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Standing with Palestine (Long)

Be sure to also check out Alex's great post on Israel below!


The Current Crisis

While Israel is sending bombs and missiles over Lebanon and Gaza, the only thing the LGBT press can be concerned with is religious outrage over the presence of the queers at the upcoming World Pride parade. Some orthodox Jews have threatened violence against the parade and many Arab leaders are threatening protests.



There may be threatened violence against World Pride participants, but that is nothing compared to the real violence going on in Gaza and Lebanon. The ferocious attacks on Gaza and Lebanon are supposedly in response to the capture of one Israeli soldier in Gaza and two soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border--making the Israeli operation (sarcastically titled Geshmi haqqeytz "Summer Rain") fly in the face of international law and just about every theologian's "just war" theory.



Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is clearly, and by his own admission, operating under a principle of collective punishment and has announced publicly that he wants the Palestinians to suffer. So, Israel is targeting a civilian population in retaliation for the kidnapping of soldiers--who are, by the way, clearly military targets.



So much for the bogus definition of "terrorism" being about targeting civilians. We see now what we have known all along: terrorism is anything that those in power don't like, and anything that those in power do is, by definition, not terrorism. Terrorism is not a tactic where civilians are targeted, but any act--legitimate or not--that is against the interests of the US and Israel.



All kinds of horrifying and illegal acts by Israel can be justified by asserting Israel's "right" to defend itself, and yet, few are willing to give Palestinians the same kind of moral leeway when they are asserting their right to resist an illegal occupation.



With all of the death and destruction going on in the Levant, one would think that Muslim leaders in Jerusalem would find something other than World Pride and the presence of queers to flood the streets in protest about. But, like black ministers in the US, they choose to preoccupy themselves and their community with issues like sexuality rather than look at the things that are really oppressing their people. Why don't Muslim leaders in Jerusalem flood the streets in response to Israel's agression against Lebanon and against the Palestinians?



Relevance for Queer People

Queers often side with Israel because Israel is more tolerant towards queer people than Palestinian society. Israel has gay clubs, particularly in Tel-Aviv, and Dana International, a very popular Israeli singer, is an MTF transsexual. In fact, she won the Eurovision competition in 1998 for her song "Diva." And it is absolutely true that sexism and homophobia are prevalent in Arab societies. In fact, many queer Palestinians move to Israel because of the persecution they face among their own people. All of this causes any queer person who stands with the Palestinians in their struggle for human rights to incur harsh criticism from the queer community.



But those who look at it from the simplistic Israel-tolerant/Palestinians-intolerant perspective miss the big picture. In the long run, militarism, imperialism and racism do not help the cause of queer people at all. The policies of the US and Israeli governments have a directly negative effect on the state of queer people in the Middle East.



First, a historical point. The current state of affairs in the Middle East, both in general and in relation to queer rights, is largely due to the legacy of colonialism. We Americans have incredibly short memories and we live in a fantasy world where we believe that things that happened fifty, sixty and a hundred years ago have little to no effect on what happens today. However, the border divisions, the families in charge, the ugly turn of events in Iran in 1979, the state of Iraq, the rise of Osama bin Laden, the relative power of Hamas, etc. all had their origins in short-sighted policies designed by those who wished to rule the region.



This is not to say that those in power now bear no responsibility. But the lion's share of responsibility lies with those who created the conditions for these people to come to power in the first place.



A good example of the deleterious effects of bad policy by major powers is Hamas itself (the fundamentalist party in charge of Palestine now). It is well known that the power of Hamas can at least be partially attributed to Israeli support for Hamas as a counterweight to the secular PLO. And this tactic is nothing new. Israel and the US, in their various adventures during the Cold War, regularly used radical Muslim sects to counteract the power of secular nationalist movements.



Obviously, the proliferation of radical Islamic sects has had a detrimental effect on the political development of resistance to imperialism in the Middle East, and consequently, also has negative repercussions for queer people in the Middle East.



Now, the only resistance to foreign domination of the region tends to take the form of radical, fundamentalist sects. But even Ghandi said that violent resistance was better than no resistance at all--and so, in the absence of a better option, Arabs go with the problematic resistance rather than no resistance at all. And let me be clear: the Palestinians do have an absolute right to resist occupation.



It is particularly galling to hear people talk about how Palestinian queers flee to Israel because of its "liberal" attitude towards queers. Israel is so liberal that 63 percent of even secular Jews oppose World Pride, and orthodox Jews are threatening violence against it!



These same self-professed champions of Palestinian queers leave out that, thanks to Israel's racist policy towards the Palestinians and the virtual lock-down of the West Bank, Palestinian queers are in a very precarious situation when they actually get to Israel.



