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Despite Israeli Pinkwashing, Queer Palestinians Exist and Demand Freedom

  • Culture

By Lilac Carr, BA Politics and International Relations

If I had known that bombs raining down on us would take you from me, I would have gladly told the world how I adored you more than anything.

If you look in the comments section of any social media post from a queer public figure or organisation who has spoken out against Israel’s occupation and invasion of the Gaza Strip, you will likely see countless responses suggesting that, as a queer person, they should not be standing in solidarity with Palestine. Comments range from “They would kill you in Gaza,” to claims that they should support the state of Israel due to its supposed progressive stance on LGBTQ+ issues. 

These views have been echoed by Israel itself as well as by several political commentators. An example of this is Israeli columnist and technology advisor, Hillel Fuld, stating “I welcome the LGBTQ community to go to Gaza. Let them bring their flags… let them fight for human rights there and see what happens.” In the Telegraph, journalist Brendan O’Neill writes that the group Queers for Palestine “must have a death wish.” 

Rhetoric attempting to weaponise queer identity against Palestinians is not new. Predating the events of October 7th, the Israeli state has engaged in pinkwashing campaigns to sanitise its image as a queer-friendly and progressive haven in the Middle East, despite its extensive state violence against straight and queer Palestinians alike. 

The Tel Aviv Tourism Board spends tens of millions of dollars on promoting Israel as a gay-friendly tourist destination. Numerous queer acts have been sent as Israeli representatives 

to Eurovision. In 2019, when Israel hosted Eurovision in Tel Aviv (a concert built on top of stolen and demolished Palestinian homes), it used the event to project an ‘inclusive’ and ‘liberal’ image of Israel to an international audience. 

Most jarringly, during Israel’s ongoing invasion of Gaza, on November 13th 2023 the official Israel Twitter account posted an image of an IDF soldier waving a Pride flag in an area of Gaza that had been reduced to rubble by Israeli bombings. The caption read: “The first ever pride flag raised in Gaza,” implying that the soldier raising the flag is calling for “peace and freedom.”

All of this ignores the very simple fact that queer Palestinians exist and are deeply harmed by inaccurate and offensive imagery that attempts to present Israel as a progressive bastion of queer rights in the Middle East and assert that queer rights and Palestinian liberation are incompatible. It relies on racist and harmful stereotypes about Palestinians, Arab people and Muslims as being uniquely “backwards” or homophobic. In doing so, Israel wrongly conflates these groups with the actions of specific governments and organisations which do not necessarily represent them. This perception ignores the constant settler-colonial violence that the Israeli state inflicts on queer Palestinians and which queer Palestinians are uniquely harmed by. And it completely erases the lives of queer Palestinians, who will be free and equal only when Palestinians and Queer people together achieve liberation.

The intersection of Queer and Palestinian identity is encapsulated in the online platform Queering the Map, where Queer people across the world post messages of solidarity and unity with each other. Several have been posted in Gaza since the recent bombing by Israel began. One anonymous Palestinian writes, “I wish I could watch the sunset over Gaza sea with you. For one night I wish this occupation was no longer and that we could be free for once on our own land.” Another quote reads, “If I had known that bombs raining down on us would take you from me, I would have gladly told the world how I adored you more than anything.” 

The intersection between Queer and Palestinian liberation is also showcased clearly in the Palestinian liberation movement itself. The organisation Queers in Palestine (@queersinpalestine) writes, “In the same way we have been othered as queers, we are now facing patriarchal colonial tactics that seek to further alienate us as queer Palestinians… Israel has been weaponizing queer bodies to counter any support for Palestine and any critique of its settler-colonial project.” 

Solidarity with oppressed communities and the right to life, peace, and basic freedom must not be conditional. Hollow representations of Israel as queer-friendly do not minimise or justify colonialism or genocide, even if they were accurate. As queer Jewish activist Matt Bernstein (@mattxiv) puts it, in response to Israel’s tweet of the IDF soldier displaying a Pride flag in Gaza, “You cannot destroy homes in the name of love. You cannot bomb families in the name of equality.”

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