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By Jesse Monteagudo
Recently the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews held its 17th World Conference - "Keshet Ga'avah/Rainbow of Pride" - in Israel. In an article I wrote about the Conference, I noted that in spite of the influence that Ultra-Orthodox Jews have over Israeli law and society, queer people are better off in Israel than in its Arab neighbors or, for that matter, in certain American states.
"Israel is today one of the few countries in the world that guarantees gay and lesbian rights against discrimination in employment and elsewhere," wrote the authors of Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. The law that made male homosexual acts a crime - a relic of the British mandate - was abolished by the Knesset in 1988.
Since then, "discrimination against lesbians and gay men in employment was made illegal in 1992. Military restrictions were lifted by a special order of the Israeli Defense Forces in 1993" and "a series of Israel Supreme Court decisions have established the rights of gay men and lesbians to several types of domestic partnership benefits."
This is not the case with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs most of the Palestinian-majority lands in the West Bank and Gaza. We can argue all day long about how much autonomy the Palestinians have when their land is constantly being attacked and occupied by an Israeli army determined to avenge the Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombs. And we can argue all day long whether or not the Palestinian Authority has the time or the inclination for such niceties as gay rights when its very existence is being called into question. But none of this excuses the fact that queer Palestinians are being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and killed by their own people, their own government. Many of them flee to Israel, knowing that they will get better treatment from "the enemy".
An article by Yossi Klein Halevi in the New Republic exposed what the world wished to ignore:
"With bombs once again exploding all over Israel, and the Palestinian territories under seemingly permanent curfew, the woes of Palestinian homosexuals haven't exactly grabbed international attention. But after spending two days with gay Palestinian refugees in Israel, I began to wonder why the ... world has never taken interest in their plight."
"The persecution of gays in the Palestinian Authority doesn't just come from the families or the Islamic groups but from the P.A. itself," said Shaul Ganon of the Israeli GLBT Agudah. Since the start of the intifada, Ganon added, "It's now more impossible to be an open gay in the P.A."
Tayseer, a 21-year-old Gazan, was arrested for having sex with a police agent and brutally tortured for refusing to become an informer. Tayseer later fled to Israel, where he now lives illegally. He is one of the lucky ones. Another Palestinian gay, less fortunate, was placed in a pit and starved to death.
In Tel Aviv, said Tayseer, "no one ... cares if you're gay". Many Palestinian gays, like Tayseer, have taken refuge in Israel which, in the words of Davi J. Bernstein of the Yale Herald, "is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuals can life in freedom."
But life in Israel has its own problems for young Palestinian men. As illegal immigrants, they live from hand to mouth, lack legal protections, and face deportation if they are found out. Ganon of the Agudah has helped over 300 Palestinian gays, working out an agreement with the Tel Aviv police that allow these men to remain in Israel. This is no comfort for many others, who are constantly harassed by the Israeli police as "inherent security risks."
The international community has ignored the plight of gay Palestinians, perhaps because it goes against its idealistic view of the Palestinian people. Even the U.S. State Department, which does not hesitate to criticize Palestinian shortcomings, would only admit that "in the Palestinian territories homosexuals generally are socially maginalized, and occasionally receive physical threats."
"The Palestinian human rights groups are afraid to deal with the problem," Ganon told Halevi. "And the international human rights groups say they've got a long list of pressing issue." On the other hand, "when Israeli police harass Arab Israeli homosexuals, I send out reports, and then-oh, you should see how quickly the human rights organizations get in touch with me to investigate. The hypocrisy is unbelievable." When it comes to the Middle East, the world has a double standard.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem. Though Israeli gays enjoy liberties that their Palestinian counterparts can only dream of, sometimes they too run into trouble. According to the online Queer Mail, two Israeli teens, aged 16 and 18, were arrested for having sex at the Old City of Jerusalem's historic Jaffa Gate. According to the police report, one boy was giving the other boy a blow job. The boys denied this charge, arguing that they were only kissing. The boys were handcuffed, detained and interrogated but were released without charge four hours later. Incensed by this outrage, the 18 year old later returned to the police station with his father, complaining that he was "mocked" during questioning. Gay activists got wind of the matter and showed up at the police station the next day, turning the matter into a cause celebre. When all was said and done, a kiss is still a kiss.
Trev Broudy Update. In my last Journal I wrote about Trev Broudy, who was viciously attacked by a bat-wielding basher on the streets of West Hollywood, California. I am happy to report that, according to Christopher Lisotta of the Gay.com/PlanetOut.com Network,
Broudy is now out of a coma. Still at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Broudy is "stabilized and receiving medication," according to Detective Sergeant Neill Murchison. "He can talk, and has been interviewed, but because of his medical condition he needs rest. He's in sensitive guarded condition." His attacker is still at large.
Jesse Monteagudo is a left-handed, Cuban-Jewish, nudist leather bear who lives in South Florida with his life partner. He can be reached at email@example.com.