Last edited: January 03, 2005

Palestine’s Oppression of Gays Should Not Be Ignored

Daily Trojan, March 13, 2003
University of Southern California
USC Student Union 421, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0895
Fax: 213-740-5666, Email:

By William Goodwin

As the clouds of war grow ever darker over Iraq and media scrutiny becomes increasingly focused on the possible conflict, violence has continued to foment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A diplomatic Gordian knot, intransigence and distrust have characterized both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Especially since the reignition of the intifada, human rights have suffered at the hands of both governments. Consequently, debate and discussion of the hostilities has been framed with the tacit assumption of moral, and it would seem intellectual, parity.

Assigning fault and determining the conflict’s roots is beyond the expertise of a young student such as myself. A pluralistic superimposition of societal equality, however, grossly distorts the vast gulf separating Israelis from Palestinians. Unfortunately, organizations all too often overlook fundamental injustice to champion one side over the other. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in such groups as QUIT!, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism or Queers for Palestine.

QUIT! is a San Francisco-based organization describing itself as “part of an international movement for human rights that encompasses the movement for Palestinian liberation, and all other liberation movements.” Solidarity stems from the group’s implicit belief that as gays they understand the marginalizing of Palestinians. It would seem to be a simple expression of support for those suffering from Israeli abuses. And so it might be perceived to be by those in the organization. The group’s unqualified support for Palestinians, however, puts it squarely in support of a violently homophobic society and government.

Brutal oppression and abuse of gays characterizes many Arab nations, though it is certainly not unique to them. Saudi Arabia, in the recent past, has beheaded several men known to be gay. Others had their punishment of 2,600 lashes stretched over two years, in biweekly floggings, so that they would be able to survive long enough to receive their full sentence. Egypt actively arrests and, in some cases, tortures gays, purportedly for “offenses against religion.” And the PLA (Palestinian Liberation Authority) is no different.

In the August 2002 New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi described the treatment of one gay youth: “He was beaten by his family, then warned by his father that he’d strangle (him) if it ever happened again.” Later, “he was arrested ... and forced to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see.” This is not by any means the worst. Halevi quoted the friend of another victim. “They put him in a pit. It was the fast of Ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. They denied him food and water until he died in that hole.”

Gay Palestinians fleeing for their lives, then, is not surprising. But where they seek refuge is. Paul Varnell, writing for the Chicago Free Press, offers a hint: “Which Middle Eastern country has a variety of gay organizations ... has members of parliament who speak out on behalf of gays ... has a head of state (willing to) meet with gay activists? ... Israel.”

These “homosexuals sought refuge in Israel after being persecuted in their own communities,” according to the BBC News service. Not only that, but Israeli civil rights organizations are fighting to let those who illegally entered the country stay. “Campaigners in Israel are trying to stop the deportation of a Palestinian homosexual back to the Gaza Strip, where they say he faces death threats.”

Amazingly, this issue has gone almost completely unreported. Outside of the efforts of a few writers such as Halevi, Varnell and blogger Andrew Sullivan (whose writing prompted this article), little has been done or said about the deplorable state of affairs, even by human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its last annual report, comprehensively documented abuses specifically related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but failed to mention such abuse even once.

Scrutiny of Israelis on the same subject, however, is far more intense, according to Shaul Ganon, a prominent Israeli gay activist. “The international human rights groups say they’ve got a long list of pressing issues, (but) 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,” Halevi quotes him as saying.

The dichotomy in open-mindedness and rational thinking is painfully clear. Israeli activists are willing to fight for Palestinian rights, even as suicide bombers slaughter innocents in malls and discos. Meanwhile, a Palestinian gay fears for his safety because “his own family tracked him down and tried to kill him,” according to the BBC.

No one could, or should, claim Israeli conduct in countering terrorist attacks has been blameless, nor that their historical treatment of the refugees is untainted. But any discussion of the conflict that fails to acknowledge the bitter homophobia as symptomatic of an ignorant, retrogressive society cannot hope to offer any effective solution.

Such recognition is not a racist condemnation of Palestinians or Arabs. Indeed, the seeds of this presently backward state might very well have been sown by the aggressiveness of Israel’s security measures during the decades and merely watered by religious extremism and poverty.

Whatever the source, the tumultuous upheaval that has become daily life in the West Bank, Gaza and refugee camps must be considered in the context of this gross societal disparity.

  • Editorial writer William Goodwin is an undeclared freshman. To comment on this article, call (213) 740-5665 or e-mail

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