Opinion |

The Real Oppressors of Gaza's Gay Community: Hamas or Israel?

LGBTQ life in Gaza is arduous and dangerous. I would know: I grew up there. But only blaming Palestine’s conservatism and Hamas, whitewashing Israel’s siege and military assaults, is dishonest and exploitative

Dorgham Abusalim
Dorgham Abusalim
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A Palestinian man stands in his house in the northern Gaza Strip January 31, 2018.
A Palestinian man stands in his house in the northern Gaza Strip January 31, 2018.Credit: \ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS
Dorgham Abusalim
Dorgham Abusalim

There is no doubt that life for a member of the LGBTQ community in Gaza is both arduous and dangerous. I would know. I grew up in Gaza.

This much is evident in Liza Rozovsky’s recent Haaretz article, "What It's Like to Be Gay in Gaza: Meeting Israelis on Dating Apps, Evading Hamas and Plotting Escape." However, three central problems of the article warrant scrutiny.

First, her gross generalization of what life is like for LGBTQ persons in Gaza based on a single account (‘Jamil’).

Secondly, how the given account serves a well-documented Israeli campaign to vilify Palestinians and exploit LGBTQ Palestinians, all while turning a blind eye to Israeli homophobia.

And, lastly, Rozovsky’s misunderstanding of the legal situation surrounding homosexuality in Palestine.

These problems, perhaps inadvertently, shape her work, presenting the reader with stereotypical claims based on scarcely documented sources.

We are introduced to Jamil (pseudonym), whom she portrays as a helpless gay Palestinian whose sole dream is “to leave his homeland and break from his family.”

The discourse driving these claims is predictable. Too often, LGBTQ Palestinians are reduced to victims, stripped of their own agency, and exploited by Israelis to advance Israel’s image around the world as a safe haven for LGBTQ persons. Examples of such practice abound, from campaigns sponsored by the Israeli government and news stories to documentaries and movies.

Palestinians children play outside a house in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on January 4, 2018.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP

Thus, little attention is paid to the many Gazan youths who wish to leave Gaza as much as Jamil does, only not because of their sexual orientation.

It’s because of the misery inflicted upon them by Israel’s continued siege and its debilitating large-scale military assaults that rendered Gaza nearly unfit for human habitation, as well as Egypt’s prolonged closure of the Rafah Crossing, the sole gateway into the world for the majority of Gazans. This reality is evidently not on Rozovsky’s radar.

Instead, the article takes us on a journey that reads like "Fifty Shades of Gray," where Jamil and some anonymous Israelis talk about chatting with one another on online dating applications.

A particularly gross representation of the asymmetry between occupier and occupied Rozovsky appears to affirm is the fetish of Israeli power, where one soldier alleges that Jamil discussed with him the "erotic power of [Israeli] soldiers,” and Jamil apologizes for rocket attacks on Israel to another Israeli he spoke with.

Israeli soldiers aim their weapons at Palestinian protesters during clashes in Hebron, West Bank, February 16, 2018.Credit: \ MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

But the piece makes no mention of the conditions that trigger such attacks, as if they emerge in a vacuum detached from daily Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights and attacks on life in Gaza.

Adding insult to injury, the author doesn’t tell us whether these Israelis took part in the assaults that killed hundreds and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. As far as she is concerned, these soldiers are sexy, strong, and possibly Jamil’s sole salvation. They could do no wrong. They don’t need to apologize.

After all, using the fetish of attractive soldiers to downplay the horrors committed by the IDF is not a new trend. In 2007, Maxim Magazine led with a collection of “drop-dead gorgeous” Israeli soldiers who "can take apart an Uzi in seconds," and most recently, the world was greeted by former IDF soldier Gal Gadot, the lead actress in Wonder Woman and a vocal supporter of the IDF. It is no coincidence that Gadot appeared in the Maxim collection.

The article doesn’t stop at fetishizing Israeli power. In a vacuous attempt at discerning the legal penalty for homosexuality in Palestine, it propagates a misguided reading of the law.

