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  • Samira Burnside

The Queer American Perspective on Palestine

Updated: Mar 1

   Pinkwashing, as defined by the slang section of Dictionary.com, means the following:


   “a critical term used to refer to the practice of attempting to benefit from purported support for LGBTQ+ rights, often as a way to profit or to distract from a separate agenda.”


    This term is often used in relation to the ongoing genocide in Palestine. Those who are critical of Israel’s actions claim that the state uses its status as a democracy, and its support of LGBTQIA+ individuals as a way to justify or lampshade its brutal actions toward the Palestinian people. Nowhere is this tying of inclusionist policy and the genocide of the Palestinian people more clear than in a tweet by @Israel on X, made on November 13th of 2023. 


    In it, there are two images:


  1. A man, Yoav Atzmoni. At the time, he was the Founder and Manager of a program called Manhigea, meant to prepare the next generation of LGBTQ youth for leadership. Here, he is dressed in military garb - helmet, combat boots, covered in drab colors and straps. He is holding a rippling rainbow flag, the green line has text in messily written Arabic, and the lines below that have script in Hebrew that can't be read. However, in English, for all to see clearly, is the text: In The Name Of Love. Yoav smiles widely. Behind him, a tank and a military truck kick up dust as they crush yester-day city blocks under their treads, making their way through a destroyed Palestinian city. 

  2. A similar picture. Yoav poses again, this time with a Israeli-pride flag, no text this time. Behind him, two large tanks. He smiles widely. Above them, the bright blue sky. 


       This tweet is captioned: “Yoav Atzmoni who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community wanted to send a message of hope to the people of Gaza living under Hamas brutality. 


His intention was to raise the first pride flag in Gaza as a call for peace and freedom.”



       



 

 In an interview with The National Desk, Israeli technological consultant and columnist Hillel Fuld had this to say about what would happen to Queer people in Palestine:


            “I welcome the LGBTQ community to go to Gaza. Let them bring their flags, let them go to Gaza and let them fight for human rights there and let’s see what happens… They’re going to get lynched and murdered.”


          (Hillel Fuld)


 If this is truly the case, if Palestine is so unaccepting that LGBTQ+ individuals would be lynched and murdered there - then why did a letter in support of the Palestinian people from a queer perspective get over 500 signatures from queer individuals and organizations? 


            Before we answer that, we must first understand the actual reality that Queer individuals within Palestine face. 


 

            Monday, September 28th, 1936, 31 years before Israeli settlers would come to occupy Palestine, during the British occupation of Palestine, the Palestine Gazette publishes its six hundred and thirty-third issue. Starting on page 973, the Gazette details the recently published criminal code bill, and it’s in this section, on page 1005, that we find out how homosexuality is treated legally in Palestine: 


              “152.—(1) Any person who :


- ( a ) has unlawful sexual intercourse with a female against her will by the use of force or threats of death or severe bodily harm, or when she is in a state of unconsciousness or otherwise incapable of resisting;


 or ( b ) commits an act of sodomy with any person against his will by the use of force or threats of death or severe bodily harm, or when he is in a state of unconsciousness or otherwise incapable of resisting; 


or (c) has unlawful sexual intercourse or commits an act of sodomy with a child under the age of sixteen years, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.”


           This is, by no means, homophobic. However, this was nearly a hundred years ago, laws change, attitudes change, what is written on paper says nothing about the actual experience of Queer Palestinians in contemporary Palestine. 


             According to the Equaldex, as of 2014, 87.4% of Palestinians thought that Homosexuality was unjustified. In addition, as of 2023, only 4% of Palestinians thought of their local area as a “good place” for gay and lesbian people. The Equaldex also notes that there are no discrimination protections for queer people in Palestine, and no ban on conversion therapy. In addition, gay men and women have been banned from blood donations. However, homosexuality itself is not banned. We must also remember that some of these things vary by region - what might be allowed in the West Bank may not be the same in Gaza. It should also be said that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank banned the LGBTQ+ rights group alQaws, a group that is also in many ways anti-colonial, more on them later. 


