After Palestinian LGBT organization al-Qaws announced that it had held a gathering in the West Bank city of Nablus earlier this month to discuss gender pluralism in the city, the group was banned by the Palestinian Authority. The P.A. said the group’s activities were “contrary to the values of Palestinian society” and threatened to arrest its members. Not content with that, the P.A. proceeded to ban all activities designed to promote LGBT rights in its territory.
Anti-gay prejudice is nothing new in the region. According to a 2013 Pew research survey, for example, in Egypt and the Palestinian territories over 90% of the population considers homosexuality unacceptable. But with this latest ban, the Palestinian LGBT community have lost the very small margin of hope they still maintained that they would not be officially classified as criminals, as they are in many Muslim countries—in not a few of which homosexuality carries the death penalty.
The champions of the “intersectional” fight against “oppression,” such as U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have remained strangely silent regarding this development, and about the persecution of gays in the Muslim world generally. Nor, it would appear, have they ever heard the many other forms of oppression common in the Muslim world, for instance against women.
A BBC survey conducted this year revealed extreme levels of homophobia throughout the Middle East and North Africa: a mere 5% of Palestinians accept homosexual relationships, while in Jordan and Tunisia the figure is 7%, in Sudan 17% and in Morocco 21%. Algeria, with 26%, was the most tolerant country.
Among the 71 countries that criminalize homosexuality, seven prescribe the death penalty, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania and parts of Nigeria and Somalia.
In Gaza, where the government is in the hands of Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organization, LGBT Palestinians are subjected to torture, imprisonment and capital punishment. In 2016, for example, 34-year-old Mahmoud Ishtiwi was executed for homosexuality despite being a former commander in Hamas’s armed wing. According to Islamic law, he died not as a “shahid,” or “martyr,” but as a gay man.
However, even if up until now there were no P.A. laws on the books against homosexuality, the West Bank’s LGBT community still faced a brutal reality in which they suffered persecution, blackmail, public ridicule, beatings, ostracism, and even “honor killing” at the hands of their own families. Such killings take place regularly.
This, as everybody knows, leads LGBT Palestinians to flee to Israel. In Tel Aviv alone there are several thousand, and many humanitarian Israeli organizations exist to help them not only integrate, but also psychologically. If these Palestinians dare venture back home, in addition to the regular persecution they are also accused of treason and espionage, and often end up in jail.
One reason Abbas has only now moved to officially silence Palestinian LGBT groups is that the P.A., at this time of confrontation with the United States, is moving toward alliances with U.S. enemies. As part of this, Abbas implicitly accepts the Islamist point of view according to which homosexuality is a Western disease and a danger to Islamic society.
The Islamic republic of Iran, for instance, hangs homosexuals from cranes in public squares.
Some readers may remember former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s answer when a journalist asked him why his country persecuted homosexuals: “gays don’t exist in Iran.”
In short, to be openly gay in the Islamic world, you have to be a hero. Not least because no Western “anti-oppression” activists are going to come to your aid.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translated by Amy Rosenthal.
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