This is so typical of Western hypocrisy. We will shriek and shout at the outrages to queer people that take place in other countries, and yet we will not re-evaluate or challenge our own countries' racist, discriminatory practices towards immigrants. It makes me think that this "concern" for queer people in other countries is really just racism and another way to portray people of color as barbaric, superstitious and backwards. Of course, these portrayals of Middle Eastern people as incorrigibly homophobic feed into the racism that justifies unscrupulous military action against these "backwards" peoples.



I would be lying if I did not admit that I was horrified by the anti-queer, sexist acts that take place in the Middle East. At the same time, I do not believe that the political state of the Middle East just happened by magic. There is a historical context to this situation, and that history has been dominated by the schemes of the world's great powers. These schemes, collectively known on the left as "imperialism," are the biggest enemy for queer people, for this creates the conditions for homophobia to flourish both in the Third World and in developed countries.



Queer people should look at the dynamics that created the contemporary state of affairs, and the dynamics which continue to perpetuate this state of affairs, instead of looking at superficialities such as whose society is more "tolerant."



Finally, I have been in enough pointless tit-for-tat soundbyte matches with Israel-apologists to last me a lifetime and I will not respond to any such comments here. They will say, "Well, the Palestinians said/did this or that" and I will come back with "Well, Israel said/did this or that." There will be a back and forth about what happened in 1948 so-on and so-forth. Usually the debate degenerates into me defending myself against baseless accusations of anti-Semitism. I have nothing but contempt for this kind of intellectual sloth, and I won't give it the time of day. There is plenty of information in the links provided below and throughout this column, so you can take it or leave it.



See Also:

Article on Queer Muslims by Yakoub Islam (UK)

Good Primer on the Latest Crisis in Gaza and Lebanon by Phyllis Bennis (US)

Response to the "Palestinians-started-it" copout by Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz (Israel)

General information on the history of the conflict from a pro-Palestinian perspective by Al-Awda (US)

12 comments:

Mark D. Snyder said...

Thank you to you and alex for helping me understand these situations better. Trust me I needed some help and clarification on this stuff.

alex said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
alex said...

hey brian, great post. i couldn't agree with you more on (almost) everything. first, i think the way you juxtapose the "real" violence in gaza and lebanon with the "threatened" violence against World pride participants is problematic. the violence against world pride participants is severe, and while its effects have yet to be physical, the legacy of violence from past years of pride in israel is present in our collective memories. as you mentioned, orthodox jews have threatened more violence this year.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3273891,00.html

they've even placed a bounty on queer heads. as a result, the organizers have decided to cancel the world pride parade. the psychic violence of such threats is clearly "real" and severe.

clearly, we shouldn't just focus on the violence against our own (collectively imagined) community, but i think its dangerous to consider one form of violence significant while rendering other violences invisible (something that regularly happens with homophobic violence anyway).


lastly, your assertion that "the only resistance to foreign domination of the region tends to take the form of radical, fundamentalist sects," is inaccurate. the fundamentalist resistance movement we hear about in the US is an extremely limited view of the resistance that is occuring in palestine. there are a number of progressive, radical, but fundamentalist or violent, groups in palestine that are working towards a just peace. this years queerption (www.queeruption.org) is a fine, queer example of a joint israeli/palestinian movement. joint action group for peace (JAGP) is another coalition group working for peace. another group is Ta'ayush (which means "living together" in Arabic).

lastly, i just want to reiterate that i totally agree with you overall and appreciate your insight to the situation. it was just these two small things that jumped out at me that i wanted to respond to.

Brian Rainey said...

Thanks Alex for your response. Very thought provoking.

You are right to point out that the threatened violence against queer people is serious and that there is no hierarchy of oppression or oppressive violence. In fact, the outrageous behavior of people (of all faiths!) in Jerusalem is something that pulls the rug out from under the "Israel is so queer friendly" view.

I do not think that anti-queer violence in Israel or anywhere else should be rendered invisible, or even "less important" than other forms of oppressive violence.

At the same time, I think the fact that the LGBT press is looking at World Pride related violence and while ignoring that whole families are being wiped out in Gaza and Lebanon is a little ridiculous. I was trying to underscore that point.

I suppose the most important point, which is that neither the World Pride related violence nor the violence against the Palestinans and Lebanon should be rendered invisible was lost in my polemic.

I did not mention other resistance groups in Palestine, which makes it seem as though I believe that there are ONLY fundamentalist groups in operation in the Middle East. Of course, this is not true.

But from what I understand (and I am willing to be corrected on this point), the secular left resistance in Palestine (for clear historical reasons) is small and weak--which would seem to make them less of a viable option in the minds of many Arabs.

