Out in the World: Suspect arrested in gay Palestinian's brutal killing

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday October 14, 2022
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Flowers and a picture of Ahmad Hacham Hamdi Abu Marakhia were at his October 6 funeral. Photo: Rita Petrenko via Facebook
Flowers and a picture of Ahmad Hacham Hamdi Abu Marakhia were at his October 6 funeral. Photo: Rita Petrenko via Facebook

Palestinian police arrested a suspect in the brutal killing of a gay Palestinian activist last week, as fear continues to grip LGBTQ Palestinians in Israel.

Police spokesman Colonel Loay Irzekat announced October 7 that authorities arrested Palestinian Abu Murkhiyeh, who is suspected of killing gay Palestinian Ahmad Hacham Hamdi Abu Marakhia, 25, reported the BBC.

Irzekat declined to state the motive or elaborate on the men's relationship, citing authorities' pending investigation.

Marakhia was decapitated and brutally beaten in his family's city, Hebron, a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank. Video captured his lifeless body being paraded through the city's streets. The Associated Press reported his decapitated head and body were left near his family's home late at night October 5. The video and photos of the incident went viral on social media late October 6.

"I was shocked because of the way they killed him, and the way they decided to post and share it online," Tomer Aldubi, 29, a gay Israeli Jewish activist and artist who has worked with LGBTQ Palestinians for many years and knew Marakhia, told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview October 13.

Aldubi explained that people know there are LGBTQ Palestinians and that many of them live deeply in the closet or are slain in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but it is not usually shown or talked about.

"This time is a bit different," he said, stating that Marakhia's killing was more like those committed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, better known as ISIS, or Afghanistan's Taliban, whose graphic images of killings of suspected LGBTQ people are circulated online. "It seems that everything was planned," Aldubi added.

"That's why everybody's talking ... in the Palestinian society, in the Israeli society," he said.

Palestinians expressed revulsion at the beheading, condemning Marakhia's killing.

A Karama radio host said on air that the crime had "crossed every single red line in our society, whether in terms of morals, customs, or basic humanity," reported the Times of Israel.

Marakhia's family denied the media reports that they had anything to do with his killing, calling "the motive as a rumor," reported the BBC. They told the media outlet that he returned to Hebron for visits and to work.

Some LGBTQ Israelis are critical of Palestinians' denouncements.

Aldubi said Palestinian activists, authorities, and Arabs living in Israel said they aren't sure if Marakhia was slain because he was gay.

"They do not necessarily condemn the fact that he was killed because he was gay," he said. His friends and the organizations that Marakhia worked with believe he was killed because he was gay.

The B.A.R. reached out to several Bay Area Palestinian and Jewish LGBTQ organizations for comment but did not receive a response.

Fleeing to safety

Like many other queer Palestinians, Marakhia fled the West Bank to Israel two years ago because his life was threatened after his family discovered that he was gay.

Marakhia obtained temporary permits that allowed him to legally live and work in Israel while he applied for refugee status at the United Nations Refugee Agency in Israel. He was next on the list to have an appointment with the agency, said Aldubi, who also volunteers at Al-Bait Al-Mokhtalef (The Different House), an organization that works with LGBTQ Palestinians.

The Different House provides a safe shelter for LGBTQ Palestinians and Arab-Israelis escaping from violence and discrimination.

"He was looking forward to leaving the country. He was next in line, Rita Petrenko, CEO of The Different House, told Israeli media outlet N12, stressing that emigration is the best option for LGBTQ Palestinians who are kicked out of their homes.

She lamented the snail-like pace of the resettlement process that is longer today than in previous years, even when organizations like The Different House cooperate with countries' governments, like the organization does with Canada. Policies sometimes cause delays in the process.

Aldubi documented LGBTQ Palestinian's plight for Fair Planet in 2020. His play, "Sharif," which dramatizes what queer Palestinians face in their homeland and when they cross over to Israel, opened last month in Haifa. The play is scheduled to travel throughout Israel, Aldubi said.

Aldubi and Petrenko said policies are the problem from Israel to the UNHRC, to LGBTQ-welcoming governments, like Canada. The red tape is thick, causing a backlog in cases. COVID-19 only compounded the issue.

"There was no reason for him to go back to the West Bank," Aldubi said about Marakhia. He met Marakhia when he was guiding a theater workshop for 15 LGBTQ Palestinians in Haifa several months ago. "His life was not good, but it was safer than in the West Bank."

