Show them/hide them – gays in Israel and Palestine

March 5, 2012
Sarah Benton

This posting has 5 items:
1) ‘pinkwashing’ by Sarah Schulman ;
2) question the rhetoric
3) Arab spring and gays
4) Aswat sets out their case
5) Gay Palestinians

Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’

By Sarah Schulman, NY Times, Op-Ed

“IN dreams begin responsibilities,” wrote Yeats in 1914. These words resonate with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have witnessed dramatic shifts in our relationship to power. After generations of sacrifice and organization, gay people in parts of the world have won protection from discrimination and relationship recognition. But these changes have given rise to a nefarious phenomenon: the co-opting of white gay people by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political forces in Western Europe and Israel.

In the Netherlands, some Dutch gay people have been drawn to the messages of Geert Wilders, who inherited many followers of the assassinated anti-immigration gay leader Pim Fortuyn, and whose Party for Freedom is now the country’s third largest political party. In Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, the extremist who massacred 77 people in July, cited Bruce Bawer, a gay American writer critical of Muslim immigration, as an influence. The Guardian reported last year that the racist English Defense League had 115 members in its gay wing. The German Lesbian and Gay Federation has issued statements citing Muslim immigrants as enemies of gay people.

These depictions of immigrants — usually Muslims of Arab, South Asian, Turkish or African origin — as “homophobic fanatics” opportunistically ignore the existence of Muslim gays and their allies within their communities. They also render invisible the role that fundamentalist Christians, the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jews play in perpetuating fear and even hatred of gays. And that cynical message has now spread from its roots in European xenophobia to become a potent tool in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 2005, with help from American marketing executives, the Israeli government began a marketing campaign, “Brand Israel,” aimed at men ages 18 to 34. The campaign, as reported by The Jewish Daily Forward, sought to depict Israel as “relevant and modern.” The government later expanded the marketing plan by harnessing the gay community to reposition its global image.

Last year, the Israeli news site Ynet reported that the Tel Aviv tourism board had begun a campaign of around $90 million to brand the city as “an international gay vacation destination.” The promotion, which received support from the Tourism Ministry and Israel’s overseas consulates, includes depictions of young same-sex couples and financing for pro-Israeli movie screenings at lesbian and gay film festivals in the United States. (The government isn’t alone; an Israeli pornography producer even shot a film, “Men of Israel,” on the site of a former Palestinian village.)

This message is being articulated at the highest levels. In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Congress that the Middle East was “a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted.”

The growing global gay movement against the Israeli occupation has named these tactics “pinkwashing”: a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life. Aeyal Gross, a professor of law at Tel Aviv University, argues that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.”

Pinkwashing not only manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community, but it also ignores the existence of Palestinian gay-rights organizations. Homosexuality has been decriminalized in the West Bank since the 1950s, when anti-sodomy laws imposed under British colonial influence were removed from the Jordanian penal code, which Palestinians follow. More important is the emerging Palestinian gay movement with three major organizations: Aswat, Al Qaws and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. These groups are clear that the oppression of Palestinians crosses the boundary of sexuality; as Haneen Maikay, the director of Al Qaws, has said, “When you go through a checkpoint it does not matter what the sexuality of the soldier is.”

What makes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies so susceptible to pinkwashing — and its corollary, the tendency among some white gay people to privilege their racial and religious identity, a phenomenon the theorist Jasbir K. Puar has called “homonationalism” — is the emotional legacy of homophobia. Most gay people have experienced oppression in profound ways — in the family; in distorted representations in popular culture; in systematic legal inequality that has only just begun to relent. Increasing gay rights have caused some people of good will to mistakenly judge how advanced a country is by how it responds to homosexuality.

In Israel, gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration. The long-sought realization of some rights for some gays should not blind us to the struggles against racism in Europe and the United States, or to the Palestinians’ insistence on a land to call home.

Sarah Schulman is a professor of humanities at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.

Is Israel Using Gay Rights as an Anti-Palestinian Marketing Tool?

By Daniel Villarreal,

Is it possible that the Israeli government is bolstering their country’s pro-gay image purely to attract LGBT tourists and paint their Palestinian neighbors as evil? Sarah Schulman, humanities professor at the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island thinks so… and her point may change the way you look at LGBT politics and advertising.

