Opinion | Left Must Acknowledge Violence Against LGBTQ Palestinians

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two people holding hands with lgbtq rainbow armbands
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By Mark Segal

No matter what side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide you’re on, and there are many, there are positions that some in the LGBTQ community are taking that might give us all reason to question cultural and political practices.

We’re not going to debate religion or nationality here. Let’s simply debate the politics. Israel has a government that has programs and policies that many consider to be diplomatic, but others consider anti-Palestinian. For that reason, some in the LGBTQ community have embraced a boycott of Israel. Such a boycott is not in itself anti-Semitic unless you connect it to religion and attack that religion rather than the state. That would be anti-Semitic.

So a boycott on political positions is acceptable if you agree that Israel is a bad actor against Palestinians. But does that mean you’re pro-Palestine?

In the case of LGBTQ people or those who support the LGBTQ equality movement, being pro-Palestine is a dangerous position to take. The Palestinian authorities who control the West Bank, along with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, are homophobic. LGBTQ activists should be calling them out for that homophobia. Those who don’t call it out have a serious lack of knowledge of the culture and politics of the Middle East, particularly the practices of the Palestinians towards its LGBTQ citizens.

If you call out Uganda for its kill-the-gays law, why not also call out the Palestinians, who in the Gaza Strip have a similar law?

While I am a full supporter of the two-state solution, I am not a fan of the policies of the current Israeli government. I am a firm believer in the need for a Jewish state, and I would support an Islamic state if the Palestinians choose to have one. But I don’t support the call for a boycott of Israel for a number of reasons.

Those calling for the boycott seem to be supporting people who embrace genocide of the LGBTQ community in Gaza and honor killings in the West Bank. LGBTQ people literally have to escape the region to save their lives. Many of them flee to Israel.

How bad is it? The grandson of Hamas founder/leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab Hassan Yousef, had to escape, worried that he, too, would be executed. Yes, he’s a gay man, and he is worried that his father would kill him in an honor killing. His father gave an interview where he clearly stated that if his son returned, he’d face Islamic justice. Even being the son of a leader is not a pass to be gay.

When asked if I support a boycott of Israel by someone in my community, I often ask, “Do you support a boycott of the Palestinian lands where LGBTQ people are killed?” They’re often shocked by that answer. I follow up by telling them that I’m certainly not thrilled with the current government of the United States, but this is my country and I know the issues, and then I usually ask: “Do you think we should ask Israelis or Palestinians to boycott the U.S.?”

Rather than a boycott of a different culture, our time would be better utilized fighting injustice in our own. Yes, Israel might be unfair to Palestinians, but Palestinians still wish to murder LGBTQ people, and they publicly say so. And if you say it’s just talk, just ask Mahmoud Ishtiwi, a former commander in the armed wing of Hamas, who according to the New York Times “was accused of moral turpitude, by which Hamas meant homosexuality,” and then was tortured and shot to death in 2016. Whether he was gay is a matter of dispute. What is not in dispute is that Hamas used his homosexuality as a legitimate reason to kill him.

If you call out Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, why are you not calling out Palestinians for their treatment and killing of LGBTQ people? It speaks to the inability of people to understand the gravity of the murder of LGBTQ people under Palestinian control.

How dangerous is it for LGBTQ people in the Palestinian territories? There was a TV show last year in the West Bank and Gaza called Out of Focus. It was meant to be a comedy about a group of gay people living in Gaza. People demonstrated en masse in the streets and called for the actors’ imprisonment, and the producers were called in for questioning by the Palestinian Authorities in Ramallah for breaking Islamic law. It was taken off the air for being an offense against Islam simply for having LGBTQ characters.

Can you imagine, then, the treatment of real, live LGBTQ persons living under that threat? You don’t have to. Just Google “Ramallah, LGBTQ.” Ramallah is the capital of the West Bank. You’ll discover that there are no LGBTQ organizations or public meeting places. Even Uganda has LGBTQ organizations.

So here’s a suggestion for our leaders. The next time you are invited by the Palestinian Authority to visit the West Bank, simply ask, “When was the last time a LGBTQ person was killed?” When they don’t give you a clear answer, you might remind them of Mahmoud Ishtiwi, and walk away.

Mark Segal is the nation’s most awarded journalist in LGBTQ media and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. His memoir, And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality, was named best book by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. His activism began with Stonewall and The Gay Liberation Front in 1969.

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