Guest Opinion: A call for solidarity with Palestinian queers
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On August 18, the Palestinian Authority Police Force issued a statement banning the activities of alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society and encouraging Palestinians to police, criminalize, and report on alQaws activities. Since its creation in 2001, alQaws has worked tirelessly to raise the consciousness of Palestinian society about LGBTQI+ people and groups throughout historic Palestine. In so doing, alQaws has deliberately and intentionally sought to decolonize Palestinian sexual history and expose colonial legacies that criminalized sexual activities through a Victorian code of morality that did not exist earlier in Arab and Muslim communities. AlQaws links sexual and gender justice with the anti-colonial struggle for justice in and for Palestine, refusing Israeli efforts to divide Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and 1948 Palestine. In 2010, they helped form Palestinian Queers for BDS, calling on queers worldwide to join the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.
AlQaws and Aswat Palestinian Feminist Center for Gender and Sexual Freedoms have committed to continue "to fight patriarchy, colonialism and homophobia across historical Palestine," rejecting the PA's ban as well as Israel's attempts to divide the Palestinian people into separate zones of occupied existence.
The Palestinian Authority is only the latest "government" to scapegoat queers for its own incompetence and corruption. Instead of fighting Israeli-creeping annexation and violation of Palestinian rights, the PA reinforces Israel's colonial and racist designs to present Palestinian society as exceptionally homophobic and misogynist. We in the U.S. are very familiar with and reject these divide and conquer tactics.
The Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organizations rose quickly to defend alQaws. With the same vigor with which they denounce Israeli war crimes, Palestinian civil society groups have called on the Palestinian Authority to respect the indivisibility of human rights, equality, and democracy. Progressive Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), whom Israel has barred from visiting Palestine, responded by declaring what we all know to be just and right, "LGBTQ rights are human rights" and looking to Palestinian queers for leadership in how to support them.
AlQaws posted the following statement on its Facebook page, asking the international community to support the group in five ways:
"1) Center Palestinian LGBTQ voices in your reporting: We are constantly talked about but our voices are rarely heard. When reporting on issues that pertain to LGBTQ Palestinians, just ask yourself: whose voice does this story center? If it doesn't center the voices of LGBTQ Palestinians, then your actions might lead to more harm even if your intentions are to help. Come talk to us and hear our perspective. Do not simply copy and paste translated Hebrew/Israeli media to tell our story. AlQaws activists and staff always provide our names when interviewed, so if you read an article/post with a claimed quote from us with no name attributed, you should know it is not from us.
"2) Realize that colonialism, patriarchy, and homophobia are all connected forms of oppression. Singling out incidents of homophobia in Palestinian society ignores the complexities of Israel's colonization and military occupation being a contributing factor to Palestinian LGBTQ oppression. We have been living under more than seven decades of Israel's military occupation. We see the Israeli occupation of our land and bodies as connected to and amplifying the diverse forms of oppression experienced in every society around the globe. AlQaws believes the way to truly counter homophobia in Palestine is by understanding and applying the broader political context in any solidarity activities. We ask that you situate Palestinian LGBTQ oppression within the larger context of Israeli occupation, colonialism, patriarchy and homophobia at large.
"3) Steer clear of pinkwashing. Perpetuating tiresome tropes of presenting Palestinians as inherently oppressive and Israel as a liberal state that protects LGBTQ rights is counterproductive and factually baseless. Israel is a settler-colonial state that offers no rights to Palestinians, queer or otherwise. Our struggle as queer Palestinians is against Israeli colonialism as much as it is against homophobia and patriarchy in Palestine. Israel uses pinkwashing tactics to lie about 'saving' LGBTQ Palestinians from their society. We ask that you steer away from these lies that are intentionally used to justify their colonization of Palestine ...
"4) Understand our commitment to our local community organizing. ... We are a small team of dedicated activists who believe change comes from working within our local context. We put enormous daily and strategic efforts in our local grassroots advocacy organizing in Palestine. ... Please be patient with us as we respond to your media inquiries.
"5) Support our work and vision. ... Some practical ways you can help amplify our vision for change is by educating yourself and your networks on the work that we do at alQaws. Follow us on social media, share our resources, talk to your friends and family about the importance of standing up against bigotry toward LGBTQ people, and make sure that your vision of liberation and freedom in Palestine includes us all."
All of us in the international queer and human rights communities who want freedom and justice for Palestinian queers must honor their clear and simple requests. To do anything else is to undermine their struggle.
Palestinian liberation is a queer issue. LGBTQ liberation is a Palestinian issue. Silence = death. Zionism = racism.
We who love justice will not be divided.
Professor Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi is the director of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University; Mary Salome is a media activist; Kate Raphael is with Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism; and Deeg Gold is with LAGAI — Queer Insurrection.