            In an interview with Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, an anonymous gay Palestinian man cites a story of a friend of his who was arrested on false charges for being gay. The anonymous man said that he, too, had been arrested in 2016 for a

facebook post he made in support of gay

(An alQaws gathering. Source: The New Arab)


rights in the Gaza Strip. He was accused of anti-government publication, put on trial and fined the equivalent of 143 US dollars. During his imprisonment, he alleges to have been sexually harassed by guards, a story that isn’t unfamiliar to those of gay men in the American prison system. 

               

             Later, in this same interview, the anonymous man says the following:


             “People in Gaza love to talk about each other. It’s a closed area, no one has much to keep himself occupied, so they spend most of their time gossiping,”


             It’s a closed area. Gaza is not a state, it is a city. Even if the man was talking about the strip, that's still merely 20 cities. Why is it described this way, as a closed area? The Haaretz article has no interest in interrogating this statement. 

             


 

           (Gaza. Source: Al Jazeera)


   “Israel, with Egypts help, has turned Gaza into an open air prison… Gaza's more than two million Palestinians remain under what amounts to a 15-year-old lockdown.”  Says Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at the Human Rights Watch, in 2022. According to an article by the Human Rights Watch, Israel has heavily restricted the travel of Palestinians out of Gaza since 2007, not even allowing Palestinians to travel between their own cities. This is done to prevent “a human terrorist network”. It is not Hamas that keeps the anonymous man from the Haaretz article from the escape and freedom that he longs for, it is stringent border policies placed on his Country by another that has been committing an active genocide on his for decades. In fact, in the same year that this article was published, 299 Palestinians were killed and over 31,723 were injured in occupation-related violence. 

              The struggles that queer people face in Gaza are not dissimilar from what queer people face all over the world, and in some ways even bears similarity to the experience of living in some places within the U.S, like Florida. However, what’s different is that here, in Florida, we have comfortable homes, we can travel where we wish to, and we do not fear a stray bullet from an occupying soldier, or a sudden invasion. We do not look outside and see our old homes turned into the rubble that soldiers hold pride flags in front of. 

              Dorgham Abusalim says that, “LGBTQ life in Gaza is arduous and dangerous. I would know: I grew up there.” in an article published by the Institute for Palestine Studies. He goes on to say this:


              “...to suggest that Gaza's woes begin and end with Hamas is both dishonest and lazy. To say that only LGBTQ people in Gaza are suffering is disingenuous. To pretend that the majority of Israelis care about Gaza is a stretch of the imagination. Frankly, how any people on this earth could progress and prosper under the  conditions inflicted by Israel on Gaza is bizarre. After all, talking about human rights in Palestine is inseparable from addressing the structural problems put in place by Israel, including the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.”



 


               Tinku Ali from Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, an activist currently based in America, comments on why he, as a queer person, thinks that it’s important to support Palestine in spite of Hamas’s anti-lgbtq+ governmental positions. 


              “There is a perceived and actual lack of support by many societies of diversity, and Palestine suffers from a very similar sort of thing, and we completely oppose that. When the Palestinian Authority banned alQaws and we were in strong condemnation of that. For example, there are so many sexist societies in the world, virulently sexist societies, does that mean that women should not be supporting those societies if they are under siege, under oppression, are being killed, or are being terrorized? That’s not how this works. If queer people had been victimized by many societies, including Arab society, including Palestinian society, that does not justify atrocities against Palestinians or Arabs, it has nothing to do with the victimization of our people, so to speak.”

         


      But the commitment to the Palestinian cause doesn’t just come from seasoned activists like Tinku, who has been doing this for more than 24 years, but also from younger people too. Recently, I spoke with an anonymous queer University of Maryland student about why they, and others on their campus, supported Palestine. “...It just feels like a very obvious pointing head to a lot of other issues that happen in America.” Said the 22 year old college student, “I mean, i mentioned that within UMDs community that there is aggressive police but that’s also a thing happening in general in America, and also that has ties to Israel and the police training and you know - you just see a lot of these issues and how they connect to the situation.”

