Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Palestinian society

Whitewash rainbow flag from West Bank barrier: Palestinian protesters

Palestinian protesters have whitewashed a rainbow flag painted on six slabs of the West Bank separation barrier.

Khaled Jarrar, the Palestinian painter of the piece, said his art was meant as a reminder of Israeli occupation, at a time when gay rights are in the news after the US allowed same-sex marriage.

But protesters perceived the painting as support for homosexuality, a taboo subject in Palestinian society where gay people are not tolerated. (That should be the least of their worries and indignities)

It ignited angry responses and activists whitewashed the flag on Monday night, just a few hours after it was painted on the best-known section of Israel’s graffiti-covered barrier, next to a portrait of Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian figures.

Jarrar, 39, who has exhibited his work in Europe and the US, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the destruction “reflects the absence of tolerance and freedoms in the Palestinian society”.

“People don’t accept different thinking in our society,” he said, adding he painted the rainbow flag on the barrier to put a spotlight on Palestinian issues.

Israel, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East where gay people are often persecuted and even killed. Earlier this month, more than 100,000 people attended a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv.

Officially there is still no same-sex marriage in Israel, primarily because there is no civil marriage of any kind – all Jewish weddings must be conducted through the rabbinate, which considers homosexuality a sin and a violation of Jewish law. But the state recognises same-sex couples who marry abroad. (Same for Lebanon of a civil marriage)

Same-sex relations are punishable by death in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Palestinians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) face a unique, complex, and often dire set of struggles on multiple fronts.

Palestinian society is in many ways deeply conservative and traditional, so those who identify as LGBTQ often face harsh reactions from their families and communities, ranging from social ostracism to physical violence.

At the same time, LGBTQ Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories regularly face discrimination, denials of civil and human rights, and other forms of violence and inequality as a result of their Palestinian identity.

LGBTQ Palestinians are often urged to choose between being Palestinian and being queer, but these problems are not separable: as LGBTQ Palestinians, our sexual/gender identities and our national/cultural identities are inextricably linked – both in how we understand and identify ourselves and in the struggles we face as individuals and as a community.

Troubled by the absence of an organisation that caters to the specific needs of our community, we – a group of LGBTQ Palestinians who live in Israel and the occupied territories – founded al-Qaws (Arabic for “rainbow”), which became the first legally recognised, autonomous Palestinian LGBTQ organisation in November last year.

Motivated by a vision of a non-hierarchical society that recognises – and values – the diversity of sexual and gender identities, al-Qaws aspires to play a pioneering role in helping to build a just Palestinian society based on tolerance, equality, and openness. We believe that such a society will serve as a source of freedom and creativity and will enrich the lives, not only of LGBTQ Palestinians, but Palestinians in general.

Founded as an autonomous project within the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH) in 2001, al-Qaws obtained non-profit status and became an independent legal entity at the culmination of an intense process of organisational and group work among our leadership group that began in September 2006.

Our desire to form an independent organisation was based on our conviction that this was the only way we could adequately address our specific and growing needs as Palestinian LGBTQs and provide a forum for internal dialogue about our multiple identities and our relationship with Palestinian society at large.

The particular social context in which we live and work provided the original catalyst for al-Qaws, but it also shapes our overall mission and our daily work. In contrast to many western societies, where queer communities and movements have matured over the past several decades, the queer Palestinian community is still nascent, at best.

Besides that, the dominant western constructs of queer identity do not have the same relevance for many Palestinians, who are left without a culturally meaningful set of narratives around which to organise a movement and understand their identities and desires. The result is that most LGBTQ Palestinians face two equally unsatisfactory options. One is to conform with local cultural norms and live outwardly “heterosexual” lives. The other is to risk persecution by adopting an identity that many Palestinians associate with the west. Al-Qaws is therefore determined, not simply to mimic an existing model of queer identity/community, but to provide a social space for LGBTQ Palestinians to independently engage in a dialogue about our own visions and ideals for a community.

More broadly, we aim to promote transformation and change in Palestinian society by, on one hand, challenging social attitudes and religious taboos about sexuality and gender and, on the other hand, advancing the social engagement and contributions of LGBTQ Palestinians through empowerment, education, and the development of leadership skills.

At the same time, however, we emphasise that LGBTQ Palestinians face pressures, not just from Palestinian society, but from the wider context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. LGBTQ Palestinians’ struggles are a complex result of problems internal to Palestinian society and the harsh realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Al-Qaws aims to serve the needs of LGBTQ Palestinians with an eye to both sides of this equation, and although we are hopeful and determined, we are also recognise the limits the political situation places on our ability to bring change.

For example, while Palestinians in Israel, Jerusalem, and the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza constitute one community, our different legal statuses and the different realities of each of these locations – including, for example, restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza – severely constrain our ability to meet as a community.