In her New York Times opinion piece “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’,” Schulman writes:

In 2005, with help from American marketing executives, the Israeli government began a marketing campaign, “Brand Israel,” aimed at men ages 18 to 34… to depict Israel as “relevant and modern.” The government later expanded the marketing plan by harnessing the gay community to reposition its global image.

… the Tel Aviv tourism board had begun a campaign of around $90 million to brand the city as “an international gay vacation destination.” The promotion, which received support from the Tourism Ministry and Israel’s overseas consulates, includes depictions of young same-sex couples and financing for pro-Israeli movie screenings at lesbian and gay film festivals in the United States…

The growing global gay movement against the Israeli occupation has named these tactics “pinkwashing”: a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life. Aeyal Gross, a professor of law at Tel Aviv University, argues that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.”

Pinkwashing not only manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community, but it also ignores the existence of Palestinian gay-rights organizations.

That would certainly explain why Islamophobe Michael Lucas was allowed to film his pro-Semitic porn epic Men of Israel within Israel’s borders and why an employee of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office circulated a patently false video accusing anti-gay Palestinian protestors of working as covert terrorist operatives.

But it also makes you think twice about how some politicians make “It Gets Better” videos just to rake their opponents over the coals for not making one and about businesses that tout pro-LGBT policies and marketing partnerships while working donating to anti-gay politicians.

Although we need all the allies we can get, it pays to at least question what people stand to gain when they decide to publicly espouse pro-LGBT rhetoric.

Comments [there is an interesting discussion – sometimes intemperate – in the Comments section on the dilemmas for gay people who support Palestinian rights]

Slow thaw for gays in Arab world

There is more awareness now that gay Arabs do exist and that the challenges posed by sexual nonconformity won’t go away.

By Brian Whitaker, Ha’aretz

Although gay Arabs have been generally supportive of the Arab Spring, the Arab Spring has not been very supportive of gay Arabs. But because the activists among them see themselves as part of a broader struggle, they face the question of how much they should set aside their gay activism while fighting for bigger and more immediate goals.

This question came up last November when a Facebook group wanted to declare January 1 as Egypt’s National Gay Day. A blogger in Cairo called Nilesby wrote: “Is shocking people this way going to support our cause, or harm it? Is the time ever ‘right’? … I do think there are times that are more appropriate than others. There are also ways more appropriate than others. How to measure this ‘appropriateness’? I have no idea.”

Another blogger dismissed the argument that the time isn’t right, and wrote: “Over and over we have waited, and put the ‘greater’ cause ahead, only to find ourselves pushed back once things are settled … We have learned that yes, the time is not right, simply because the time for us to speak out was yesterday …. Our demands are only ours because the ‘greater’ cause only rarely embraces them …”

But, taking a longer view of the prospects for gay rights, I think the Arab Spring is opening up new possibilities. There are basically two strands to achieving LGBT rights (and sexual and gender rights as well ). One is institutional acceptance, which involves changing laws, and the other is social acceptance, which involves changing attitudes. They don’t always happen simultaneously.

What we are seeing with the Arab Spring is the beginning of generalized institutional change, starting with the removal of authoritarian regimes. But that is also being driven by social pressures – frustrations over a lack of personal and political freedom, a lack of economic opportunities, a lack of opportunities for self-fulfillment, and so on. These social pressures began long before the events in Tunisia and they’ll continue long after the dictators are gone.

Looking elsewhere in the world, institutional acceptance of LGBT rights has often been the result of political upheaval. For example, in South Africa when apartheid ended, or in Latin America when the age of the military juntas came to an end.

I can’t visualize anything similar happening with LGBT rights in the Arab countries at present; they are more likely to follow the more gradual route we saw in Britain, among other places.

What happened in Britain was partly a change in ideas about the function of governments – a realization that policing what consenting adults did in private was not a legitimate concern of the state. This was combined with a recognition that in order for a crime to take place there has to be a victim, and that laws against homosexuality were generally unenforceable.

