As the world celebrates Pride month and rainbow flags brighten up the white city of Tel Aviv, in the West Bank and Gaza, the contrast couldn’t be greater for the LGBTQ+ community. While Pew Research shows that attitudes towards LGBTQ+ have evolved to be more tolerant in much of the world over the last decade, in the Palestinian territories there has been no progress.
Despite the dark reality for gay Palestinians, some left wing and LGBTQ+ groups in the West still insist on supporting the Free Palestine camp. Yet, while they call for Israel’s destruction, Palestinians legally and socially persecute their own LGBTQ+ community.
Not only are there atrocious laws against LGBTQ+ in the West Bank and Gaza, the social attitudes are an even larger problem, with deeply embedded homophobia rampant in the culture that endangers the local community.
According to Pew Research, 93% of the Palestinian population is completely opposed to homosexuality, a percentage among the highest in the world. Palestine has also been named by Forbes as one of the worst countries in the world for LGBTQ+ travelers.
In recent years, Palestinian authors have been targeted for writing about LGBTQ+ issues, LGBTQ+ NGOs like alQaws have been banned for not being aligned with “traditional Palestinian values” (though this was reversed after international outcry), and individuals continue to be harassed and assaulted for their identity.
According to Palestinian law, being gay is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and in Gaza, it’s punishable by death. In 2016, Hamas executed a senior commander by firing squad in Gaza for homosexual activity. LGBTQ+ Palestinians have no legal protections against discrimination, are forbidden from adopting and gay marriage is not recognized in any capacity.
In this Pride month alone, the LGBTQ+ community has been threatened and silenced in Ramallah, forcing a concert of east Jerusalem’s Bashar Murad to be canceled when anti-gay activists marched into a concert venue and demanded the organizers cancel the event for the LGBTQ+ community.
The lead activist, the son of a Hamas commander, stated in a now viral video, “don’t test our patience” and warned that the LGBTQ+ community isn’t welcome in Palestine. Over the weekend, cars of participants in an LGBTQ+ event were also vandalized by anti-gay Palestinians.
It’s also important to note that this was not occurring in a village in the remote West Bank, but in Ramallah, which is considered to be the most developed and progressive Palestinian city.
Across the ocean, anti-Israel extremist Mohammed El Kurd, one of the activists from Sheikh Jarrah, has also begun taking heat from his own community for giving a speech at a Palestinian LGBTQ+ organization alQaws in New York and coming out in support of them.
After the organization posted his photo, Palestinian telegram channels were outraged claiming he came out as gay and called for God to “return his sanity.” Apparently in Palestine, it’s not enough to hate Israel and support terrorism if you are also gay.
While the war is being waged against Palestinians in the LGBTQ+ community in the West Bank and Gaza, intersectional activists in the West care more about attacking Israel than they do about Palestinian LGBTQ+. In fact, even Palestinian NGOs like alQaws have been criticized by gay Palestinians for focusing more on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than on supporting the community.
Activist groups like the ironically named Queers for Palestine have repeatedly used their platform and that of their activists to obsessively condemn Israel, rather than educating for tolerance and support for the LGBTQ+ community in the Palestinian territories. And while it’s possible to advocate for more than one cause at once, there is no proportionality when it comes to the criticism of Israel versus advocating for the Palestinian LGBTQ+ community.
Such obsession is the height of irony, given that many Palestinians flee to Israel due to the fact they are gay and that Tel Aviv is home to the largest Pride parade in the Middle East, with attendance above 170,000 people this last month. The anti-Israel LGBTQ+ activists may stand with Palestine but Palestine certainly doesn’t stand with them. Sadly, it’s the Palestinian LGBTQ+ community which pays the price.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative and a human rights activist.