Despite these obstacles, al-Qaws is actively engaged in promoting the development and growth of the Palestinian LGBTQ community in Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. Because this process is inherently linked with the wider struggle to build an equal, diverse, tolerant and open society, al-Qaws is an enthusiastic partner with those who share our vision of a vibrant Palestinian civil society that honours the human and civil rights of all individuals, including those who do not conform to cultural or religious norms of gender and sexuality.

Al-Qaws is currently engaged, for example, in the preparatory stages of a joint research project with local human rights organisations in the West Bank.

This innovative project will examine, for the first time ever, attitudes of social justice activists, human rights activists, and LGBTQs in the West Bank toward the taboo topic of sexual diversity/orientation.

This research will draw attention to the problem of LGBTQ civil and human rights in Palestinian society, inform the scope of our future awareness-raising programmes and educational outreach, and ultimately, we hope, initiate public debates among human rights, women’s, and social justice organisations on frequently ignored issues of gender and sexual identity

Another upcoming research project of al-Qaws will investigate alternatives to the western model of homosexuality/sexual diversity, informed by our own cultures, values, and histories.

The western model, in which “visibility” and “coming out of the closet” are central motifs, is not practical or meaningful for many LGBTQ Palestinians. In order to deal effectively with the actual experiences and needs of LGBTQ Palestinians, a new and more relevant model that responds to our unique historical and cultural context is urgently needed.

In addition to these long-term research projects, al-Qaws is engaged in regular projects that have immediate impacts on the lives of LGBTQ Palestinians in Jerusalem, Yaffa-Tel Aviv, the northern region of Israel, and the West Bank (as often as possible given the political limitations).

For example, we have organised workshops to develop activist and leadership skills among LGBTQ Palestinians, as well as meetings to discuss issues of sexuality and gender more generally.

Additionally, because one of our goals is to provide a safe space for members of the community, we regularly organise social events where LGBTQ Palestinians can feel free to meet and socialise.

And al-Qaws’s LGBTQ Arabic website, one of few such websites, has been a particularly valuable tool, both for networking and educational purposes. More than 1,000 people from Israel-Palestine and beyond have participated in Arabic discussion forums on issues of gender and sexuality since we developed the site.

These are only a few of the many projects in which al-Qaws is engaged, and we are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to respond to the diverse needs of LGBTQ Palestinians. To be sure, ours is not an easy job.

We are fully aware of the complexities of this moment and the challenges that lie ahead. But our move towards independence is an exciting change, and we believe that it will open new opportunities for LGBTQ Palestinians – and also, if less directly, for all Israelis and Palestinians – to imagine, and create, a future based on equality and respect for our differences, rather than the petty prejudices and injustices that characterise so many of our lives

Andrew Bossone  and  Carol Mansour shared and commented on this link.

Not impressed with the shaping of this narrative. Very simplistic. And what the hell does the “Israel, meanwhile…” have to do with this piece?

Israel, meanwhile has giant gay parades, so it is the epitome of tolerance….right.

Never mind the occupation, look at our rainbow feather boas….

Obnoxious. And this is why the move was silly for those who painted over it.

I knew it was inevitable such a fluff piece would come out. Tanya Habjouqa

Khaled Jarrar, a Palestinian artist, said he had meant to call attention to Israeli occupation at a time when gay rights are in news, but flag was labelled ‘shameful’
theguardian.com

Questions Palestinian Queers are tired of hearing: 8 of them

You might think that the main goal of a group of queer activists in Palestine like us in Al-Qaws (The Bow) should be the seemingly endless task of dismantling sexual and gender hierarchy in one’s own society.

It is. But you might think otherwise, judging from the repetitive questions we get during our lectures and events, or from inquiries we receive from media and other international organizations.

Ghaith Hilal posted in The Electronic Intifada this November 27,  2013

131127-ramallah-graffiti.jpg

Graffiti in Ramallah reads “Queers passed through here.” (Image courtesy of Al-Qaws)

We intend to end this once and for all. Educating people about their own privilege is not our burden.

But before we announce our formal retirement from this task, here are the eight most frequent questions we get, and their definitive answers.

1. Doesn’t Israel provide Palestinian queers with a safe haven?

Of course it does: the apartheid wall has sparkly pink doors lining it, ready to admit those who strike a fabulous pose. In fact, Israel built the wall to keep Palestinian homophobes out and to protect Palestinian queers who seek refuge in it.

But seriously: “Israel creates refugees; it does not shelter refugees. There has never been a case of a Palestinian — a descendant of a family or families who were forcibly displaced, sometimes massacred, often thrown in jail without charge — magically transcending the living legacy of this history to find him or herself granted asylum in “Israel” — the state that committed these atrocities.

If some people manage to cross the wall and end up in Tel Aviv, they are considered “illegal.” They end up working and living in horrible conditions, trying to avoid being arrested.

2. Aren’t all Palestinians homophobic?

Are all Americans homophobic? Of course not. Unfortunately, Western representations of Palestinians, particularly lesbian, gay, transgender or queer Palestinians, tend to ignore diversity in Palestinian society.

