Last edited: October 31, 2004

Gay Man Criticizes Palestinian Society

By Alex Tehranian

The Hoya, October 22, 2004
Georgetown University, Box 571065, Washington, DC 20057-1065

A Palestinian man described the challenges of living as a homosexual in what he deemed an oppressive society last Tuesday in New South.

Disguised with a wig, sunglasses and a fake mustache, he offered only his first name, Ali. He said he was unwilling to reveal his last name or hometown for fear of being discovered by the Palestinian Authority.

Ali had harsh words for the environment he said homosexuals were forced into by the Palestinian Authority.

“There is no freedom to speak about my homosexuality,” he said. “That’s what I’m experiencing in my Palestinian society as in the rest of the Arab world.”

According to Ali, a word for homosexuality does not even exist in the area’s native language. He said he only discovered his sexual orientation while studying in Jerusalem.

He claimed the opportunity never presented itself under Palestinian control, where he could have potentially been “subject to random arrests, torture and random killings” if he revealed his homosexuality.

Instead, Ali said he chose to live freely as a gay man in Israel rather than hide his sexual orientation. He also revealed that most of his family does not know the truth to this day.

Ali was critical of the human rights situation in his native country saying, “My mouth was shut.”

As a Christian Palestinian, Ali said that he felt he had already been subject to discrimination as a minority. He claimed that in Israel, by contrast, individuals have the “freedom to express [their] sex and take pride in it.”

Ali, however, avoided commenting on the political conflict existing in the Middle East. He said he felt homosexuals’ rights are “beyond the conflict.”

“We are also part of this international human rights group,” he said. “We are also normal people. We are also human beings.”

Students also watched a video on the thriving homosexual community in Israel, “Out of the Closet and Into the Streets of Tel-Aviv.”

“What I see in the gay life in Israel and Israeli society is that you are free,” Ali said following the video.

Explaining the supportive social network for gays in Israel by groups such as the Agudah and Jerusalem Open House, Ali reiterated the “open-minded” opportunities and choices available for Jews and Arabs alike within a democratic Israel.

Ali praised the legal situation for homosexuals in Israel, pointing out that homosexuals have the freedom to serve openly in the army and that Israeli courts have been issuing legislation protecting equal benefits for gay couples similar to those of married couples. None of these rights exist under the Palestinian government, he said.

Like the United States, Israel is working towards passing legislation for gay marriages. Speaking of this progress, Ali expressed his hopes of hearing such news from a Palestinian leader one day.

During the question and answer period, some students in the audience accused Ali of not being a loyal Palestinian and questioned his rationale for speaking at Georgetown.

Ali responded that he was speaking at Georgetown simply to get the message out that the Palestinian people don’t exhibit enough self-criticism or take responsibility within their own society.

“I am living there,” he said. “I am telling you the situation.”

It should be the oppressing Palestinian society and not the speaker that should be defensive of its horrible crimes, he said.

Ali said that many other Palestinian Arabs want to come speak about their pain but that they are not free to do so. He said they too should have the opportunity to live normally as gays.

“I am not standing alone,” Ali declared.

He encouraged all students to do what they can to improve the situation because “human rights groups are not doing enough.” Instead of working toward equal rights, Ali said, they instead focus on the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict and continue to blame Israel.

Ali said he felt he was given the chance to emphasize the “two different worlds, two different mentalities” that distinguish Israel from Palestinian society.

The Georgetown Israel Alliance, College Democrats and the Diversity Action Council sponsored the speech. The Zionist Organization of America helped GIA bring the speaker to the university.

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