Israel: The Mythical Safe Space For Palestinian LGBTQ Community Members

Sunday 22 December 201910:35 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

ملتقى "هوامش" في يافا… إسرائيل وأسطورة حماية المثليين/ات جنسياً

According to the Arabic dictionary, a "myth" is a "story or tale that blends fictional imagination with popular tradition and reality and a baseless narrative". Accordingly, the mythical is something that is not realistic or is untrue. Myths attract interest making them a useful tool for education, guidance and persuasive lobbying.

The Israeli occupation spreads many fables and myths in order to maintain its domination of Palestinian society, in which the occupier is represented as a savior hero rescuing the Palestinian from their misery – including misery directly caused by occupation.

Amongst the myths that Israel heavily propagates nowadays, is the protection of the Palestinian LGBTQ community. According to Israel, the state provides protection for every homosexual and transsexual that needs help, especially Palestinians.

This myth is only one of the tools used by Israel in pink-washing campaigns, which purpose is to enhance the image of Israel and promote it as a tolerant state that protects homosexuals: a "paradise" for gay people in the Middle East. In addition to the myth of "protection", there is also a continuous effort to entrench the idea that the Palestinian Arab society in its totality does not accept homosexuals and abuses them, leaving Israel as the only refuge for that community.

The reality however differs: for there are Palestinian organizations supporting sexual heterogeneity, launching a variety of initiatives in the field and offering consultation and help to people of various sexual orientations, including "alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society" – an NGO supporting feminist and queer anti-colonial values and opposing discrimination of all kinds working to effect radical social change.

AlQaws works at the intersection of social, economic and political causes for Palestinian society, and aspires to work across Palestine's historical domain, in spite of Israel’s policies of dividing the nation and racist segregation.

Of alQaws's many projects, Hawamesh Forum ("margins" in Arabic) is a socio-intellectual meeting forum started in 2014, which places social and political causes relating to sexual and gender diversity at the forefront, taking it away from the marginal to the central, and its effect on society is discussed. Meetings are held in various Palestinian regions including Haifa, Ramallah, Nablus and Jaffa.

The presence of Palestinian homosexuals in Tel Aviv during the early Intifada days fed the discourse of Queer Asylum and the depiction of Tel Aviv as a safe bubble protecting those who "succeed" in reaching it. #PinkWashing Israel's sins.
The only homosexual supportive discourse from Israel's side is that repressed Palestinians in West Bank are waiting to be saved. This discourse erases and denies all Palestinian efforts and promotes incidents of social violence against LGBTQ Palestinians.

Israel Exploiting Sexual and Gender Diversity Issues

Recently, alQaws organized a meeting in the Palestinian city of Jaffa, titled "The myth of protection of homosexuals and the Israeli creation of asylum" to discuss the ways in which the Israeli legal framework reinforces the circle of violence against Palestinians of different sexual and gender orientations, and the social and psychological dimensions of creating asylum and the myth of protection that it creates in the Palestinian imagination.

The meeting also discussed an article published by alQaws in association with the website Metras titled "Tel Aviv protects homosexuals? On the escape to an Israeli myth." The article exhibits this myth of protection and addresses changes and events that have happened recently, which have reinforced the Israeli discourse around it.

The event invitation was inscribed: "Discussions around pink-washing and exploitation of issues of sexual and gender diversity for colonial gains; and the evolution of the outlook of Israeli institutions and strategies to reach Palestinians of different sexual and gender orientations, the discourse of pink-washing has evolved into a political, social and economic "industry" for the "Palestinian homosexual refugee", and the promotion of a myth claiming safe haven for Palestinians, nothing could be more different in reality."

The Political Mythical Dimension

The meeting began with Haneen Maikey, the director of alQaws, who spoke of the political dimension of the "myth" of protection and the context of the Queer movement's policy towards the issue: "Queer is a term used to encompass various sexual and gender orientations, as well as referring to activists who oppose authority and the prevailing social framework."

Maikey began with exhibiting the historical progression of events since the start of this myth; according to her, the myth began crystallizing following the first Palestinian Intifada and the Oslo Agreement. During this period, Palestinians from the West Bank moved to Tel Aviv-Jaffa, including homosexuals, for work or to explore new opportunities.

This led to questions surrounding this transition and the presence of Palestinians in Tel Aviv, turning the issue into a political-security one – not only from an Israeli perspective but also for Palestinian apparatuses. The presence of Palestinian homosexuals in Tel Aviv during this period fed the discourse of "queer asylum" and the depiction of Tel Aviv as a safe bubble that protects those who succeed in reaching it, especially homosexuals and transsexuals.