On the institutional front, these are the sort of arguments that have some prospect of being accepted in at least some of the Arab countries eventually. In Lebanon, for example, there has been persistent talk of overhauling the penal code to remove those sections that are no longer seen as part of government’s legitimate business – including the one that criminalizes “all unnatural intercourse.”

On the social front, I don’t see much scope at this stage for a confrontational, in-your-face style of campaigning – mainly because the number of people willing to stick their heads above the parapet is too small.

In Lebanon, though, the local LGBT organization, called Helem, has been functioning openly for about 10 years now and has played quite a smart game. This has been based on raising the visibility of gay people in a fairly low-key way and presenting them as part of the country’s social and political fabric. The first public appearance of a rainbow flag in Lebanon, for example, was during a demonstration in 2003 against the Iraq war.

The Lebanese activists have also worked hard at cultivating allies among other sections of civil society, constantly making the point that LGBT rights are an integral part of human rights.

In 2006, when Lebanon was bombed by Israel, Helem’s office became the center of a relief operation for people who fled their homes – and this certainly helped to change perceptions of them among the Shia community, and even in Hezbollah.

When I first started writing about gay issues in the Middle East 10 years ago, it was still very much a taboo subject. I think there is more awareness now, at least among the more progressive elements, that gay Arabs do exist – despite the lack of public role models – and that the challenges posed by sexual nonconformity won’t go away.

These challenges go to the heart of the Arab Spring. They raise questions about the relationship between the state and the individual, and above all about the continuance of patriarchal rule. In a system where masculinity is highly valued and gender roles are rigidly defined, any deviation from the sexual “norms” and expected gender roles is not only subversive, but is regarded as extremely threatening.

Brian Whitaker is an editor at the Guardian, and author of “Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East” (Saqi Books / University of California Press ). This opinion piece is based on a talk he gave last month at a conference on the Arab Spring at SOAS, London.

[The unnamed blogger quoted above is the Egyptian Leil-Zahra Mortada]

Aswat – Palestinian gay women


Aswat Group consists of Palestinian gay women. All our programs generate from needs articulated by Palestinian gay women. The tasks of planning, implementing and evaluating are all performed by the same women who form Aswat’s target group; thus, they provide first hand information and experience about their needs.

Aswat Group consists of 20 women so far, they come from different cities and villages, from the Occupied Territories, Jerusalem, the North and even from Gaza. The members meet once a month to discuss issues that are related to the Group’s development, activities and programs. During these meetings, we present and discuss the schedule of the day. This usually includes activities and workshops that are prepared by one or more members of the Group with the aim of responding to our own needs. There are also 10 members who share their ideas and suggestions via e-mail only, whether because they are not able to attend the meetings as a result of the political situation, or because they do not feel ready and/or comfortable to join the others in the meetings. The website provides a platform for all the women in the Group to share their experiences, dreams, fears, questions and opinions related to the work the Group is doing. The decisions regarding the Group are taken by consensus. As mentioned before, the Group carries out many activities through which we aim to satisfy the needs and the wishes of both the Group and every individual.

In addition to the monthly meetings and the website, we also have Support Group Meetings. These meetings are intended to provide support and empowerment to the Group in general and to the members specifically, and to discuss the Group organisational structure and its development.

Our Organisational Committee consists of five of our members, and has the same mandate as other NGOs’ boards of directors. Most of the Committee members are veteran activists in Women/Human Rights organizations, either as board members, volunteers or employees, which forms a think tank experienced in social-change programming. Any change in the goals and vision of the Group is carried out by the Committee. The Organisational Committee also works as a Steering Committee. It is responsible for the evaluation of Aswat’s activities and programs and has the overall objective of developing the program, supervising the coordinator in charge, setting measurable objectives and timetable for each project and evaluating its progress. The organisational decisions are made by this Committee.

Most of Aswat members are “closeted” to some extent. Consequently, only one or two members can go public and identify themselves as Aswat members in our activities involving a certain amount of exposure i.e., advocacy & outreach, education etc. The ‘closet’ is an outcome of a homophobic and patriarchal society which has an undeniable impact on Aswat activities. Yet, group members develop different strategies in order to participate in various activities. For example, some members use nicknames when presenting themselves or reaching out to other community members, while others choose to promote activities which allow a reasonable degree of anonymity such as translations, Committee meetings, virtual support to others, information gathering, fundraising tasks etc. Thus, due to personal safety considerations, Aswat members have requested their names not to be disclosed

All of Aswat members work voluntarily for the Group development and advancement except for two of our members, the Group Coordinator and the Information and Publication Coordinator. Beside their voluntarily work for the group, they are paid for their specific jobs for the Group as part of our mission to support and empower women.

