Palestinian Gays Flee to Israel
News, October 22, 2003
A number of gay Palestinian men are risking their lives
to cross the border into Israel, claiming they feel safer among Israelis than
their own people.
According to some estimates, there are now 300 gay
Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel.
Their willingness to live there—despite the risk of
being detained and deported as a security threat—is due to Palestinian
attitudes towards gay men, they claim.
One 22-year-old gay man who fled from Gaza into Israel
four years ago told BBC World Service’s Outlook programme he was almost
killed when his family found out about his sexuality.
He says that when he was 18, he was caught with his
boyfriend by his brother.
“[My brother] brought a stick and hit us,” he said.
“He tied us up with an iron rope and went to call my dad, and tell my
partner’s. Then he came back and hit us again.”
The man said he escaped after his brother went out and
told his mother and sister-in-law to make sure they did not run away.
“I started crying to my mum, begging her to let us go.
So she untied us, and said if my dad found out, he would kill me on the spot.
The man said he ran away and, when he discovered his
family were hunting for him, fled to Israel. There, he says, he was placed
under virtual house arrest because he was viewed as a potential security risk.
Shaul Gonen, of Israel’s main gay rights lobbying
group, Agudah, told Outlook that under international law Israel is obliged to
offer asylum to those that seek it. But, he says, it can refuse if the
applicants are from an area the state is in conflict with.
In practice, Palestinian gays end up being placed under
virtual house arrest because of the fear that they may be potential suicide
“They are unable to find proper help,” said Mr Gonen.
“Everybody blames them for being something dangerous.
“The Palestinians say if you are gay, you must be a
collaborator, while the Israelis treat you as a security threat.”
However, many Palestinian gays say they would still
rather live under house arrest in Israel, where homosexuality is not
considered a crime, than at home.
The 22-year-old who fled his home in Gaza alleged that
those who do stay in the occupied territories are often coerced into working
for the Palestinian police.
He said that he himself had been stopped by police in
Gaza, who had threatened to expose him as a homosexual. He alleged he was told
by the police to sleep with another man in order to acquire damaging
information about him.
The man alleged that after he refused, the Palestinian
police had tortured him.
“They hit me. They put me in a pool of water with just
my head sticking out,” he claimed.
However, the Israeli secret service also often exploit
gay Palestinians, said Mr Gonen.
He says this usually involves coercing them into working
undercover, to gather information about other Palestinians.
The precarious status of the gay community means gay men
often end up working for the secret service or as targets for exploitation by
“They work as prostitutes, selling their bodies
unwillingly because they have to survive,” said Mr Gonen.
“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.”
Gay Palestinians say they are mainly persecuted at home
because of religious attitudes. Many Muslims claim that homosexuality is
strictly against the Koran.
“From my point of view as a Muslim, this phenomenon is
rejected completely,” one Palestinian in Gaza told Outlook.
“The Islamic religion is merciful—we should try to
help them to eliminate this bad phenomenon.
“It has a lot of bad things, a lot of disadvantages, a
lot of bad sides—regarding their health, regarding their sociability,
regarding their association with people around them.”
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