US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, along with several Palestinian human rights groups, jumped to the defense of queer Palestinians in the wake of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) ban on an LGBTQ group in the occupied West Bank.
Al-Qaws for Gender and Sexual Diversity in Palestinian Society made headlines last week when the PA police spokesperson, Louay Irzeiqat, issued a statement declaring that the police would be prohibiting any of al-Qaws’ activities in the West Bank.
Claiming that al-Qaws’ activities “go against traditional Palestinian values”, Irzeiqat called the group’s members “foreign agents”working to “create discord and harm civic peace in Palestinian society.”
Irzeqat called on the Palesitnian citizenry to report any “suspicious activity” from the group and its members.
“LGBTQ rights are human rights,” Omar wrote in a tweet Monday night, “and we should condemn any effort to infringe upon them.”
LGBTQ rights are human rights and we should condemn any effort to infringe upon them.
But we should also condemn any effort to equate this with the occupation or use this as a distraction.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 19, 2019
The Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council (PHROC), made up of a dozen local human rights groups, also voiced its support for al-Qaws and called on the PA to reverse its decision, which the PHROC said violated both Palestinian civil and international human rights laws.
The #Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council (PHROC) Calls on the Palestinian Authority to Provide #Protection to Palestinians without Discrimination #LGBTQrights #HumanRights pic.twitter.com/R9jsGDW5JT
— Al-Haq الحق (@alhaq_org) August 21, 2019
The move by the PA police came after al-Qaws held a two-day “Queer Camp,” which it described as a “discussion-based” event in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, widely considered to be one of the most conservative cities in the Palestinian territory.
Al-Qaws received an onslaught of hate-filled messages and threats on their social media after advertising for the event, which the group said “threatened violence and prosecution, promoted lies about al-Qaws and our activities as well as myths about LGBTQ people in general.”
The group said in a statement that despite maintaining a strong social media presence, in both English and Arabic, for years, they had “never received threats to this extent before.”
“This backlash paves the way for unethical media practices to thrive by adopting and fueling violent discourse that is gaining traction and legitimacy in social media,” the statement said.
The group went on to call on both the Palestinian police and civilians to “focus on combatting the occupation and other forms of violence that tear apart the sensitive fabric of our society and values, instead of prosecuting activists who work tirelessly to end all forms of violence.”
Throughout its statement, al-Qaws repeatedly emphasizes its work as an “anti-colonial organization,” dedicated to fighting “patriarchal, capitalist and colonial oppression.”
A few days later, in a followup statement entitled “5 Ways to Support Palestinian Queers,” al-Qaws urged that those covering the events refrain from “pinkwashing” the issue at hand, saying “our struggle as queer Palestinians is against Israeli colonialism as much as it is against homophobia and oatriarchy in Palestine.”
Listen up! Five ways to support Palestinian queers.
— alQaws (@alQaws) August 19, 2019
The new statements came in direct response to extensive Israeli and right-wing US media coverage of the PA’s ban on al-Qaws that framed the situation using racist tropes of the oppressive Arab society versus the enlightened Israeli one.
“Perpetuating tiresome tropes of presenting Palestinians as inherently oppressive and Israel as a liberal state that protects LGBTQ rights is counter-productive and factually baseless,” the group said.
Omar linked to the group’s statement in her tweets as a response to demands from the right-wing media for herself and Tlaib to respond to the PA’s ban.
👋🏽 Right wing media asking us about this, can you listen up and amplify it correctly! 👇🏽 https://t.co/xp5KI4punk
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 20, 2019
She reiterated that her view that support of Palestinian LBTQ rights should go hand in hand with fighting against the occupation, saying:
“Pretending that this act somehow balances or mitigates Israel violating the dignity and rights of Palestinians—or undermines cases for defending Palestinian rights—is deplorable.”