Information and Publications

The need for the Information Project lies in the fact that the issue of sexuality and, of course, of sexual orientation is tabooed; it is not dealt with, recognized or even discussed openly. The fact that this sensitive issue is intentionally oppressed and ignored has left a huge gap in our language, emphasized in our group meetings as we tried to address each other or other people in a non-prejudice or offensive manner. Searching the Arabic language for adequate terminology to address the LGBTQI[1] issues led us to a vacuum.

As most of the information, including literary and theoretical material on lesbianism – such as coming out stories, lesbian and queer theory – is not translated into and published in Arabic, the extensive lesbian/queer writing of the past four decades has skipped those who cannot read western languages. Palestinian gay women have thus been prevented form acquiring political-ideological awareness and self-affirmation gained by relating to such a cultural legacy and vital discourse.

Furthermore, it is our experience that most Palestinian gay women are not aware of the information that does exist in Arabic or have difficulties to access it or the know-how to search for it. Given factors such as closet and shared residence with other family members (most commonly parents and brothers/sisters) options such as ordering books from or using the local library are not available.

In addition, the closet prevents most Palestinian gay women from participating in groups meetings and political activities. For most of the 70 members of the Palgay Forum, the web is the only way to relate to their peers and gain information. Especially for Palgaywomen from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who need to deal with curfews, closure, siege, checkpoints and other restrictions on their freedom of travel, on a daily bases. Moreover, the virtual space enables direct communication with Arab lesbians all over the world without considerations of physical, geographical and political wars.

Aims of the Project

To create a safe and anonymous space for acquiring information and knowledge without the need to disclose identities.

To combat distortion of information, censorship and ignorance created by social taboos regarding women’s sexuality and lesbianism by disseminating alternative, resisting knowledge.

To reach-out to other Palestinian gay women struggling with closet, shame, undisclosed feelings and identities and become a main source of information and empowerment by using our direct authentic voice and our own words.

To advocate our values and vision to interested groups and individuals such as educators, service providers, community leaders and NGOs within the Palestinian and Jewish communities and increase public debate regarding gender, sexuality and minority perspectives towards LGBTQI struggle for equal rights.

To produce high standard complementary materials in the service of Aswat’s projects (such as education and advocacy projects) and a reference for further information and knowledge.

To increase accessibility of information by gathering, translating, editing and posting on-line materials and links on our web-site and at the same time, creating hard copies for those who do not have access to the web.

To increase the presence of women’s sexuality and lesbianism in the Arabic language and culture by forming an alternative glossary and indeed, a ‘mother tongue’ with positive, un-derogatory and affirmative expressions of women and lesbian sexuality and gender.

To contribute our unique gender and national experiential knowledge to the growing feminist/gay multicultural discourse by encouraging Palestinian gay women to author their “her-stories” and share their experiences, knowledge and perspectives.

Main Achievements

Launched Aswat Website
In April 2006, Aswat formally launched its website. The event gathered activists and supporters from several human rights and gay organizations and hosted representatives from foundations and friends of Aswat. The website serves to publish Aswat’s activities, programs and initiatives; it provides a safe space for gay women to contact Aswat, to learn more about the issue of gender and sexuality; it also has many links to gay women’s writings and other gay organizations.

Published a Glossary of LGBTQI Terms in Arabic
The Glossary, first of its kind, allows Arab women to relate to their sexuality in non-derogatory terms, with emphasis on an alternative, resisting ‘mother-tongue’. The terms are being introduced and used regularly in Aswat’s education and awareness raising workshops, as well as by many workshop coordinators and in gay women’s writings.

Published six Information Papers (Newsletters)

[see website]

Published a Booklet in Arabic: “Home and Exile in Queer Experience: collection of articles about lesbians and homosexual identity”

The book, launched at Aswat’s Conference in March 2007, is a collection of articles, the first of its kind in Arabic, presenting the issue of lesbianism from a feminist point of view.

