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No room for Palestinians at Tel Aviv Pride Parade

Until the Israeli LGBTQ community truly begins caring about Palestinian oppression, Palestinian queers will have to keep checking our identity at the door.

Fady Khoury (translated by Tal Haran)

Israelis take part in the annual pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israelis take part in the annual pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This past March I took part in a panel as part of Washington D.C.’s Independent Film Festival, where Jake Weisfeld’s new documentary, “Oriented,” was screened. The film, which was also screened this week as part of Tel Aviv’s LGBTQ film festival, TLVFest, tells the story of three gay Palestinian men living in Tel Aviv.

I assume that plenty has and will be said about the movie itself, but the point I wanted to focus on during the panel was the complete disregard by the creators from one of the central, recurring issues when it comes to LGBTQ rights in Israel: “pinkwashing,” namely the Israeli propaganda efforts to rebrand itself as a liberal democracy by focusing on LGBTQ rights in order to shift the international discussion away from the issue of occupation. One major theme in these propaganda efforts is branding Tel Aviv as a Gay Safe Haven.

I do not intend to write a film review of Oriented. I do, however, wish to deal with Friday’s pride parade in Tel Aviv vis-a-vis LGBTQ Palestinians. I also want to talk about the intersection of how Pride views Palestinians with major elements that simply do not exist in the film, which purports to present a “new generation of gay Palestinians” living in Tel Aviv, all while showing the complexities of the characters’ lives without seriously dealing with the wider political context in which Tel Aviv plays a central role.

Shelter for dogs, not for Gazans

Oriented was filmed over a period of three years, with some of the shooting taking place during the last attack on Gaza in 2014. In one of the scenes we see Khader Abu Seif, the protagonist, his partner David, and their dog Otis — who cannot stop crying — running to the stairwell of their building after an air raid siren sounds, in order to protect themselves from falling missiles. They sit while explosions are heard in the background, likely as a result of interceptions by Iron Dome. The scene is meant to be humane and evocative, in which the viewer feels empathy for Otis.

After the panel was over, we stepped off the stage and a few of the audience members approached us. Among them was a young woman who introduced herself as a Palestinian from Gaza. I asked her what she thought about the film. She responded, half-jokingly: “Apparently dogs in Israel are provided shelter, while in Gaza we had no way to escape the army’s bombs.” Her response turned into a recurring joke throughout the evening, when a group of Palestinians — including Khader — went out for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. Despite the jovial tone, the woman’s reaction made clear what the film had left out, and what Israeli Pride events conceal when it comes to the challenges facing Palestinians, including LGBTQ Palestinians.

The image of the queer Israel is often presented in political discourse as one-dimensional, usually summed up by their sexual or gender identity, while totally ignoring the intersection of other crucial identities. The Israeli mainstream expects the LGBTQ Palestinian to leave “Palestinian politics” aside when dealing with “LGBTQ politics.” The connection to Palestinians in the occupied territories becomes irrelevant, even irritating. Even the question of personal safety and freedom inside the Green Line, which is often sacrificed for the sake of national interests, takes a backseat to the interests of Israeli LGBTQ community and its struggles and is viewed as a separate issue.

Film review: ‘We’re Palestinian, we’re here and we’re queer’

In other words: among the LGBTQ community in Israel, the oppression of queer Palestinians as queer may be seen as relevant and a legitimate topic of discussion (although not necessarily, considering the community’s deafening silence following revelations that the Israeli army blackmails gay Palestinians in the occupied territories). Yet their oppression as Palestinians is seen as unrelated to the community’s broader political agenda in Israel.

The intersection of identities of LBGTQ Palestinian citizens of Israel functions as a formative piece in their daily reality, turning everyday apolitical events into ones that require difficult political choices: beginning with major issues such as the extent of one’s involvement in the community’s political agenda, events, struggles and institutions, through participation in its cultural life – seen as “non-political,” and the encounter with Jewish Israelis from various shades of the political spectrum at different dating websites.

Screenshot from the film "Oriented"

Screenshot from the film “Oriented”

LGBTQ Palestinian citizens of Israel are faced with the need to take sides in political dilemmas that turn all of these complexities into an indivisible whole. Any attempt to sort them out becomes artificial, thus preventing the proper safeguarding of rights for minorities who belong, by definition, to the various subgroups that make up the LGBTQ community.

Khader and the Border Police

The parade in Tel Aviv, like Oriented, brands Tel Aviv — whether directly or as a byproduct of partial presentation — as a safe, tolerant, and free city. Israeli propaganda groups (“hasbara”) abroad often speak explicitly of Tel Aviv’s uniqueness regarding the Palestinian LGBTQ community as well. But despite this narrative, issues that Israeli queers face in a safe and secure Tel Aviv never resemble those of Palestinians, queer or otherwise, for whom Tel Aviv is far less safe and secure.

Maysam Abu Alqiyan, for example, was a Palestinian in Tel Aviv. One could write volumes about his personal security in face of institutional humiliation and harassment. His story, however, does not concern the LGBTQ community. Another more relevant example may be found in an incident involving Khader himself in Tel Aviv.

