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Palestinians in Israel reject Pride Week but offer alternatives

The meeting of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi and Molla Shams al-Din in Konya (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Due to the influx of gay tourists who arrived in Tel Aviv for Pride Week, we can say with some certainty that more Belgians and Danes marched in the Gay Pride Parade than Palestinian citizens of Israel. That’s not just because of the understandable need for the gay Arab population to maintain a low profile. Gay Palestinian organizations boycott pride events because they consider them examples of “pinkwashing” – presenting Israel as enlightened due to its treatment of homosexuals, while denying the human rights of others.

Al Qaws (The Rainbow), familiar to the gay community in Israel mainly because of the queer Palestinian parties it holds in Tel Aviv, was among the organizations that did not encourage its members to march in the parade. But Al Qaws did not ignore Pride Week – it provided an alternative. On the Thursday prior to the parade, Al Qaws members met at Cafe Dina in Jaffa, with people from the Qadita website, for an event called “Reading Queer Texts in Arabic.”

Qadita is a site founded by Alaa Khlakhal and is dedicated to culture and criticism in Arabic. It offers its readers a rare and permanent column of often artistically ambitious queer writing, edited by Raji Bathish. “The Israeli LGBT culture is fully interwoven with Israeli militarist culture,” says Bathish. “It tries to emulate the Israeli mainstream, in the central Tel Avivian, hetero-normative sense, with its army and gyms. The queer movement needs to change the system and social structure from the base, rather than reaffirm them, and the LGBT movement here only deepens the system of oppression.”

The name of Bathish’s column, hosting diverse works of literature and commentary, was recently changed from “Gays and Texts” to “The Queer Text Corner,” in an attempt to separate it from the Arabic-language gay blog culture prevalent in the Middle East, to stress queerness as a principle, and to create a clear reference to literature. The event celebrating it, attended by about 40 men and women, was a break from the mainstream pride events not only in its use of the Arabic language, but also in its focus on challenging content.

Activist, cultural figure, and DJ Muhammad Jabali spoke about queer traditions in Arab literature, including homoerotic poetry from the Middle Ages, and openly gay artists who resided in the courts of the caliphs. Sociologist Dr. Ismail Na’ashaf and Islamic art researcher Dr. Hosmi Shahadi also participated. The theories of Edward Said and Mary Douglas were shared, and the ghosts of Mahmoud Darwish’s Tel Avivian poems were read. Although no desire for men is expressed in the poems, their liberalism excludes them from collections of his poems published in Arabic.

The artistic program was of particular interest, showcasing performance artists reading texts from queer literature. Facing a mirror, artist Tony Haddad read a passage describing a shave the morning after a night of love-making. The person shaving remembers the act of love and the man with whom he shared his bed. He ponders the beard and removing the beard. After the reading, the audience realized that Haddad had been bound to the cafe door. Another text included the line, “Every time I put on lipstick, my prick gets hard.”

In light of this creative and intellectual endeavor, the gay Hebrew beach party seems particularly flighty. In previous years, more radical and political elements tried to break out and march in an alternative parade. This year a number of activists organized a march within the mainstream parade, wearing black and carrying signs with slogans ranging from “There is no pride in the occupation” to “Pride without racism.”

The group’s Facebook page featured a debate on the proximity of the Pride events to the attacks on refugees in south Tel Aviv. Activist Elizabeth Tsurkov shared an article on the page describing Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s complicity in a poster campaign advocating the removal of refugees from the city. “Tel Aviv cannot be presented as a liberal city while pogroms are taking place and the municipality allots funds for a campaign calling on Israel to deport and jail refugees,” Tsurkov wrote.

Jabali’s words emanate in Tsurkov’s claim, when he explains why the Pride Parade is unacceptable from the Palestinian perspective. “This parade is taking place during the same week marking the 45th anniversary of the occupation. How can you participate in the parade that your boyfriend from Ramallah can’t reach?” Is Israel too dark and difficult a place for pride celebrations? Maybe, maybe not. In any case, the parade estranges many, who experience discrimination on grounds other than sexual orientation, as well as those aware of the discrimination that others face, who feel forced to look for creative solutions.

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    1. Haneen Maikey

      alQaws is boycotting Israeli prides and have a solid critique about the relevancy of pride as the only “visibility” platform for LGBTQ groups and the Palestinian one too. This article hints alQaws event (that I assume the author was there?) was part of pride week and this is not true – this event has NOTHING to do with pride and its date and time was organized according to the speakers and not pride month. Non of the speakers even mentioned pride by anyway. If you come to an event, first of all understand its goal and don’t use it without telling the organizers too to invent “interesting” stories. It is interesting how Israeli media and LGBT groups are disrespectful to alQaws policy and keep trying to push us to be part of pride and the LGBT Israeli groups as in this article despite our clear msg.

      alQaws’ director

      Reply to Comment
    2. SF

      Hi, Neither Shams nor Rumi were an Arab poets. Please know your history and use an appropriate references.


