invalidated’

Omar was shocked to see many of his favorite drag entertainers from the United States performing at Tel Aviv’s pride and tweeting their support for the event.

“I felt totally invalidated,” he said “You’re celebrating queerness and being different among people who are either war criminals or complicit in war crimes through their silence.”

“How can you stand against [LGBTQ] oppression, and yet still go and subject other people to it? They are complicit in homophobia. They are complicit in hatred. They are complicit in the slaughter of their LGBTQ brothers and sisters and what have you in between,” Omar explained.

According to Omar, this dissonance is aimed at confusing the identities of LGBTQ Palestinians.

“I am privileged enough to be educated and aware. But Israeli pride is designed to make Palestinian queers question their identity. They are told, by Israel, that they have to choose between being gay and being Palestinian,” Omar said.

In actuality, however, LGBTQ individuals have existed in the Middle East since the birth of the Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian identities, Omar said.

“If you dig through fables or poetry from thousands of years ago, homosexuality is present. It’s there,” he told Mondoweiss.

“Historically we have always been rich in representation. I don’t know about acceptance, but that doesn’t mean that people were not living their homosexual/queer lives.”

According to Ali, if Israel does care about a Palestinian’s sexuality, it is only to use that information against the individual.

This at times plays out in the form of Israel attempting to coerce Palestinians into being collaborators and informants by threatening to shame LGBTQ Palestinians within their communities.

“Sometimes if you go to a protest, they [Israel] will try and shame you. If the army has access to information where they know you are queer, then they will threaten to tell everyone about your sexual identity,” he said.

“They don’t care about anyone’s identity, unless it can be used in their favor,” he added.

Israel’s practice of blackmailing Palestinians on the basis of their sexuality is just one of a myriad of techniques Israel uses to coerce Palestinians into providing information to Israeli authorities, according to al-Qaws, a Palestinian LGBTQ grassroots organization.

The Israeli army often extorts Palestinians “on the basis of their lack of access to healthcare, disrupted freedom of movement, exposure of marital infidelities, finances, drug use, or anything else,” the group has noted.

‘Freedom means no fear’

Omar tells Mondoweiss that Israel’s use of pinkwashing emboldens attempts to silence Palestinians who criticize Israel’s colonization of historic Palestine.

“Whenever we mention Palestinians undergoing ethnic cleansing or violence under the occupation, Israelis, Zionists, or white Americans mention homophobia in Palestine to counter it.”

But “there’s just as much homophobia in the Jewish community as there is in Palestine, or Lebanon, or Jordan — and even in the United States,” Omar said.

“Toxic masculinity is not unique to Palestine or the Palestinian society. It’s almost a universal queer experience, especially in conservative areas.”

For Omar, navigating the traditional society of East Jerusalem and the older Palestinian generations, while also being forced to maneuver through the violence of Israel’s occupation is particularly difficult.

“It’s really hard for you to feel safe if you’re a feminine man because on one hand your identity is misunderstood or misrepresented in your own community. And, on the other hand, you’re oppressed, you’re targeted by Israel. They want you killed in Israeli society.”

“It’s a struggle,” Omar continued. “But do I feel safer in Israeli places? No. Not as a Palestinian and not as a queer person.”

For Omar and Ali, pride events are far from their ideas of freedom.

“Freedom to me means no fear,” Omar said. “It’s being able to live and act the way I would normally act without fearing for my life.”

“For Palestinians, we don’t know when it is safe for us to be ourselves. Under Israel’s occupation, how can we exist without possibly dying at any moment?”

In a similar vein, Ali says he can “be free without pride.”

“Pride started as a protest. Now it’s more of a capitalist venture. It lost its essence,” he said. “I don’t feel like this is what I want or that this is what symbolizes freedom.”

The most important issue for Ali is feeling accepted inside his own community. “I don’t want to put myself off from my own society. I want to be part of my society,” he said.

“I want to be safe from Israel or any other authority in historic Palestine that is oppressing me for being who I am. This is freedom — being safe and empowered and being a part of this society and staying where I am without dealing with harassment and threats.”  

As Omar watched the parties and dancing unfold in Tel Aviv, while facing the daily violence of occupation in his home of East Jerusalem and witnessing the continued Israeli massacre in Gaza, one question continued to come to his mind.

“I want to ask these people: What are you so proud of? Is it the bloodshed, the injustice, the ethnic cleansing? What are you so proud of?”

*The names of the interviewees have been changed to protect their identities.

Jaclynn Ashly

Jaclynn Ashly is a journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. You can find her on Twitter @jaclynnashly

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15 Responses

  1. Kay24 on June 27, 2018, 11:32 am

    It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Israel loves to pretend it is a open minded and liberal nation, compared to others, but signs say different:

    “Man who attacked Jerusalem gay pride last year accused of fresh plot
    Extremist who stabbed several people at last year’s march suspected of trying to organise another attack from his prison cell

    Jerusalem’s gay pride parade has gone ahead under tight security after it was alleged that an ultra-Orthodox extremist who stabbed several people at last year’s march, killing a 16-year-old girl, was attempting to organise a fresh attack from his prison cell.

