Gay Palestinian - Nir Kafri - Sept 28, 2010
Majed Koka. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Media attention has recently focused on the effort to obtain residency rights for children of foreign workers. But Majed Koka is not a foreign worker. He is a gay Palestinian man from the West Bank who came to Israel at age 14 because in his hometown of Nablus, he never could have lived openly as a gay man.

"If I returned to Nablus, it would be like throwing paper into a fire," said Koka, 26, who has been living in Tel Aviv for the last 12 years. "If I returned I'd be in big trouble, one long nightmare."

For the last eight years, Koka has lived with a partner, an Israeli citizen. In 2002, the two even signed a partnership agreement and registered themselves as married with the municipality - though legally, the state does not recognize gay marriage.

In June 2009, Koka finally asked the Interior Ministry to grant him legal residency on humanitarian grounds. Fifteen months later, he has yet to receive a response.

Meanwhile, since he is here illegally, he is subject to frequent arrests; his lawyer is constantly fighting for his release. He has been arrested nine times over the last 12 years, Koka said.

Koka also applied for refugee status at the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but was rejected because that agency does not deal with Palestinians.

Koka's mother is from Jerusalem and does have permanent residency here. But she never bothered arranging residency rights in Israel for her son, even though for the first five years of his life, the family lived in Jaffa and then in Haifa. Only in 1989, when the couple divorced, did Koka's father take him to his own hometown of Nablus.

When Koka realized he was gay, his troubles began: Many Palestinians, influenced by Islam's strict prohibition against homosexuality, take a dim view of homosexuals. Koka said he received various threats, which eventually prompted him to infiltrate into Israel at age 14.

Since then, he has rarely been back to visit his family. But the last time he did go, he said, he was arrested by the Palestinian police on suspicion of collaborating with Israel and subjected to severe torture - which he believes was prompted by his sexual orientation.

"There have been cases of people like me who went back to visit their families and were attacked," he said, adding that in such cases, the assailants usually begin by saying they heard the victim is gay and only then move on to accusing him of collaboration with Israel.