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Would you want Israel at your gay wedding?

A mural celebrating gay rights in Israel has been painted on the wall of a parking lot in Manhattan’s West Village. It was sponsored by alumni from Birthright Israel, an organization which brings any Jewish person from New York City or Los Angeles to Israel, free of charge, and brainwashes them into believing that God bestowed the land of Palestine to Jews and Jews only and that God gave Jewish people the right to destroy Palestine and rename it Israel. Another purpose of the trip is to encourage  more Jews to move to Israel, into homes and onto land which belonged or currently belongs to the indigenous Palestinian population.   This process is known as colonization and ethnic cleansing and has been occurring since before Israel’s founding on May 15 of 1948.

I heard about the mural through an article on the website Queerty, so I decided to take a walk down to it on my lunch break and snap some photos.   Just to be clear, the mural couldn’t be in a more out-of-the-way spot.  The closest train is a 10 to 15 minute walk, and locating the mural is actually quite difficult, because it’s painted on the side wall of an outdoor parking lot, the bottom of it covered by parked cars.  This lot-mural is in an upscale area of the West Village (as if there is an area of the West Village that isn’t upscale) close to the West Side Highway. The only people who will ever see it are 1%ers who can afford to live in its vicinity, the parking lot attendant, and the occasional pier queen who’s headed too far south of Christopher on her way back to the train.

This should be added to the list of actions taken by pro-Israel groups to “pinkwash” Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians: apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Pinkwashing is the attempt by a state, in this case Israel, to highlight its treatment of gays to show how progressive it is, in turn covering up human rights violations from which it wishes to detract attention. Fortunately, many radical queers who do not separate gay rights from human rights have caught on and are actively fighting this – see Pinkwatching Israel, NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and Pauline Park’s blog.  Recently, the Equality Forum held its annual conference in Philadelphia and mistakenly chose Israel as its featured country for 2012. Please see Sherry Wolf’s excellent piece on the subject, Equality’s Racism: Using LGBT Rights to Veil Apartheid.

One of the problems with applauding Israel on gay rights is that the rights that Israel gives to gay people are not for all gay people.  Israel occupies and controls what is left of the land of Palestine: Gaza and the West Bank.  The daily lives of the Palestinians who live there are governed by Israel in every way because the Israeli military barricades Gaza by land, sea and air, and physically occupies the West Bank.  Of those Palestinians who live in Gaza and the West Bank, some of them are queer.   This means that Israel’s occupation and ethnic cleansing directly affect queer Palestinians. For proof of queer Palestinians, please see Palestinian Queers for BDS and Aswat Palestinian Lesbian Women. If people are so concerned with queer Israelis having the right to marry each other, then they must also be concerned with queer Palestinians having no rights at all. Queer Palestinians pass through Israeli checkpoints where they are searched, sexually harassed and humiliated on a daily basis. Queer Palestinians see their parents arrested and held without charge.  Queer Palestinians see their younger siblings dragged out of bed in the middle of the night by Israeli police and thrown into adult jails on charges of stone throwing. Queer Palestinians get tear-gassed (with canisters that come from the Combined Systems Inc factory in Pennsylvania, USA) and shot at while protesting against the daily humiliations of the occupation.  Queer Palestinians suffer under Israeli oppression in a way that is not made better by queer Israelis being granted some form of equal rights. And to the best of my knowledge, there is no queer “express lane” at an Israeli checkpoint.

Furthermore, the idea that we can cast the whole of Israel as  a gay oasis is arguable.  I live in New York City and resist the urge to say that the even it is entirely gay friendly.  I’d say that to some extent, Chelsea and the West Village are, but I’d think long and hard before making out with my boyfriend on the platform of the 7 train at Queensboro Plaza.  I’m sure many gay Israelis pick and choose the areas in Israel where they make out with their respective boyfriends/ girlfriends/ gender-non-conforming friends.