Maysam Abu-Alqiyan pictured after being assaulted by Border Policemen outside a central Tel Aviv supermarket where he works. (photo: Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality)

Maysam Abu-Alqiyan pictured after being assaulted by Border Policemen outside a central Tel Aviv supermarket where he works. (photo: Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality)

In January of this year, Khader published a viral Facebook status in which he described the humiliation of being asked to undress by two Border Policemen in the middle of Tel Aviv (the policemen suspected him because his laptop bag was too large.) Two months later, Khader shared another humiliating incident involving airport security at Ben Gurion Airport. Luckily for him, he is a relatively well-known figure and his stories make waves in the Israeli media. But these such stories happen all the time, even in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel’s self-proclaimed gay paradise.

The Tel Aviv Pride Parade and Oriented have one thing in common: the issue of personal security and the defense of Palestinians’ rights, and those of Palestinian LGBTQs in particular, are not viewed as relevant. And this without even getting into the question of the state’s treatment of Palestinian LGBTQs living under occupation – the very same state against which the Israeli LGBTQ community is struggling to obtain its rights.

As much as the parade purports to make a powerful political statement vis-a-vis the state on the right of LGBTQ Israelis to personal safety and freedom from persecution, in the effort to separate the persecution of queer Palestinians for being queer from their persecution as Palestinians lies a troubling dissonance. The message is clear: “March safely as LGBTQs, look carefully over your shoulder as Palestinians.”

Fady Khoury is a doctoral student at Harvard Law School. “Oriented” will be screened in Tel Aviv at the LGBTQ Film Festival, and is now available for purchase on iTunes. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. M. Davison

      Of course you realize that any Palestinian photographed while taking part in the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv will be earmarked for death the moment he or she returns to Palestinian administered territory.

      Discretion is the better part of valor. Why do you think Palestinian gays ask for asylum in Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      Since Judith Butler and Jeremy Corbyn, among others, have designated HIZBULLAH and HAMAS as “progressive”, unlike Israel whom they condemn, I would assume that Palestinians would NOT want to participate in this parade and would feel much more comfortable in Gaza or the HIZBUALLH-controlled parts of Lebanon where I am sure they would be free to practice whatever lifestyle they want, knowing how tolerant those organizations are.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Mark

      Will all be much better when everyone can go to Pride in Ramallah or Gaza City. When that day comes we will all be much better placed to link Pride and Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      The underlying snobbish and quite heartless pretext of the comments here is “We superior ones are surely more advanced socially than these primitive natives so naturally we get to take their land and livelihoods from them, and treat the ones who just want to work and support their families like cattle in cattle pens at the checkpoints. And if anyone anywhere on earth ever subjected Jews to this cattle pen treatment we would raise holy hell about the Holocaust and what they are doing to Jews but the irony and the rank hypocrisy is completely lost on us.” Classic colonialism with an awful echo. Mark, your smug hypocrisy is something else. “We won’t let them travel, we won’t let them even fish, we won’t let them have basic dignity, we’ll keep the population on a subsistence diet like fish in a fish tank, but we wanna see liberal democrats and high culture and a gay pride parade waltzing down their Fifth Avenue and we want it now. What’s wrong with those people?”

      Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        Don’t you think gay pride in Ramallah and Gaza is a reasonable aspiration for a people who seek freedom?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          I can picture how you’d react if Jews were confined in an open air prison and not allowed basic dignity and somebody came along and condescendingly said to you, “what’s wrong with those Jews, isn’t gay pride their reasonable aspiration for a people who seek freedom? You would see anti-Semitism. You know what that makes you? Anti-Palestinianist.

          Fight anti-Palestinianism as we would anti-Semitism
          While anti-Semitism is considered a serious moral failing in Western society today, anti-Palestinianism is not even recognized as a phenomenon

          Reply to Comment
    5. Susan

      Of course if there were Palestinians, Israelis would be accused of “pink washing.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        They’re already accused of that. The two issues are not mutually exclusive or contradictory. You always have to be the victim, don’t you?

        Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      So Kohen is not just an anti-Palestinianist hater, he’s also a declared gay basher. Who’s surprised? Kohen couldn’t care less about human rights. Why should he? He’s a Kohen! A heterosexual male member of a pure priestly elite, and among the chosen people! Wow! It doesn’t get better. The tippy top of the needle on top of the pinnacle of humanity. The elevation is dizzying. What you can see from there is not what you see from here. A true Lord among Lords. Our heterosexual white male Jewish Land. We don’t do gay. God looks down and is well pleased with Yishai. When you’re a Kohen, it just feels so right. You carry the heterosexual Jewish white man’s burden, manifest destiny. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. As a Kohen, he’s up to the job. He’s come to save the day, smiting the evil leftist ‘abominations’, turning those gay Arab lovers into pillars of salt…. I can hear the heroic Herzog of the Opposition in the background: “Yippee! I’m not an Arab lover either and I too am not gay! Don’t smite me! Please! I so so so want to be Foreign Minister! Oh pretty pretty please!”

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      Kohen, I perceive you tacitly conceded my point by trying to point to *other* human rights problems. Now please also provide the corresponding survey data on ultra-orthodox, orthodox, and national religious populations with respect to all those human rights. And please also provide up to date statistics on the respecting of human rights of the inhabitants of Palestine by members of the settler “community.” You can find reliable statistics for these at B’Tselem and Peace Now and don’t forget that excellent ancillary source for narrative documentation of same, Breaking the Silence. And don’t change the subject this time. Thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    8. K. Wenov

      The content of this article is within my expectation after reading through the title. Until peace talk established and boundary are definied I don’t think there is a way to end this. But afterward Palestinian would be foreign to people in Tel Aviv thus the situation will not be changed.

      Reply to Comment