            (Protests held against UMD's administration. Source: https://dbknews.com/2023/11/02/umd-protest-administration-palestine/)


  Something that can be seen in many places is the tying of Queer Liberation and the freedom of the Palestinian people. We can see it here, with the college student, Tinku mentions that Queer liberation means the liberation of all people in an interview conducted with The Queer Notion, and alQaws includes it as a key part of their ideology, writing, “Queer Liberation is fundamentally tied to the dreams of Palestinian Liberation: Self determination, dignity, and the end of all systems of oppression.” 


               But this tie doesn’t end at just ideological similarities, says Sally Jane Black of the Louisiana Women’s Action Committee. According to her, the same people who are attacking trans and human rights in America are also funding and propagating the ongoing genocide in Gaza.


“Many of the anti-trans bills are carbon copies written by groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom, to name just two. These groups are funded by capitalists like the Koch brothers, who reap billions off of oil and gas, and Joseph Edelman, whose company Perceptive Advisors has major investments in many Israeli companies.”  Says sally. “Edelman's wife, Susan Lebovitz-Edelman, supports Zionist institutions and has signed on an open letter denouncing the left for classifying Israel as an oppressor state. Their foundation, the Edelman Family Foundation, has given millions to organizations who support Israel. Meanwhile, the Koch brothers' company Koch Disruptive Technologies has invested half a billion dollars in Israeli companies and is run by one of Netanyahu's former aides.”       
 

                The genocide in Gaza is ongoing, with hundreds of thousands of people protesting across the world, from many different backgrounds. There is a truly diverse array of people that attend these rallies. It is not uncommon to see a waving pride flag next to a USSR flag, side by side with signs from Jewish Voices for Peace. Hijabs and dyed hair, tall men and small children, marching side by side. There is validity to the point that Hamas as a government is anti-lgbtq. This doesn’t stop at Hamas either, it extends to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. While the U.S condemns Hamas and Gaza for this, among other things, the United States also supports other nations with even worse restrictions on LGBTQ+ life. While Palestine doesn’t have a law criminalizing homosexuality, Saudi Arabia, one of the U.S’s largest trading partners in the middle east, does. Jordan has very similar policies to Palestine but with more historical conservatism, and the United States considers them a “partner” according to the council on foreign relations. Another one of the U.S’s partners, Egypt, still has homosexuality criminalized. This is just the surface. 


                When people like Hillel Fuld say that queer people would be lynched and murdered in Palestine, they speak as if there are not queer people already within Palestine, suffering not only from a conservative culture but also the horrors of Israeli occupation. 


                 At the start of this article, the letter from Queers in Palestine was mentioned. It was a liberatory demand from queers in Palestine, and it was released on November 16th, 2023, 19 minutes after midnight in Gaza. To conclude this article, an excerpt from their letter:


   “We refuse the instrumentalization of our queerness, our bodies, and the violence we face as queer people to demonize and dehumanize our communities, especially in service of imperial and genocidal acts. We refuse that Palestinian sexuality and Palestinian attitudes towards diverse sexualities become parameters for assigning humanity to any colonized society. We deserve life because we are human, with the multitude of our imperfections, and not because of our proximity to colonial modes of liberal humanity. We refuse colonial and imperialist tactics that seek to alienate us from our society and alienate our society from us, on the basis of our queerness. We are fighting interconnected systems of oppression, including patriarchy and capitalism, and our dreams of autonomy, community, and liberation are inherently tied to our desire for self-determination. No queer liberation can be achieved with settler-colonization, and no queer solidarity can be fostered if it stands blind to the racialized, capitalist, fascist, and imperial structures that dominate us.”



 

This article was written by Samira Burnside. For inquiries, leads, or anything else, email Sburnside@thequeernotion.com


This article was edited at 10:52 AM on 3/1/2024 to correct the language on the flag that Yoav Atzmoni holds in a photo.

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