    Israeli officials said Yishai Schlissel had been arrested in prison on suspicion of plotting with his brother, Michael, to harm march participants. Michael Schlissel, who was arrested on Wednesday, denies the allegations.

    Speaking before the parade started, the Jerusalem police chief, Yoram Halevy, said: “We have disrupted and prevented an attempt to hurt people during the parade. The march will take place as planned. We will ensure that the public is able to realise its rights to free expression and protest in Israel’s democracy.”

    How about this Rabbi?
    “After his “homosexuals are perverts” speech and his “women in the army become non-Jews” speech, Rabbi Yigal Levenstein of the Bnei David pre-military academy in Eli has now said that homosexuality should be eradicated like AIDS.

    In his latest incendiary lecture delivered in January, the fiercely anti-liberal rabbi reiterated his objections to any acceptance of homosexuals as normative people, decried the inability to refer gay men and women to conversion therapy, and generally described acceptance of homosexuality as madness.”

  2. American Perspective on June 27, 2018, 12:15 pm

    LGBTQ Palestinians (I think you meant Arab nationalists – the LGBTQ folks living in Palestine who are Jewish have a lot of fun at the Pride Parade) clearly don’t understand their Israeli enemy.

    Which is too bad.

    LGBTQ activists living in Palestine should be dedicated to de-Arabization of their society and marginalization of the voices of intolerant religious folks (Moslem, Eastern Christian and Jewish). That activism would help normalize the gay lifestyle in the Arabic-speaking parts of Palestine, advance values that would make peace possible (surrender), and protect the lives of LGBTQ victims *around* the world. (Worldwide persecution of LGBTQ folks is often justified as “resistance against Palestine”, such as in homophobic Venezuela).

    By aiming their activism overseas against some foreign country, Arab nationalists who are LGBTQ are only perpetuating the pathologies of their own society.

    • bcg on June 27, 2018, 1:48 pm

      @American Perspective: This may have escaped your attention, but the article is actually about Israel.

      • Kay24 on June 27, 2018, 3:32 pm

        I guess it is hard to break out of old habits! When an article is about Israel, and it is negative, try to make the Palestinians look bad. Heh.

    • Misterioso on June 28, 2018, 10:30 am

      @American Perspective

      Ah yes, the master of bafflegab spews forth and accomplishes nothing.

  3. [email protected] on June 27, 2018, 1:24 pm

    Good article. As a GLBTQ Palestinian American, it is clear that this pride celebration falsely portrays Israel as a progressive country. In Israel, I’m nothing, I’m dirt, because of my ancestry. Doesn’t matter if I’m gay, straight, rich or poor. My value in life is based on Israels tribal and racist definitions on who has value and who doesn’t. Here in the US, GLBTQ folks are waking up that human rights doesn’t depend on who has the best beaches, has the hottest semi-nude parties or the best marketing blitz. As Palestine solidarity banners wave at parades such as Chicagos, we as a community are maturing and understand that it is how a society treats the its unwanted’s and its most vulnerable population that determines where we as a GLBTQ are with any society.

  4. JLewisDickerson on June 27, 2018, 11:07 pm

    RE: “LGBTQ Palestinians: Israel uses Pride celebrations to ‘normalize and justify occupation’ “

    SEE: “Israel’s Treatment of Gay Palestinian Asylum Seekers” | by Caroline Esser | The Washington Note | June 6, 2011

    [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. . .


  5. Rob Roy on June 27, 2018, 11:22 pm

    Not mentioned in the article or comments:

    1. Same sex marriage is NOT legal in Israel.
    2. Every time a bill is raised in the Knesset that would help LBGTQ people, it is voted down…or not even debated.
    3. In Israel “conversion therapy,” which is beyond ignorance, is still practiced.

    So much for democracy in that god-forsaken stolen country.

  6. JLewisDickerson on June 27, 2018, 11:22 pm

    P.S. ALSO SEE:

    Anti-Gay Pastor Charles Stanley
    by Jay Michaelson | April 17, 2015

    Here’s why I’m not on board with the growing chorus protesting JNF’s honoring Dr. Charles Stanley, one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the country, and the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (membership 15 million).

    It’s not that he isn’t anti-gay. He is, and I assume he’d be proud to admit it. Over his half-century-long career, he’s said some nasty things, some ignorant things, and some really offensive things like AIDS being Divine punishment.

    The reason I’m not on board with the protests is that Dr. Stanley’s anti-gay statements are the tip of the Christian conservative iceberg. What do you expect, when you get into bed with the likes of John Hagee (head of Christians United For Israel, who has said some far worse anti-gay stuff himself) or the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation who believe that cities are possessed by demons and that Fukushima was a result of the Japanese emperor having sex with the sun goddess?

    This should not be a gay issue. Dr. Stanley’s anti-gay statements are part of a holistic, fanatical worldview – and that, not this or that quote about gay people, is what should make him unfit for honor by the JNF Southeast regional office.

    To be clear, it’s not that the JNF should balance Dr. Stanley’s pro-Israel actions against his other statements or views. It’s that his actions aren’t in the best interests of Israel in the first place.