Aldubi and those close to Marakhia suspect a family member kidnapped and killed him. "It also seems, it's quite certain that someone from his family, one [or more] of the relatives of his family killed him," he said.

Israeli news site Mako reported that hours before his death, Marakhia left the Gush Dan hostel in Tel Aviv, where he was staying, to go to work.

Hours later he was dead in Hebron, more than 40 miles away from Tel Aviv.

Aldubi said until 2014, LGBTQ Palestinians have crossed over into Israel fleeing mostly the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and lived undocumented in the country for decades. Eight years ago, Israel started to grant temporary visas to queer Palestinians, making it easier for them to stay legally in the country. The temporary permits need to be renewed regularly.

"Their life in Israel is very complicated. The only solution for them is to leave," said Aldubi.

Homosexuality has been legal in Palestine's West Bank since 1951, according to Equaldex. The case isn't the same in the Gaza Strip, where homosexuality is illegal. However, LGBTQ Palestinians have no legal protections in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, where same-sex relationships are taboo.

In 2019, the Palestinian Authority banned alQaws, a Palestinian LGBTQ rights organization headquartered in east Jerusalem, from hosting events in the West Bank.

Currently, about 100 queer Palestinians legally live in Israel, member of Knesset Ibtisam Mara'ana-Menuhin, an Israeli Arab member of the Labor Party, told the AP. Mara'ana-Menuhin said she has worked extensively over the past year to build LGBTQ Arab shelters and pass legislation that allowed them to get work permits. However, she and organizations that work with the population believe the number is likely far higher.

Building a safe haven

t was only in July that Israel started granting LGBTQ Palestinians temporary work permits, reported the AP. LGBTQ organizations, like The Aguda and The Different House, have provided services, from basic necessities to legal assistance, for queer Palestinians along with LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees from surrounding countries for years.

Petrenko called Marakhia "an industrious, intelligent man" and that "he was making extraordinary strides in his rehabilitation," she told N12.

Israel only started this year becoming more proactive than it has previously in supporting LGBTQ Palestinians. At the beginning of this year, Israel announced that it plans to open its first shelter for LGBTQI Arab youth in the northern Israeli port town of Haifa, reported the Jerusalem Post. Haifa is San Francisco's sister city.

Haifa was selected because it has a large Arab community. Haifa's The Communities' House for Pride and Tolerance — the city's LGBTQ center — has worked with the queer Arab community in the city since its founding, the center's leaders, CEO Arnon Allouche and program manager Adi Sadaka, told LGBTQ San Franciscans at an event in 2018, the B.A.R. previously reported.

The shelter initiative championed by Mara'ana-Menuhin is overseen by Israel's Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry. The ministry told the Post it estimated the shelter would open in six months. The B.A.R. was unable to confirm the shelter's opening.

The ministry announced it would open two more centers for LGBTQ Arab adults in Haifa. The B.A.R. did not receive a response to its request for comments from The Communities' House for Pride and Tolerance by press time.

In June, Israel launched its largest-ever LGBTQ Arab campaign throughout the country by Beit el-Meem, an organization created to specifically focus on helping LGBTQ Arabs. Beit el-Meem is funded by the New Israel Fund, the Post reported.

The Post reported the campaign is one piece of a larger project working toward solutions to help LGBTQ Arabs in Israel, such as operating a hotline and providing free counseling to legal assistance.

Still unsafe

Even with Israel's new efforts to protect LGBTQ Palestinians while getting them to a safer place to live, they are not safe in Israel.

Hila Peer from Aguda told the AP that queer Palestinians are "hunted." They don't come out of the closet, "they're found," Peer said.

"Ahmad's case is just another example of how bad the situation is and how seriously dangerous it is," she added.

Petrenko agreed, telling N12, "Israel is not a safe place for them, even without taking socio-economic factors into account."

Friends and organizations are trying to independently find out what happened to Marakhia while consoling the frightened small LGBTQ Palestinian community.

They are "shocked and very afraid," said Aldubi, especially Marakhia's close friend who lived with him at the shelter. Aldubi did not disclose Marakhia's friend's name for safety reasons.

"He is very afraid because they understand that all the Palestinians that are in Israel, they fled from the West Bank," he said. "All of them, they are in great danger."

They are simply waiting to be resettled in an LGBTQ-welcoming country, Aldubi said.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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