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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
Israeli government "pinkwashes" treatment of Palestinians by glamorizing gay rights record, critics say.
the territories and Israel itself.
“Gay Palestinians are caught in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the report reads. “They are persecuted in the occupied territories by militant groups, Palestinian security forces and members of their own families. When they flee, they are hunted inside Israel by police who seek to return them to the territories from which they have escaped, usually forcing them to live in hiding and eventually run away again.”
At a sunny café on the University campus, Ben-Dor explained “we try to take every [LGBT] asylum case we hear about. We prefer these cases.” Still, she added, “everyone knows there is no solution to stay [in Israel].”
Livnat says that for Israeli gays, the situation is better than in the United States, where foreign-born partners of citizens have traditionally not been allowed to immigrate. Within Israel however, foreign partners can sometimes become permanent residents. Livnat said “this is why the pinkwashing concept is studied here, because in some sense, we are more liberal.”
He added that being gay helps most asylum seekers, but not Palestinians or those from neighboring countries. Thus Ben-Dor and Livnat encourage gay Palestinians in danger to seek asylum overseas.
“Israel doesn’t want Arab kids here,” Livnit said.
At times, gay Palestinians seeking asylum abroad have Israeli partners. “Because Palestinians are physically close, they speak Hebrew and become embedded in the Israeli LGBT community and find partners,” Livnat said. Yet that doesn't mean they can become Israeli citizens.
Ben-Dor said straight Palestinian-Israeli couples have been granted exceptions “on humanitarian grounds,” though recent rulings have made this more difficult, claiming such unions create loopholes in anti-terrorism initiatives.
'An Art to Survive'
Gay Palestinians also find help in Tel Aviv’s AGUDA, the LGBT community center staffed in part by Shaul Ganon, an imposing man with a surprisingly nurturing demeanor. He works out of the Nahmani Street building, infamous as the site of the 2009 murder of Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Troubishi, 17, in an attack by a still-unknown intruder.
Ganon, making clear he speaks for himself and not his organization, said with pinkwashing, “each side is trying to gain some points. The truth is the only one who gets screwed by this is the Palestinian gays.”
Ganon first noticed gay Palestinian refugees in 1995 while helping gay street youth in Tel Aviv, many of whom working in prostitution. He discovered, “at least half of them were Arabs and Palestinians.” Not all the Arab men identified as gay, he says, explaining, “sometimes as an art to survive, it was sex with guys, but some were gays.” Many were from small Palestinian villages.
Since 1995, Ganon says he has approached over 900 gay Palestinians to provide help, but that ultimately, only about 60 agreed. Such men are provided with a card from the AGUDA, to show Israeli police to prevent them from being brought back to the West Bank, though this is not foolproof.
A 28-year-old Palestinian in Ganon’s program, originally from Hebron, was at the AGUDA. He was thin and tall, his body marked by scars. Giving his name only as Mohammed, he pointed to a place on his body where one of his brothers stabbed him with a screwdriver. Ganon translating, Mohammed sarcastically remarked, “he was trying to fix me because I am a homosexual.”
Mohammed says “for 15 years, people know me here. Tel Aviv is my home.” When asked how he has lived here for so long, he replies, “I did anything to survive. When you are hungry, you have to do anything.” Drugs, theft and prison all come up in the conversation, but it’s hard to tell if he’s talking about himself, or others in his situation.
Ganon worries about foreigners making quick generalizations of Palestinian and Israeli issues, even from a gay perspective. He says he believes LGBT Palestinians want to slowly change their society, but “we are not in their shoes. Their suffering is their suffering,” and that such groups prefer “quiet work, not to go publishing what they are and what they do,” explaining why Maikey of Al Qaws won’t comment to journalists.
At the same time, he says Western journalists covering these issues can be “patronizing,” adding, “the Western way of thinking doesn’t apply all the time here. Not just in Israel, but in the region.”
Still, Ganon seems ready to challenge Israel’s official approach to LGBTs.
“The truth is, as a gay, I don’t feel I have all my rights,” he says. “But Israel, especially Tel Aviv, is very gay-friendly. There are some things we cannot deny.”
Ganon says the Israeli government is “ready to take the credit for mainly the work of the [LGBT] community. In my personal opinion if the state of Israel is using human rights for the state of Israel, we should get something for that.”
Yet even if Israel might use good press about its treatment of gays to change public opinion about the occupation, Ganon believes Palestinian society is no friend to his community: “I don’t see the Palestinians demonstrating for us.”