Maikey added: "The only homosexual supportive discourse from Israeli side is that there are repressed Palestinians in the West Bank waiting to be saved by Israel. This discourse erases and denies all Palestinian homosexual support available. In local and world media, these Israeli institutions seek to enhance their patronage and role as a 'saviour': first through denying the existence of any Palestinian movement of the sort; and secondly through promoting incidents of social violence against Palestinian homosexuals."

The Legal Mythical Dimension

In the second part of the meeting, Alaa Khater, a lawyer and activist in alQaws, exhibited the legal dimension of the "protection myth", starting by declaring that "Israeli law does not have a definition of who a refugee is, but relies on the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, according to the treaty and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees": A refugee is a person who is outside the country of their nationality or usual residence, because of a fear justified by being subject to repression because of race, religion, ethnicity, belonging to a certain social group, or having a political opinion – because of this fear the refugee cannot or does not want to stay under the protection of that country or return to it out of fear of persecution."

According to this definition, Khater continued: "a homosexual or transsexual who is pursued in their country because of their sexual orientation, can submit an asylum application according to the international treaty under the clause of belonging to a certain social group."

Generally speaking, and according to Khater's experience working as a lawyer for refugee cases, the "number of individuals who have received asylum in Israel since its establishment until today does not exceed 65 people, equating less than 1% of the number of asylum applications. Many of those seeking asylum come from Eritrea and Sudan in Africa, after myths surrounding the State of Israel reached them, in which it portrayed its policies as democratic and protective of the refugees that arrive there. The Israeli legal framework often cites the clauses of exclusion mentioned in the Convention for the Status of Refugees in its rejection of asylum applications, particularly the first and second exclusion clause."

As Khater points out, the first exclusion clause stipulates that an asylum application be denied if the asylum seeker receives any assistance from any United Nations organization or agency. This clause is exploited by the Israeli legal framework to reject asylum applications submitted by Palestinians, citing the pretext of the existence of organizations such as UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) which accordingly is cited to provide support to "all" Palestinians.

Khater notes however: "In reality, UNRWA has the capacity of offering support to only 20% of the people of the West Bank; additionally, according to international law and United Nations' guidance, if a person moves from a place where they received support from certain institutions to another where they don't, they are entitled to submit asylum applications."

As for the second exclusion clause, Khater continues, it stipulates that the asylum seeker has to prove that they do not have the ability to move within their state to a place further away from danger, in which they could be safe. The Israeli legal institution also exploits this clause in rejecting asylum applications submitted by Palestinians, on the pretext that they could move somewhere else, even though the Israeli occupation colonizes and controls all Palestinian fields of life, including freedom of movement.

Khater continued: "the colonizer produces refugees and destabilizes security inside Palestinian society, while on the other hand promising safety and the existence of solutions which at the same time it refuses to grant." Thus, according to Khater, it is clearly evident from a legal viewpoint that protecting homosexual refugees is a myth, and not reality.

Challenges To Colonialism

Before arriving at the final part of the meeting that encompassed an open discussion with the participants, social activist Raya Manaa had an intervention in which she referenced the difficulties and dilemmas that individuals, groups and institutions face in this context. Even in the cases where Palestinians seek help, the colonizer stands in their face and increases difficulties.

Thus, when a Palestinian from the West Bank personally resorts to a Palestinian inside 1948 Palestine (Israel) to ask for their help to escape from a threatening situation, the Palestinian inside Israel finds themselves in a pickle because according to Israeli law helping a person from the West Bank enter Israel without a permit can be punished by imprisonment.

The organizations and popular movements similarly face many restrictions and limitations because of Israeli law and political institutions that seek to narrow down the confines of their work and their ability to reach all parts of Palestinian society.

The discussion was then opened and many questions were posed surrounding the capabilities available to Palestinians, regardless of their geographical locations, in working to surpass the problems and obstacles they face as a society and as individuals. The plethora of contradictions and obstacles that Palestinians face daily in their various fields of life are clearly evident, and what has been mentioned here is but a small sliver.

Through this meeting and discussion forum, and contemplating the thoughts of the participants and hearing their interventions and comments, something became clearly evident: the pluralism and diversity amongst the participants, who are united by a hope of positive change and achieving better outcomes.

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