That being said, Palestinians are living under decades-long military occupation. The occupation amplifies the diverse forms of oppression that are experienced in every society.

However, homophobia is not the way we contextualize our struggle. This is a notion comes from specific type of activism in the global north.

How can we single out homophobia from a complex oppressive system (patriarchy) that oppresses women, and gender non-conforming people?

3. How do you deal with your main enemy, Islam?

Oh, we have a main enemy now? If we had to single out a main enemy that would be occupation, not religion — Islam or otherwise.

More fundamentalist forms of religion are presently enjoying a global resurgence, including in many Western societies.

We don’t view religion as our main exceptional challenge. Still, increased religious sentiment, regardless of which religion, almost always creates obstacles for those interested in promoting respect for gender and sexual diversity.

Palestinian nationalism has a long history of respect for secularism. This provides a set of cultural values useful in advocating for LGBTQ Palestinians.

Furthermore, religion is often an important part of Palestinian LGBTQ people’s identities. We respect all of our communities’ identities and make space for diversity.

4. Are there any out Palestinians?

I’m glad you asked that question. We have great Palestinian gay carpenters who build such amazing closets for queers with all the Western comforts you can dream of — we never want to leave.

Once again the notion of coming out — or the politics of visibility — is a strategy that has been adopted by some LGBT activists in the global north, due to specific circumstances. Imposing this strategy on the rest of the world, without understanding context, is a colonial project.

Ask us instead what social change strategies apply to our context, and whether the notion of coming out even makes sense.

5. Why are there no Israelis in al-Qaws?

Colonialism is not about bad people being mean to others (“bad” Israelis don’t steal queer Palestinians’ lunch money). Being super “good” doesn’t magically dissolve systems of oppression.

Our organization works within Palestinian society, across borders imposed by the occupation. The challenges that LGBTQ Israelis face are nothing like the ones faced by Palestinians.

We are talking about two different societies with different cultures and histories; the fact that they are currently occupying our land doesn’t make us one society.

Being queer does not eliminate the power dynamic between the colonized and colonizer despite the best of intentions.

We resist the “global, pink, happy, gay family” sentiment. Palestinian-only organizing is essential to decolonizing and improving Palestinian society.

6. I saw this film about gay Palestinians (Invisible Men/Bubble/Out In The Dark, etc.) and I feel I learned a lot about your struggle

You mean the films that were made by privileged Israeli or Jewish filmmakers portraying white Israelis as saviors and Palestinians as victims that needed saving?

These films strip the voice and agency of Palestinian queers, portraying them as victims that need saving from their own society.

These films rely on racist tropes of Arab men as volatile and dangerous.

These films are simply pinkwashing propaganda, funded by the Israeli government, with a poignant oppressed/oppressor love story the glitter on top.

If you want to learn about the reality of our community and our struggle, try listening to what queer Palestinians have to say, at the Al-Qaws or Palestinian Queers for BDS websites.

7. Isn’t fighting for gay rights a more pressing issue than pinkwashing?

Mainstream LGBT groups in the North would have us believe that queers live in a separate world, only connected to their societies as victims of homophobia.

But you cannot have queer liberation while apartheid, patriarchy, capitalism and other oppression exist. It’s important to target the connections of these oppressive forces.

Furthermore, pinkwashing is a strategy used by the Brand Israel campaign to garner the support of queers in other parts of the world. It is simply an attempt to make the Zionist project more appealing to queer people.

This is another iteration of a familiar and toxic colonial fantasy — that the colonizer can provide something important and necessary that the colonized cannot possibly provide for themselves.

Pinkwashing strips away our voices, history and agency, telling the world that Israel knows what is best for us.

By targeting pinkwashing we are reclaiming our agency, history, voices and bodies, telling the world what we want and how to support us.

8. Why do you use terms from “the West” like LGBT or queer to describe your struggle? How do you answer that critique?

Though we have occasionally been branded as tokenized, complicit with Israel, naïve and Westernized (by those based in the West), our activists bring decades of experience and on-the-ground analysis of cultural imperialism and Orientalism.

This has provided the raw material for many an itinerant academic. However, the work of those in the Ivory Tower is rarely, if ever, accountable to those working in the field nor does it acknowledge its power (derived from the same colonial economy) on activists.

We are accountable to our local communities and the values developed over years of organizing.

Language is a strategy, but it does not eclipse the totality of who we are and what we do.

The words that have gained global currency — LGBTQ — are used with great caution in our grassroots movements. Simply because such words emerged from a particular context and political moment does not mean they carry that same political content when deployed in our context.

The language that we use is always revisited and expanded through our work.

Language catalyzes discussions and pushes us to think more critically, but no word whether in English or Arabic can do the work. Only a movement can.

Ghaith Hilal is a queer Palestinian activist from the West Bank who has been part of Al-Qaws leadership since 2007.


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