The other issue that needs to be discussed is the idea of being “out”.  I would argue that many queer folks in the West don’t even think about queer Palestinians because they aren’t “visible” or “out” in a way that is recognizable to us. This has been a hard one for me to wrap my head around, but as folks in the Western world, we really need to think about it.  Does being out of the closet look the same everywhere?  Is it fair for us to judge other areas of the world by how many gay bars they have or if they have a flipping gay pride parade or not? Is that how gayness/ queerness has to show itself?  Is sexuality in the Middle East viewed in the same way that it is in Europe, the US and Israel?  I’m not condoning human rights violations anywhere, clearly, I’m just asking that we recognize that there are gay people everywhere, even if they don’t present their gayness in a way we find appropriate. And since there are gay people in the allegedly horrible, homophobic land of Israeli-Occupied Palestine, then shouldn’t we extend our hand even further to help them instead of applauding the regime that ultimately oppresses and humiliates them.  Should we expect queer Palestinians to open gay bars and have a pride parade when they can’t even visit their partners without going through an Israeli checkpoint?  And that’s just in Israeli-Occupied Palestinian territory.  Imagine if their partner is in Tel-Aviv!

In closing, I’d just like to say how wonderful it is that Israel let’s queer Israelis marry each other adopt children and serve in the military which terrorizes Palestinians on a daily basis.  And how wonderful that Birthright Israel alumni felt so moved by these two facts that they dragged a 10-foot ladder to the West Side Highway and painted an ugly mural on the wall of a parking lot.

Moving on!

9 comments on “Would you want Israel at your gay wedding?

  1. kaie w. bird
    May 15, 2012

    Being Queer in the West Bank ain’t no party either, my friend. There are struggles, of course, but I know for a fact that being “Queer/Gay” and out in the West Bank is indeed no fun at all.

    “In closing, I’d just like to say how wonderful it is that Israel let’s queer Israelis marry each other and serve in the military which terrorizes Palestinians on a daily basis.” This isn’t true either: gays are not allowed to wed one another here. People must serve in the military and if they choose/refuse, well it isn’t as simple as people report it to be.

    As a woman, it is rather hard to keep trying and fighting things I know here that are absurdly corrupt and wrong (everyone involved, missy) when you go with the intent of correcting some of the injustices (or just doing something, somewhat positive or in a better direction) and return [from the protests/actions/events held with Palestinians] with stories of abuse or harassment from the males. The males who aren’t Israeli protesters. It makes it really hard to keep going to these happenings if time and time again this sort of harassment happens to you or other women you know.

    I hope you know that this is so far beyond black and white. A ton of what goings on here during daily happenings here isn’t kosher nor should be allowed (for either side, for the things they both do wrong), but it is a bit more complicated than saying that Israel is treating gay Palestinians without respect. Pink-washing or not (which I think is wrong and good for people to call them out on it), there are many gay Palestinians found though out the Tel Aviv gay bars having the times of their lives and thinking little about anything else. At least, those who are able to get there.

    • Ryan
      May 16, 2012

      Hey there – thanks for leaving a comment,
      I am going to correct my post in reference to gay marriage in Israel. I really was under the impression that gays could marry there – but I was wrong. It reminds me of a couple months ago when I found out that Israel actually does not grant asylum to queer Palestinians. I actually thought that they did.
      I hear what you’re saying about sexual harassment at protests. But I would just say that as horrible as that is, it doesn’t change the fact that the occupation is wrong and needs to end, you know?
      My friend Sa’ed is from Ramallah, and he said that it is actually quite difficult for Palestinians to get to Tel-Aviv. So I’d say, good for those that you see there enjoying themselves. Still, the occupation is wrong and must end.

  2. kaie w. bird
    May 16, 2012

    Thanks for being level-headed in your response. I tend not to get in these discussions, because level-headedness doesn’t seem to exist if you aren’t on the “right” side. But to note: I went out of my way to make it clear that my statement didn’t come across as saying “the occupation is good/right/should continue.” I wanted to point to the fact that a lot Israelis also disagree with the choices their government are marking and that things are happening here to try and voice that resistance. But it just sucks that part of that, if your a woman protestor, is that you are going to have one of these stories- sooner or later- about being harassed from the guys you want to join.