In reality, interpretations of the 1936 British mandate penal code have varied.

A Palestinian woman stands by a fence during a protest calling on Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip. January 7, 2018Credit: \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

Anis. F. Kassim, editor-in-chief of the Palestinian Yearbook of International Law, told Electronic Intifada that the law in question "could be interpreted as allowing homosexuality." Indeed, triggering the penalty is in fact conditional depending on three factors: age, consent, and extortion.

According to the letter of the law under Chapter XVIL – Offences Against Morality, Sexual and Unnatural Offences:

Any person who:

has unlawful sexual intercourse with a female against her will by the use of force or threats of death or severe bodily harm, or when she is in a state of unconsciousness or otherwise incapable of resisting; or
commits an act of sodomy with any person against his will by the use of force or threats of death or severe bodily harm, or when he is in a state of unconsciousness or otherwise incapable of resisting; or
has unlawful sexual intercourse or commits an act of sodomy with a child under the age of sixteen years,

is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.

The charge for violating the law in the Arabic version is broken down further to either a felony or misdemeanor (Junha), depending on the context, the penalty of which ranges from a fine to imprisonment up to three or 14 years.

None of this is evident in Rozovsky’s work. That indicates a lack of interest in Jamil's freedom and well-being, and in advancing human rights for Palestinians.

If the author was interested, she would have shared concerns about growing homophobia in Israel, which have increased by 26% in 2017, according to the Nir Katz Center annual report.

If she were, then she would have told the reader that Israel is not a safe haven for LGBTQ Palestinians. If she were, then she would have noted that with the exception of few cities, Israel is generally intolerant of LGBTQ persons.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in a military show in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip February 15, 2018.Credit: \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

If she were, then she would have highlighted that since 2013, the Israeli government adopted only one of 17 bills seeking LGBTQ equality and protections.

The fact of the matter is that Jamil’s clandestine gay life is a familiar experience nearly everywhere in the world, from rural American towns to conservative Israeli cities and illegal settlements in the West Bank. Palestine is no exception.

Instead, the piece misguides the reader into an anonymized discourse that reinforces negative stereotypes of not only Palestinians, but also Muslims around the world.

That Rozovsky would rely on the Islamic jurisprudence of a single cleric who issued a fatwa permitting suicide bombings against Israel, and later retracted it only under political pressure, is truly mindboggling. To make matters worse, she conveniently ignores a growing number of Muslim clerics and imams around the world who have spoken out against punishing homosexuality.

Similarly, Rozovsky cites the hotly contested story of Mahmoud Ishtawi, a Hamas commander who was killed by Hamas over allegations of embezzlement and moral misconduct, namely engaging in gay sex. To date, none of these allegations have been confirmed, and have only been popularized as fact by a handful of news outlets.

A Palestinian man walks along a pool of water following rain in Gaza City on February 27, 2018.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP

Rozovsky’s work goes on to highlight speculations by an anonymous psychologist about reports of "men in polygamous families who encourage their wives to have sex with each other in order to see their own sexual fantasies acted out." While this claim warrants attention for its shock-value, it does not stand scrutiny.

In fact, based on long-term and evidence-based research, strong and healthy familial ties are possibly the sole thread keeping Gaza from total collapse. But in light of Rozovsky’s work, the facts seem irrelevant.

The shortcomings of Rozovsky’s piece do not in any way excuse homophobia or the fact that Gaza is enduring a horrific man-made humanitarian crisis that has wreaked havoc on all facets of life.

However, to suggest that Gaza’s woes begin and end with Hamas is both dishonest and lazy. To say that only LGBTQ people in Gaza are suffering is disingenuous. To pretend that the majority of Israelis care about Gaza is a stretch of the imagination.

Frankly, how any people on this earth could progress and prosper under the conditions inflicted by Israel on Gaza is bizarre. After all, talking about human rights in Palestine is inseparable from addressing the structural problems put in place by Israel, including the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.

Dorgham Abusalim is the Online Content Editor at the Institute for Palestine Studies USA. He earned his Master’s in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @dabusalim

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