It was produced in order to raise awareness within the Arab society on freedom of choice concerning sexual preference and on the very existence of lesbians in the Palestinian Arab society.

The articles in the book were written by lesbian women; the first two – written by Aswat activists – discuss the discourse on lesbianism in the Arab society. The other articles – written by activists and lesbians from the Arab and the Western world – present the authors’ perceptions and personal experiences in their own societies, which are somehow similar to the experiences of Palestinian lesbians in Israel.

Unspeakable love

Brian Whitaker on homosexuality in the Middle East and the gay Palestinians who have taken refuge in Israel

Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2006, Number 202

Open homosexuality is a social and religious taboo almost everywhere in the Middle East. In Iran and most Arab countries, same-sex acts are illegal and punishable by imprisonment, flogging or sometimes death. Even in countries where homosexuality is not specifically outlawed, such as Egypt, generalized laws against ‘immorality’ are used to target gay men.

The notable exception is Israel, where same-sex relations between men became legal in 1988. Four years after de-criminalizing homosexuality, Israel went a step further and is now the only country in the Middle East that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The law has certainly made its impact felt, requiring the military to treat gay and lesbian members of the armed forces equally and, in one celebrated case, forcing El Al to provide a free ticket for the partner of a gay flight attendant, as for the partners of heterosexuals. And in 1998 Israel’s tolerance of sexual diversity attracted worldwide attention when the transgender Dana International won the Eurovision Song Contest.

In an essay on Israel’s gay history, Lee Walzer, author of Between Sodom and Eden (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), explains:

The reasons for gay and lesbian political success during this period from 1988 through the mid-1990s were many. Chief among them was the fact that gay activists pursued a very mainstream strategy, seeking to convince the wider public that gay Israelis were good patriotic citizens who just happened to be attracted to the same sex.

This strategy, pursued until recently, reinforced the perception that gay rights was a non-partisan issue, unconnected to the major fissure in Israeli politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict and how to resolve it. Embracing gay rights enabled Israelis to pat themselves on the back for being open-minded, even as Israeli society wrestled less successfully with other social inequalities.

Across the Green Line in the West Bank and Gaza, however, the picture is very different. The penalty for same-sex acts under Palestinian law is not entirely clear, though in practice this is less significant than the extra-judicial punishments reportedly meted out by the authorities and the threats that gay men face from relatives intent on preserving family ‘honour’.

Writing in the New Republic (19 August 2002), Yossi Halevi described the case of ‘Tayseer’, a Palestinian from Gaza, who was 18 when an elder brother caught him in bed with a boyfriend. His family beat him and his father threatened to strangle him if it ever happened again. A few months later, a young man Tayseer had never met invited him into an orange grove for sex:

The next day he received a police summons. At the station Tayseer was told that his sex partner was in fact a police agent whose job is to ferret out homosexuals. If Tayseer wanted to avoid prison, he too would have to become an undercover sex agent, luring gays into orchards and turning them over to the police.

Tayseer refused to implicate others. He was arrested and hung by his arms from the ceiling. A high-ranking officer he didn’t know arranged for his release and then demanded sex as payback.

Tayseer fled Gaza to Tulkarem on the West Bank, but there too he was eventually arrested. He was forced to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with faeces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see . . . During one interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle.

The key ingredients of Tayseer’s story are repeated in other published accounts given by gay fugitives from the West Bank and Gaza: a violent family reaction, entrapment and blackmail by the police coupled with degrading improvised punishments. The hostility of families is a predictable response from those who regard homosexuality as a betrayal of ‘traditional’ Arab-Islamic values. This attitude is by no means unique to the Palestinians, but while it may be possible in some Arab countries to take refuge in the anonymity of big cities, the Palestinian territories are small, with mainly close-knit communities where it is difficult to hide.

Religious condemnation of homosexuality found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam derive mainly from the biblical story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom, which also figures in the Qur’an. In recent decades progressive Jews and Christians have increasingly questioned traditional interpretations of scripture and moved towards acceptance of homosexuality, at least within stable, loving relationships. As for Islam, however, the trend has generally been in the opposite direction – partly because of the weakness of secular or progressive religious currents but mainly because political conditions have led to a growth of religiosity and recourse to supposedly traditional Arab-Islamic values.