Gerry Scoppettuolo said...

Brian - again a thoughtful statement from you. This view - shared by many, I think, begs the question: "so what do we do about it, as queers (or as anyone)?". Groups I work with have been supporting the recent demonstrations called by the Lebanese community and the Muslim American Society. My groups are International Action Center (www.iacboston.org); Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee (www.brphrd.org) and Workers World Party (www.workers.org)- all are thoroughly not just gay-friendly but have LGBT in leadership and actively fight for our rights.

As you suggest, we support the unqualified right of self-determination by oppressed peoples, regardless of any religious beleifs they may have. We are thoroughly anti-imperialist. The fact that Hamas or Hezbollah may have views towards homosexuality with which we don't agree, should not stop us from supporting their right and the right of Palestinians to resist the theft of their land, their families, and their culture.

An underlying question of your comments, Byron, is this: what is the extent of the queer left and queer progressives? Can we come together and claim our perspective and start having more influence in the LGBTQA community? I certainly hope so, for the sake of our movement and the overall movement for social justice. I know that Queertoday and Stonewall Warriors/IAC are two queer groups that work together to some extent. Perhaps we could build up our work with a public meeting.

In any event, please come to the next Rosa Parks Meeting on Wednesday 7/26 at 6pm at 76 Atherton Street in JP, near the Stony Brook Stop on the Orange Line. We will be discussing these matters and planing some actions to support the resistance to the Israeli attacks.

Gerry Scoppettuolo

John Hosty said...

This is a very well written article, but I think we need to focus of Massachusetts before we lose the opportunity to be heard. People need to hear why the gay marriage issue is so important, and we need to get more organized. We are making some progress, but we could be doing a lot better.

Again, great post.

Anonymous said...

wow someone has no idea what querertoday is all about cough cough

John Hosty said...

Why don't you enlighten me then?

Brian Rainey said...

Hi John,

I think the anonymous poster was getting at the fact that Queer Today is about more than same-sex marriage and is about linking the struggle for queer liberation (which is, again, about so much more than marriage) to other struggles.

It is about presenting the battle for queer liberation as part of the "big struggle"--the struggle against the very forces that gave rise to and feed homophobia today. Our work is one aspect of this struggle, but we see ourselves as part of an organic whole.

This is why we do support the issues that, say, Gerry is talking about even though our priority is queer liberation. Sadly, due to time constraints, I cannot attend the Rosa Parks meetings like I want to, but QueerToday should be organizing at least one rep to attend. Maybe we can have a rotating attendance on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

John, you have raised a good question about priorities. What should our priorities be? The thing is that I do NOT believe that marriage should be a priority for our community, even though we do agree that there needs to be some kind of united front on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Our stand on same-sex marriage is part of our general desire to fight the right-wing and queerphobia in this state. Marriage is one front where they are attacking, but not the only one.

That Mitt Romney is allowed to walk in public without travelling protests haranging him because of his despicable veto of queer youth programs is a sin. We may have won that particular battle, but it took some legislative strong-arming to do it.

Our priority, imo, should be consolidating the queer left as a force and then we can come together and talk priorities. I personally would like to see the queer community take back control of its dollars and put it into local, grassroots queer organizations and services than sending them off to lobbyist bureaucracies in faraway cities. Advocacy on a national level is critical, but we need to shift our priorities to our community's REAL needs.

Bringing the queer left together is a herculean task in and of itself because we would rather fight amongst ourselves than come together on some common points of unity.

John Hosty said...

Brian,

What a wonderful answer. I believe you are correct about the need to consolidate the queer left, and that it is a daunting task. This is what I believe should be our priority.

I was toying with the idea of starting a website that allows each pro-gay group a "thread". They can designate their own representative to update their part of the website whenever they want, and would have full control ove what it said.

I was thinking about what has been said here, and I think the solution was in front of me in your words. We should in fact be doing what we find ourselves drawn to, and this information sharing could be used to make ure we are not duplicating our efforts.

I would love to here your thoughts on this.

Gerry Scoppettuolo said...

Bringing the queer left together would consititute a material advance in organizing - and a necessary one. I propose a meeting to explore this possibility.

Brian has stated previously his feeling that this move might be a prerequisite, or at the last preferable, for the queer left to truly mobilize on all the issues facing the oppressed. I propose that we do both.

Yesterday the Rosa Parks Community Mobilizing summit had a number of LGBT activists participating and writing the concluding mission statement that includes LGNT issues. Right now, the support in the overall activist community - as respresented by the Rosa Parks Committee - is there and we should accept the invitation.

Is anyone interested in having an exploratory meeting as I have suggested?

Gerry Scoppettuolo
Stonewall Warriors/IAC

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