    Ramallah (West Bank) is a completely different world than Gaza. When you think of oppression, more so when your either a gay/queer kid from West Bank or Gaza, you cannot omit the fact that your own culture isn’t okay with who you are at a basic level. I don’t understand why all of these people in the international community negate this basic aspect of the culture. It is not as if gay life is celebrated and respected in Gaza/West Bank/ the general Middle East- including Israel. It also isn’t as if Israelis are specifically hurting those who are gay in the West Bank/Gaza areas- which seems to be a point being forced in any of these writings. Add that into a background of occupation and details really get muddy because sometimes your sexuality has to take backs seat to your survival. It isn’t easy, for those in the West Bank, to travel throughout Israel, although it can be done.

    And just to make sure: the occupation needs to end, but just saying that negates all of the gray areas that are daily realities for all peoples here and must be dealt with also (-beyond the black and white situations that outside international people try to dwindle these happenings into). Cheers.

  3. Pinkwatching Israel
    May 16, 2012

    Thanks for posting about the mural. I think though, that when discussing pinkwashing, we need to be attentive to the fact that pinkwashing is NOT about gays, it is about racism. It works by juxtaposing the “barbarism” of the Palestinians with the “enlightenment” of the Israelis, trying to turn the conversation from one about basic rights and justice to one where there is a hierarchy of people, some of whom deserve rights (Israelis) and some of whom don’t (the Palestinians) based on a yardstick of cultural superiority. It is part of a broader campaign of Israeli whitewashing of its crimes (see for other examples) and it does not take place in a void. The status of queer Palestinians is irrelevant to this debate. When we expose pinkwashing for what it is we are not calling on the world to REALLY save queer Palestinians, as opposed to what Israel does, which is just claim that it saves them for its own PR purposes. Apartheid and occupation are not wrong because they oppress queer Palestinians, they are wrong because they just ARE, on principle. When we try to combat pinkwashing by focusing on how the occupation affects queer Palestinians, we are only reinforcing the idea put forth by zionist propagandists that the status of queers in Palestine has any bearing on the conversation about ending occupation. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t. We should not be tricked into entering a conversation about whether gays in Palestine are oppressed, or about whether they enjoy more freedom in Tel Aviv, or about queer Palestinian parties in Israel. These are diversionary tactics.

    When we use this logic we are also appealing to people’s lowest common denominator: you should support Palestine because you’re gay, and gay people are affected by the occupation. The issue is not gays in Palestine – the issue is Palestine.

    While I’m sure this is not what you intended, I do feel that there does need to be some self-reflection in queer pro-Palestinian activist circles on the way we respond to and frame the project of pinkwashing.

    • Ryan
      May 16, 2012

      Hey – thanks for leaving this. I absolutely agree with what you’ve said here. Apartheid and occupation are wrong because they are wrong, and they are not more wrong because they also affect queers. I wrote this focusing on queers though because I feel like one of Israel’s tactics is to make queer Palestinians invisible in all of this; to applaud themselves for being so gay friendly while ignoring the fact that their racist regime negatively impacts queers whom they pretend to care so much about. I’m trying to deal with this very diversion tactic, and I believe it merits discussion because unfortunately, it works on a lot of queer people. Whenever I get into a discussion with queer New Yorkers about Israel, they immediately spout off the exact same talking points depicted in the mural. And we have to deal with that.

      To affect change, I believe that sometimes you have to meet people where they’re at. Many gay people, as wrong as this is, only care about gay issues. This is a huge problem, at least here in the New York queer community. I feel that a way to help move us forward and get more queer people on board is to show folks that all Palestinians, queer and not, suffer under Israel’s rule.

      But I can’t say it enough – totally agree with you. And I surely don’t want my post to come off as only caring about queer Palestinians or wanting to “save” them. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

    • Ryan
      May 17, 2012

      Would you all want to write a piece for my blog on pinkwashing? Either something new or a response to my piece? I really agree with what you said. Good to have these conversations on a public forum!

  4. Pingback: Pinkwashing Palestine « KANSASTAN!

  5. Pingback: Pinkwashing Palestine | Neo-colonialism and its Discontents

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