      Reply to Comment
    3. Dear Ms. Maikey, I apologize for the misleading title, picked due to a misunderstanding between the editors and myself. It was changed.
      SF. They aren’t Arab, nor were they ever officially recognized as having been lovers, but to me they represent a tradition of Middle Eastern homoerotic literature.

      Reply to Comment
    4. SF

      Understood, then please correct It’s not “Arab literature” it’s “Middle Eastern homoerotic literature”

      It is a mistaken reference

      Thank you

      Reply to Comment
    5. The lecture was on Arab literature, while the image was picked by me as an illustration for the whole. I think one lesson of this story is that Gay culture is a broader issue in Middle Eastern society then whether guys do or don’t hang out bare chested in parades. I was hoping this image conveys something of that.

      Reply to Comment
    6. SF

      I understand your point but this isn’t “Arab Literature”…

      There is no homoerotic Arab literature from the middle ages.

      That is Persian and quite an important part of our cultural history. If you want to call it “Middle Eastern” and lump us all together, that works, but do give credit where it’s due.

      As a gay Iranian, I would like to see credit where it’s due or at least be correct in the reference…

      It would be like taking something Israeli and saying it’s Yemeni…

      Reply to Comment
    7. Aeyal Gross

      I think the contrarst between the “intellectual endeavor” And the “gay beach party” is rather constrained. Both Jewish-Israeli and Palestiniian queers do both partying (you mentioned Palestinian parties) and “intellectullizing” (eg the three day An Other Sex/ Sex Acher conference held in late May)…

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sam

      Yuval, the correct transliteration of Alaa’s last name is Hlehel or Hleihel, not Khalkhal.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Thank you Sam. I made the correction.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Sinjim

      Well, SF, you are quite wrong that there was no homoerotic Arabic language literature from the Middle Ages. The poet Abu Nuwas is perhaps the most prominent exemplar of the tradition from that era.
      Yuval, thanks for this article. It’s important to explore the intersectionality of oppression and human rights and dignity. Oh, and thanks for plugging Qadita and its Queer Texts Corner. It’s seriously one of the best Arabic language websites I’ve ever come across.

      Reply to Comment
    11. AP


      I salute you for a great piece. I am a big admirer of your writing.

      As a queer Palestinian citizen of Israel I feel understood, respected and heard in your reportage as well as commentary, from your ‘September Journey’, to the ‘December Journey’ , and ‘Round Trip’ (I especially liked your song: אני הומו שמאל וחופשי, Up to this piece.

      I look forward to more in the future

      Reply to Comment
    12. Kolumn9

      Gay Arabs in Israel openly hold an event. Yeah, certainly nothing in Israel is worth ccelebrating

      I read somewhere that the gay/straight dichotomy is a colonialist imposition on the Arab World. It is amazing how much of a blank canvass the Arab World was before colonialism. Like a blank slate.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ruth

      Yuval, you come across so obsequious when dealing withPalestinians as per your exchange with the first poster. Why? Do you think they care about your pro-Palestinians bonafides?

      Reply to Comment
    14. Ruth, you come across as so bitter and nasty in your comments on this site. Why? Do you think you’re going to change minds and / or endear yourself to the contributors? More to the point, do you think you are making any kind of intelligent or worthwhile contribution? Hint: No, you’re not.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Kolumn9

      Lisa, not to answer for Ruth, but you never know. Some might see the error of their ideas when presented with sufficient logic and proof that they are wrong. Others might be influenced by being pointed to how their own views of themselves by the other are divergent from how they are actually perceived by the same other. Yet others might be prodded by their persistently flawed predictions of the future to analyze whether their own underlying assumptions are valid.

      How is the glorious Egyptian revolution going for you? I am assuming that liberal democracy is just around the corner? Will its stallion be Mursi, Shafiq or the Muslim Brotherhood dominated parliament? Your prediction for the future carries a lot of weight with me.

      Reply to Comment
    16. You’re right, K9: You should let Ruth answer for herself.

      Reply to Comment
    17. ‘Al Qaws (The Rainbow)… was among the organizations that did not encourage its members to march in the parade. But Al Qaws did not ignore Pride Week – it provided an alternative.’

      Why did you leave that in the text after Haneen said that this was not the relation of the alQaws event to Pride Week?

      Though you may feel it’s commendable to give alQaws and Palestinian queers some press, you really should do so only after speaking with them, and using their terminology. This article is fraught with terminology that doesn’t recognize Palestinian experiences, and it strikes me as incredibly insensitive. Perhaps the article then serves as validation for your own perspectives.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Rafael Eitan

      To get their own back gay Israelis should not march in the next gay pride parades to be held in Gaza and Ramallah.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Felix

      I would be interested how many gay prides or open queerness can happen in areas controlled by Palestinian authorities? Talking about basic human rights and stuff…

      Reply to Comment