Historically at least, the view that homosexual acts should be punished by execution is a feature of all three monotheistic religions. Britain applied the death penalty for sodomy over several centuries – originally on the basis of ecclesiastical law – up until 1861.

Today, Islamic law is widely interpreted in the same way by many prominent and widely respected scholars, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shi’a cleric in Iraq, whose fatwa advocating death for liwat (sodomy) was posted in Arabic on his website. A number of gay men have been systematically murdered in Iraq recently and campaigners say the fatwa provided religious sanction and encouragement for the killings.

Four years ago in Israel, a prominent rabbi, David Batzri, also advocated the death penalty. ‘Homosexuals and lesbians are not only a sickness,’ he told Maariv newspaper in February 2002. Last year, during the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, a religious extremist attacked three marchers with a knife and reportedly told the police he had come ‘to kill in the name of God’.

Of course, there are important differences between Israel and the Arab countries – particularly in the reaction to such views. Rabbi Batzri’s remarks caused public outrage and the man who attacked the Jerusalem parade was promptly arrested. In Israel, religious figures and their legal opinions carry far less weight, and the rights of gay people are protected by the state.

For gay Palestinians who feel persecuted at home, the obvious escape route is to Israel, but because of the political conflict this can be fraught with difficulties. As far as most Palestinians are concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal of their cause, while gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under suspicion.

‘In the West Bank and Gaza, it is common knowledge that if you are homosexual you are necessarily a collaborator with Israel,’ said Shaul Gonen, of the Israeli Society for the Protection of Personal Rights (‘“Death Threat” to Palestinian Gays’, BBC, 3 March 2003). Bassim Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, explained:

In the Arab mindset, a person who has committed a moral offence is often assumed to be guilty of others, and it radiates out to the family and community. As homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature, it is not hard to link it to collaboration – a crime against nation (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways Survive on Israeli Streets’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).

Regarding gay men as politically treacherous is not unique to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. There are parallels here with Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, when gay men engaged in secret government work were treated as a particular security risk. In the popular imagination, this may well have been seen as an intrinsic part of their psychological make-up, although the fact that their sexual activities were illegal did expose them to the possibility of blackmail by Soviet agents.

Equating homosexuality with collaboration makes it extremely dangerous for Palestinians to return home after fleeing to Israel. One man told Halevi in the New Republic of a friend in the Palestinian police who ran away to Tel Aviv but later went back to Nablus, where he was arrested and accused of being a collaborator:

They put him in a pit. It was the fast of Ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. They denied him food and water until he died in that hole.

There is little doubt that some – though by no means all – gay Palestinians are forced by their precarious existence to work for Israeli intelligence in exchange for money or administrative favours such as the right of residence; both Eid and Gonen said they knew of several. Others, meanwhile, are coerced into undercover work for the Palestinian authorities; one 19-year-old runaway stated in an interview with Israeli television that he had been pressurized by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to become a suicide bomber in order to ‘purge his moral guilt’, though he had refused (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).

Estimates of the number of gay Palestinians who have quietly – and usually illegally – taken refuge in Israel range from 300 to 600. Although Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and recognizes same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes, it does not welcome gay Palestinians – mainly because of security fears. This often leaves them trapped in an administrative no-man’s-land with little hope of finding a proper job and constantly at risk of being arrested and deported. Some try to disguise themselves by wearing fake military dog-tags and even Star of David medallions.

‘The Palestinians say if you are gay, you must be a collaborator, while the Israelis treat you as a security threat,’ Gonen told a news programme (‘Palestinian Gays Flee to Israel’, BBC, 22 October 2003). But even if they are neither collaborators nor a security threat, they can easily become targets for exploitation by Israeli men. ‘They work as prostitutes, selling their bodies unwillingly because they have to survive,’ Gonen said:

Sometimes the Israeli secret police try to recruit them, sometimes the Palestinian police try to recruit them. In the end they find themselves falling between all chairs. Nobody wants to help them, everybody wants to use them.

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