    Seventy-seven percent of U.S. Evangelicals believe that we are, right now, living in the End Times. Many of them believe (just like ISIS, incidentally) that the trigger event will be a cataclysmic war in the Middle East, specifically in Northern Israel and Syria. The leaders of Christian Zionism have an extreme interpretation of Genesis 12:3 (“I will bless those who bless you”) that results in massive support for settlement activity in the West Bank.

    Do we really believe that such people really have Israel’s best interests at heart?

    Of course, we can all cluck our tongues and dismiss Christian apocalyptic beliefs. A long-running joke in pro-Israel circles is “When the Messiah comes, we’ll just ask if he’s been here before or not.” Meaning, pay no attention to all that End Times stuff – let’s just take the money.

    But the End Times stuff determines policy. It is what engenders fanatical political positions on Israel, Iran, and ISIS. And unless you believe that horrifying bloodshed is part of the redemption, you should be wary of those who do.

    And then there are the domestic issues. As it happens, Dr. Stanley is almost a feminist in Southern Baptist Convention terms – he thinks women should be allowed to preach. But the organization which he used to head is leading the fight to gain religious exemptions to civil rights laws, leading the fight against all forms of abortion regardless of the circumstances, and leading the fight to deny that transgender people exist.

    Again, none of this should be surprising. When Jews get in bed with the Hard Right, this comes with the territory.

    Notwithstanding all the foregoing, JNF, like the Netanyahu regime, has long made the decision that anyone who supports Israel is a friend. Hey, it’s diversity! The JNF tent is big enough for gays, theocrats, wife-beaters, slaveholders, anti-semites – oh, well, maybe not all of the above, but who’s counting, as long as the checks clear?

    What’s important, the JNF said in their April 16 press release is that Dr. Stanley’s is “one of the largest Christian communities in the South which has always supported the Jewish people in times of peace and conflict.”

    Is it “supporting the Jewish people” to fund only one, extremist sector of the Jewish community?

    Is it “supporting the Jewish people” to lead Israel toward apocalyptic war?

    Is it “supporting the Jewish people” to lead Israel on a suicidal path to becoming a pariah state, cause the oppression of millions of people, and subsidize the Israeli Far Right, making peace (of any kind) impossible?

    Hardly. Sure, it’s supporting one iteration of what the destiny of the Jewish people should be: cannon fodder for the Antichrist. (I’m not exaggerating here; that’s the theology.) It’s supporting the anti-democratic views of Sheldon Adelson, and the delusions of Danny Danon. But “the Jewish people”? That sounds more like Christian Zionist rhetoric than anything the JNF should be saying in a press release.

    I’m not willing to untangle Dr. Stanley’s anti-gay positions from the Hard Right knot that they’re part of. That’s not how he sees them – to him, opposing homosexuality is part of an overall Biblical worldview. And it’s not how we should see them either.

    Moreover, progressive politics today is about intersectionality and solidarity – not single-issue fixations. What’s problematic about Dr. Stanley is a lot deeper than anti-gay sentiments, and if I lose that deeper context, I forfeit the possibility of solidarity with others who his community marginalizes.

    Can you imagine the response of an Israeli Arab, for example, if Dr. Stanley’s award were to be pulled because of his views on homosexuality? Never mind all that anti-democratic, anti-civil-rights stuff – that doesn’t matter. But anti-gay, whoa, that’s a different story.

    I’m not even comfortable with words like “homophobia” and “bigot” being thrown around in this debate. That’s too easy. It suggests that this one man is a hateful person, but otherwise, there would be nothing wrong with honoring people like him. That gives everyone else a pass – especially everyone who thinks it’s a good idea to make a deal with the Christian Zionist fringe.

    It’s not that these people are bigoted or homophobic; it’s that their subordination of women and LGBT people is part of a deep-seated, patriarchal, fundamentalist, millennialist worldview that is sure the end of the world is nigh – and Greater Israel will help hasten its date.

    Dr. Stanley is no different from millions of other hard right Christian conservatives who want a return to Christian hegemony here in the US, and a huge, holy war in the Middle East. Focusing on his anti-gay statements, odious as they are, misses the point. The point is everything he stands for, and everything JNF stands for by endorsing him.

    Source –

  7. mondonut on June 28, 2018, 1:58 am

    Good article. But to provide more perspective they should have interviewed the Palestinian LGBTQ communities in Gaza and Ramallah.

    • bcg on June 28, 2018, 10:35 am

      @Mondonut: this may have escaped your attention, but the article is actually about Israel.

    • Talkback on June 28, 2018, 2:22 pm

      Say mondonut, does Israel differentiate between homosexual and hetersexual Palestinians when it comes to commiting its daily crimes against Palestinians?

  8. echinococcus on June 28, 2018, 9:27 am

    The Nut

    Gaza and Ramallah people, in their current predicament, sure need LBTQGHIJ communities before anything else. Like a hole in the head… which they already have!

  9. Maghlawatan on June 29, 2018, 10:54 am

    Pride Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are used as a mask to hide Israeli fascism.
    There is a mirror at Mondoweiss which shows Israel’s true face.

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